Sunday, January 31, 2010

#31 - This One's For My Friends

Although I hope none of them are reading this blog. It just makes me feel better to put it out there...

To My Friends:

I don't know how to adequately thank you for making me who I am today. I had a feeling I was supposed to be a teacher someday, but working with each and every one of you (whether you made me scream, cry, laugh or doubt myself) has shown me that I could never be anything else. Thank you for letting me learn along side you and thank you for teaching me so much. Thank you for being my life preservers when I felt as if I was floating alone in an ocean of educational ridiculousness. You kept me sane. You kept me coming back day after day. And it is only now that I'm not in the classroom with you anymore that I can tell you how much I miss you.

Being your teacher was the most exciting and challenging work I have ever done. I try every day to find and create those new challenges for myself, but somehow without your little faces, it's just not the same. It is because of YOU (fighting for you, doing my best for you) that I found my voice and that I found Mrs. Mimi's voice.

I hope I had some impact on you too. Maybe I taught you the sneaky e rule, maybe I showed you how to be kind to others, maybe I instilled in you a premature desire to wear high heels....or maybe our time together wasn't all that significant for you. I'll never know. That's the hardest part of this job when you come right down to it, I guess.

Here's to us always being rock stars.

Love,
Mrs. Mimi

Saturday, January 30, 2010

First Dates

What feels like a million years ago, I had a super special friend in my class. He was sweet, shy and very smart. After a few months together I was convinced that my friend was probably somewhere on the spectrum, but at that point, his mother was unwilling/unable/un-something to look into that. But that is not the point of this post. Regardless, he was well cared for, held his own in school and seemed happy. We’ll call him The Bus Driver. (Very long explanation made somewhat shorter – on career day, when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he replied, “I’m going to be a vegetarian bus driver.”

Of course you are, friend.

I was infamous for having lunch dates for good behavior. I was a teacher who hearts a good sticker chart. A teacher who never shied away from randomly giving out my stash of smelly erasers in those moments when I was blown away by their hard work. A teacher who gave out stickers like candy. Basically, I was a teacher unafraid of bribery. It was pretty simple in my kingdom class. You get yourself ten stickers, you get a chance at the prize box. And among all those folded pieces of paper which held a myriad of exciting rewards, there were four slips of paper coveted more than any other. They said simply,

“You have worked so hard and Mrs. Mimi is so proud of you. Friend, it’s pizza time.”

There was usually some squealing, maybe a spontaneous happy dance and/or the optional high-fiving of children in the vicinity. And of course, I had the required look on my face that said, "Be happy for your friend. This is their moment and is not a reason to be upset. Nor is it a reflection on your behavior, your turn at the prize box or you in any way. And yes, this IS totally fair." It's amazing how much teachers can say with just one look. Inevitably, the lucky winner would turn and grab me in a bear hug before going back to their seat with the cherished piece of paper.

If only Mr. Mimi would react like that when I say, “Honey, I’d rather poke myself in the eye than make dinner. How about a pizza?”

Oh well.

Anyhow, one day, The Bus Driver pulled the precious lunch date slip out of my old pretzel jar turned Fabulous Jar O’ Prizes. He seemed pretty nonchalant about it in the moment. I remember being a bit disappointed in his reaction. No smile, no high five, no hugs, no nothing. I mean, we're talking $20 out of Mrs. Mimi's pocket here and at least 30 extra minutes on the treadmill because of course I HAVE TO eat the pizza too. However, in the chaos that is dismissal, all of this was quickly forgotten.

The next day, he showed up in a full suit. Jacket, tie, pressed pants, and pocket square. My first thought was, "Crap! Is it picture day? I am not wearing my ideal Picture Day outfit..."

My second thought was, "What AM I going to wear on Picture Day this year anyway..."

And my third thought was, "Why the heck is this kid wearing a suit?"

Me: Bus Driver, you look so handsome! Why are you so dressed up today?
Him: (looking at me like I was an idiot) For our lunch date, of course, Mrs. Mimi. It's a special day.

And I die.

We had a lovely lunch date that day. The rest of the year passed fairly uneventfully for the two of us, although I kept a close eye on The Bus Driver to make sure he was still doing well, had friends, etc. As he got older, The Bus Driver would pop in to see me from time to time, wave and quickly walk out of the room. Still though, no hugs.

Fast forward six years. On my last day, The Bus Driver passed by my room to say goodbye. Without looking me in the eye, he gave me a huge hug and said he would missed me. I was too taken aback to really say anything coherent. I think I managed a "I'll miss you too, honey" before he walked out of the room and my eyes filled with tears. (You may be surprised to hear this from moi, but I am quite the crier.)

Later that day, the kids presented me with an album. One of my Super Colleagues had gone around to every single child I had ever taught, asking them to write a note or draw a picture on a 4 x 6 card. All these cards were put into a beautiful album that I refer to as “Sob Fest 2009”. I have yet to read all the way through each and every card without crying.

I found The Bus Driver's:

“Mrs. Mimi,
I am sad that you are leaving us, but I will always remember you in my prayers. You are a very special teacher to me. I’ve known that ever since our first date all those years ago.
Love,
The Bus Driver”

All that for a pizza.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Friday List Mania 5: El Ultimo

Friends, we have made it to the last Friday in January! (Feel free to cheer.) As my final post-related List Mania, I thought I would subject you to treat you to a grouping of my favorites. These are the posts that make ME laugh when I read them, and I know we could all use a good laugh to start off the weekend. (Especially since Grey's Anatomy was a re-run last night. While I know that show isn't usually a laugh a minute, it has always signaled Weekend Ahead for me and for many Super Colleagues in my life.)

And, surprise surprise, my top five faves all involve my friends. Through many of my older posts, I relive what it was like to be in my classroom, which is something I like to do often because I miss my little friends. So indulge me for a moment. Swallow your coffee/water/adult beverage now, people, because I would hate for you to spit it out all over your screen as the hilarity of these posts unfolds. I'm only thinking of you.

And in no particular order:

Moment #1: Ah, The Great Cockroach Chase of 2007. This post reminds me of my lovely naughty boys, the insanity that can spring up at any second in a classroom and the vermin....all the vermin. *shudder* Note: I miss the kids, not the cockroaches.

Moment #2: Whoops! I had to include one about my beloved Curly. HAD TO. Just thinking about this sweaty little boy makes me smile...although I'm still wondering why he was always sweating just a little? Maybe from all that fabulousness.

Moment #3: I Guess I'm the Mama Bear - I used to get crazy protective about my friends. CRAZY. I mean, sure, I could yell all I wanted discipline them from time to time when they deserved it, but watching SOMEONE ELSE freak out at them? When they were just trying their best? All I have to say to that is, "bring it!" (Any of you who muttered, "Oh it's already been broughten!" are amazing. Smelly sticker for you!)

Moment #4: Does picture day literally strike fear in your heart? Are you haunted by memories of disorganization past? Or am I alone on this one? It's Picture Day - And That's Nothing To Smile About

Moment #5: Some you asked me to write about moments in the classroom that went horribly wrong. Now, I know I think I'm pretty hot stuff, but DUDE, I'd be insane to act like nothing ever went wrong. You want moments gone wrong? Well here you go - Why Bill Nye the Science Guy and I Will Never Be Friends.

Okay. Now go enjoy the crap out of your weekends. You deserve it.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Canned Worms

So, I know I've been linking to tons of articles lately and I promise to get back to the usual hilarity of the classroom, but just too much has been going on. My little brain is on fire and my eyes are bleeding from staring at the computer screen. Plus, I haven't even begun to digest the whole Obama on education thing yet.

Anyway, while I was procrastinating reading through some old articles this morning, I came across this one that I saved. I mean, obvi. Check out the title (Bobb Making Sure DPS Teachers Get To Teach). Um, hello, it's about time? Yeah, nice to meet you. This article is about the Detroit public schools. Evidently their "emergency financial manager" (or Dude In A Suit) is looking into how teachers spend their time, since many of them aren't actually teaching. At first I was all, "WTF? Teachers are doing the best they can do! You try it Suit Guy!" But then I kept reading and realized that the article is referring to all the teachers who are employed by schools and are required to teach five periods a day, yet only see two or three classes. This means other teachers are getting screwed with larger class sizes which isn't good for their sanity anyone.

Let me give a big old disclaimer by saying I don't know anything about this dude except for what I've read in this article. From this article I have learned that a) he has nice taste in suits, and b) he has a bit of a point.

Walk with me down memory lane for a moment as I rant spin a tale of wasted time. Now while most of the regular classroom teachers were busting their butts trying to squeeze every ounce of learning out of every single minute humanly possible, were running around like crazy people to fit it all into one day, were killing themselves to maximize the learning opportunities created each and every day, there were other teachers (It's always the OTHER TEACHERS...)who were, let's say, doing less than that.

Disclaimer number two and an indication that maybe I should reign in my opinions if I need two disclaimers: Big Mama Mimi is currently an out of the classroom teacher who kicks a*s each and every day. She is the Champion of All Out of the Classroom Teachers and if I have my way, there will be a statue in her honor built in the atrium of her school upon her retirement. So, I know friends, I know those amazing out of the classroom types exist and to them I blow many kisses and beg them to understand - I'm NOT talking about you.

I'm talking about the out of the classroom teachers who seemed to only have three scheduled classes each day, despite having six available blocks in their schedule. I mean, there were days that Mr. Big White Guitar didn't actually start "teaching" until after lunch. AFTER LUNCH. Yeah, the dude who was on the same salary scale as I was. What did he do all day? Well, besides arrive at the same time as the children, I have no idea. In all fairness, there were days that he was pulled from his regular classes to sub around the building, which I think would totally suck. Totally not his fault and exactly what this article is talking about. However, all those other days? NOT A CLUE, PEOPLE. Don't even get me started about the time he called me "prep hungry" when I complained about losing a prep and his refusal to make it up at a later time during the day which was totally free.

Then we had other out of the classroom people such as the Fanny Pack, who always seemed to manage to show up to my room to "push in" 10-15 minutes late. Despite the fact that she was coming from a class RIGHT DOWN THE HALL. Then she routinely sat in the back, drank water out of a paper cup (which she threw on the floor), and then in a very outdoor voice, called children, who she may or may not supposed to be working with, to come see her. Why was she late? What did she do back there besides litter? NO IDEA.

What are these people doing with all their time? I'm thinking nothing.

However, I would argue that the article left some important figures out of the whole "how teachers spend their time" part. (Maybe, like, all that, like, super hard math, like, was done by a woman, 'cuz, like, you know, math is harder for them? And so they did as well as they could?) (Please tell me you got this hilarious reference to yesterday's post / recent news travesty.)

I mean, let's be honest here. How much time do we spend doing paperwork? Are you with me on this one? I know that some paperwork is essential and totally comes with the territory. However, I also know that approximately 30% of my paperwork fell into that category. (How's that for some math from a woman? IN YOUR FACE, STUDY!) The rest of my paperwork fell into several other worthless categories such as:

* Paper I Have To Give To Someone To File So It Looks Like They Are Doing Something
* Graphs I Have To Make Because Of Course Testing Data Has To Be Displayed In Five Forms And In Triplicate
* Papers I Have To Fill Out So Someone Else Can Cover Their Behind
* Just Dumb

How come all of that time is not being factored into the report? I mean, if they really want to delve into the idea of how much time teachers are spending NOT TEACHING because of other assigned tasks, duties and meetings, then I have a whole can of worms right here. And it's just begging to be opened.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

You Asked For It, Internet

Yesterday, one of my loyal readers and commenters, Institutrice Teacher sent me a link to the following article that suggests young girls may develop a fear of math as a result of their former female teachers' personal lack of confidence in math.

My initial thoughts upon skimming said article:
1) Sweet, something to blog about.
2) I heart my readers. (Read: send me things!)
3) Are you freaking kidding me with this crap?

As a doctoral candidate, I have been trained (Yeah, I used the word "trained" in this situation. It totally fits. Arf! Arf!) (That was my best trained seal impression.) to dissect articles, look for their validity and assess their contribution to my knowledge base. And while I tried to come at this from a trained doctoral perspective, I'm just too....well, too pissed. (Yeah, I used the word "pissed" in this situation. It totally fits.) In an effort to reign my own rage in, I decided to wait to write about this. You know, until the steam stopped pouring from my ears? But then, OH THEN, this thing blew up all over the internet! Every email that came to my inbox was all, "Dude, it's totally your fault if any of your former female students blows the math test. You should have listened better in 6th grade...loser." And I was all, "Oh, internet, it is on." Because you know what? A lot of people outside of the world of education are going to read this nonsense, feel all empowered and then ruin the day of their child's poor unsuspecting teacher. Or make up their minds that the failures of the American public education system really ARE all the fault of the teacher. 'Cuz if it's on the internet, it must be true, right?

First of all, they are trying to get all Quantitative on us by throwing around numbers. This entire study, THIS ENTIRE STUDY WHICH IS ALL OVER THE INTERNET AND WILL PROBABLY BE ON TV TONIGHT BECAUSE EVERYONE LOVES A GOOD TEACHER BASHING, is based on a study of 17 teachers. SEVENTEEN!! Do you have any idea how many freaking first and second grade teachers there are in this great country of ours??? Do you? (Um, 'cuz I don't. But I know the number is WAY BIGGER than 17 and I totally doubt if a sample size of 17 is even statistically significant.)

At least the piece published in the Chicago Tribune saves itself (by not totally blaming the teachers) (because then I would need to go totally postal) at the end by making the recommendation that teacher preparation programs need to beef up their math requirements, which I can't totally disagree with. I am of the opinion that is a tad too easy to become a teacher these days considering how difficult the job can be.

The LA times article however, conveniently forgets to mention that this entire thing is based off seventeen teachers. Instead, they prefer to make sweeping statements about how the female teachers studied believe that boys are just "hardwired" for math in a way that girls aren't. Or that female teachers have a pervasive attitude of anxiety towards math.

Ladies, did you hear that? We have math anxiety. (Do they make a pill for that?) Evidently, there were these seven women who have anxiety about math, which means we all must feel the exact same way. You know, because it's totally cool to make a HUGE GENERALIZATION like "Women are all anxious about math."

BLERG!

At the end of the article, a professor of Education says that these results were "not surprising" (Sweet. Maybe the math anxiety was passed down to US, ever think about that?!) but then saves herself by questioning if it is fair to single out teachers.

To which I respond, NO IT IS NOT FAIR.

I mean, since they were only dealing with 17 teachers, did they bother to find out what math program or math curriculum these teachers were using? Did they ask whether or not the teachers had received enough professional development on the implementation of said program or curriculum? Did anyone over at the L.A. Times think to question the ways in which these teachers were prepared? Or perhaps investigate how much professional development they had received about new instructional techniques for teaching problem solving since so many of us went to school a billion years ago when it was totally cool to borrow and carry numbers without understanding what the hell that meant? DID ANYONE ANYWHERE EVER STOP TO THINK THAT MAYBE JUST MAYBE NOT EVERYTHING THAT IS WRONG WITH EDUCATION IS THE FAULT OF THE TEACHER? Or that constantly blaming teachers is like beating a dead animal...nothing is going to change if it's already dead, people! The horse is not going to jump up and run away. And the teacher is not going to suddenly stand up and say, "You're right, thanks for beating me senseless with your incessant criticism yet odd lack of viable suggestions! Let me revolutionize my teaching on my own time with little to no support."

If only they (meaning everyone on the outside) knew how often we questioned ourselves and our own methods. If only they could see how frequently we look for other sources, other people, other ideas to help us improve upon our craft. If only they could see how much time we spend doing the best that we can with what we have. (Which I know isn't always good enough, or really even much of an excuse, but it's all we can do while people choose to continually tear us down rather than roll up their sleeves and actually join forces to get something positive done.)

I guess maybe it's just cheaper to hit us while we're down.

And before you're all, "Geez, Mrs. Mimi can't take criticism AT ALL," know that I always welcomed the constructive criticism of my teaching and any professional development that would help me to become a better teacher. Call me crazy, but this just feels a little bit more like the age old tradition of buck passing.

*Throws mike to the floor and walks away*

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What Did Science and Social Studies Ever Do To YOU?

Alternative title for this post - When Are We Going To Stop Shafting the Good Stuff?

Yesterday I gave some ideas (Okay, I gave THE idea that will change your LIFE.) about how to organize all the crap we teachers feel the need to shlep home every night only to have it stare at us as we attempt to, oh, I don't know, clean our houses, make dinner or (gasp) try to enjoy our evenings. Together we discussed organizing our (what can I call it now?) Teacher Crap into a series of folders. And I made the comment that I usually combine Science and Social Studies materials into one folder...because for some reason those subjects always get the shaft. Or at least the tended to at my school.

Our mornings were routine and untouchable. None of the shenanigans (surprise assemblies, impromptu parents showing up with a freaking birthday cake unannounced, etc) seemed to take place in the morning. The morning was sacred. And while I was lucky to have a great deal of control over when I taught each subject and in what order, it was made very clear that The Mornings were reserved for Reading and Writing. And sometimes Word Study. Of course, in the afternoon, we had to fit in Math. Then we had to go to some sort of special (read: Prep, glorious prep!), we read a book out loud and WHAM! It was time to go.

But wait, what about poor science or lonely social studies? Nobody seemed to care. Oh, they talked a big game about the importance of these subjects, but somehow never seemed to really be involved in the real conversation about THERE'S NOT ENOUGH TIME IN THE DAY TO DO IT ALL.

My Super Colleagues and I would often sit together to plot out our time. We liked to stay relatively on the same page. God forbid we don't teach reading for an hour a day, five days a week. Shame on us if you don't plan for five blocks of writing at 50 minutes each. We were insane to even THINK about, suggest, or even hint at skimping on an hour of math a day, every day, not including all the math we did during our morning meeting. Let's see, with transitions and the normal B.S. of an elementary school classroom, that all equals about three hours of instructional time. Plus thirty minutes for your Morning Meeting (That was all me people. You don't want to see me sans my coffee or my a.m. circle time.) And lunch which was 45 minutes. And a "prep". Another 45 minutes. And you're up to about 5, 5 and a half hours of the seven hour instructional day. Mix in your Read Aloud, some testing, a dash of second grade drama and dismissal routines and it's gone. The day is gone. I don't know how it happens. It sounds like enough time. But it never was. Now don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating for a longer day (although I was often heard saying in moments of insanity, "I need two more hours with them, just two more hours!"). I just missed teaching science and social studies.

I lobbied hard for making more time for these subjects. Pointed out that they were often the most engaging for our students. Discussed how we could creatively incorporate our learning in reading, writing and math INTO the science and social studies curriculum, thereby making necessary connections between these disciplines in the minds of our little friends.

Me: I just am so excited by this! I think we could do some really great small reading groups and then have each group prepare their subsequent learning for the class. It's like we could work on non-fiction reading strategies throughout the year instead of strangely isolating them into one month.

Them (a.k.a. NOT my Super Colleagues):

Me: OOO! And I thought about all the different types of non-narrative writing we could do...I mean, observations, little reports, pamphlets. We could teach them to create a timeline with text. Maybe even work on some slide shows or power points on a given subject!

Them:

Me: I mean, then we could take out those random isolated non-fiction reading and writing units, which would give us more time and maybe we could actually get through everything. Ha! I've NEVER gotten through everything before! How cool would that be? I'm really excited about thinking about the ways we could make this work...I know it would take some time, but I think it would be really beneficial for the kids. If I'M this excited, think about how they'll feel.

Them: *blink*

Me: Hello?

And so, my friends Science and Social Studies continued to get the shaft. Until I grew a pair and decided to just do what I knew was right.

Monday, January 25, 2010

You Know That I Can Do It With This Folder In My Hand

(Just a moment. Let me clear my throat.) (Wait until you see this! A successful image link! Internet - I have mastered your ass. BOOYAH!) (Feel free to exchange high fives with the person nearest to you in my honor.)

Friends, I have been sharing with you intimate details of my professional thoughts and neuroses for the last few years. We have laughed together, we have cried together, we have worn high heels together (some of us) and we have ranted together. Then today, when I thought to myself, "Self, what the F are you going to write about today? Is it the 31st yet?" and began to look through old blog posts, I realized that I had with held from you one of the greatest inventions in teacher organization in, well, in the history of the world. (Yeah, I said it. I am that cocky confident.)

Are you ready?
Are you sitting?
Are you salivating?

OXFORD 8 POCKET ORGANIZER ASSORTED

BAM!

How about these? Both come in a set of six (the organizing possibilities are endless) and are a little more snazzy:

Carolina Pad "Hot Chocolate" 8-Pocket Organizational Folders, 6-Count, 2 Each of 3 Designs, 20621
Carolina Pad Eye Candy 8-Pocket Organizational Folders, Assorted Designs, 9.75 inch x 11.25 inch, 6 Count (25520)

And a cheaper, less fancy, but still freaking hot because of all the organization...OH THE ORGANIZATION!

Elegant Stripe Eight-Pocket Organizer, Assorted Colors, 12/Carton ESS99656

I know it doesn't look like much but it will CHANGE. YOUR. LIFE. I have several Super Colleagues who can back me up on this one. I also have another Super Colleague who shall remain nameless but if she chooses to read this post today should know that I am LOOKING AT HER because I am an Organizational Goddess. This is the same Super Colleague who, this past Friday, chose to throw a math manual, writing binder, reading binder and other assorted items that weigh an insane amount and WILL give you scoliosis if you continue to insist on jamming them into your teacher bags, into her trunk to bring home. Then she lugged said materials into her home, where I'm sure they took up a huge amount of space and mocked her as she tried to enjoy her coffee and forget about the classroom for one brief moment. Because that shit STARES AT YOU. I bet if she listened closely she could hear it taunting her, "If you brought all of us home and don't even open us because you decide to (gasp) enjoy yourself on your weekend, you will feel terrible on Monday morning...."

Now this folder THIS FOLDER will also speak to you as you slip it into your Teacher Bag. Except it won't taunt you. Instead, it will say, "Can I kick it?" To which you will reply, "Yes we can!" Because you will be able to kick it. No more giant Teacher Bag which is oh-so-embarrassing to carry into the bar on a Friday for Happy Hour. No more lugging around a Scoliosis Sack while trying to run errands on your way home from school. No more Towering Pile of Manuals and Binders that mock you while they take up precious space in your home.

You see, you simply label each pocket with a different subject area. For example, I had the following sections: To Do (for assorted paperwork and notes that needed answering), To Correct, Homework, Math, Word Study, Reading, Writing, and Science/Social Studies. (So sad that science and social studies seem to always get the shaft...but that is another post for another day. Maybe tomorrow in fact, since the well that is Mrs. Mimi feels a little dry.)

Then, you ONLY TAKE HOME THE PAGES YOU NEED TO DO WHAT YOU NEED TO DO OVER THE WEEKEND. No more. And maybe a little less. What do you do with the math manual pages you need you ask? Well, my psychotic self scratched and clawed my way to the front of the copier line and made double-sided copies (Your welcome, environment.) of the unit we were currently working on. Slap a binder clip on that puppy and it slides nice and easy into the pocket labeled "Math". (Or, what's even better, take home the CD of the math manual...I mean, technology does have some advantages. Instead of taking home the entire binder with every single reading lesson you have ever taught, consider removing the pages you need (Or copying them...it is well worth the time and human struggle to get to the copier. Throw some elbows if you need to.) and slipping them into your Folder of Fabulous in the section lovingly labeled "Reading" with your favorite Sharpie.

Another facet of genius to this Folder of Fabulous, is that your To Correct section will only hold so many papers, thereby limiting the number you actually take home. Because we all know, even if you drag that monsterous pile home, there is only so much you can do whilst sipping on a bottle of Vodka a glass of wine in front of bad TV.

Trust me on this one. Have I ever let you do organizationally before?

* P.S. - Bonus points to anyone who caught my DJ Kool references. I heart you and we should get a cocktail sometime. DJ Kool - Let Me Clear My Throat - Let Me Clear My Throat

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Technology Shmechnology

(Not my best title, I know. But it's 4pm and I have yet to post!)

Teachers, at least elementary school teachers, are hoarders. We heart saving things with the rationale that "someday I might need this for (enter name of obscure project here) and if I throw it away, I'll just have to go buy it again." I have used this reasoning to justify mountains of dried beans stored in old tin coffee cans, toilet paper tubes, assorted scraps of cardboard and old glitter shakers that may or may not have remnants of usable glitter in them, but hey, you never know.

Teachers can also be a little bit jealous of one another. Like, for example, the year one of my Super Colleagues got all new classroom furniture because she moved into a previously unused classroom space. Suddenly my well-loved (read: CRAPPY) old furniture looked, well, even crappier. And I was a little jealous. Orrrrr, the time when another Super Colleague of mine wrote a Donors Choose grant that got funded and suddenly tons of beautiful new bottles of paint, pristine paint brushes and glorious watercolor sets were delivered to her classroom. Sure I knew she would share, sure I knew that she put in the effort to write a grant proposal, sure I knew it didn't mean I was a bad teacher. But I still felt jealous. So imagine how some of us in the lower elementary school (who are painfully nerdy and enjoy new gadgets) felt when the upper grade teachers started to have Smart Boards installed in their classrooms.

I mean, there's enough of a divide between upper elementary school teachers and lower elementary school teachers as it is. I have no idea why, but my impression is that many upper elementary school teachers imagine those of us down in first and second grades doing nothing but singing with children as we strum our guitars, painting pinch pots and gluing macaroni on every available surface. (P.S. - totally NOT what we're doing by the by...I mean sure, I like arts and farts as much as the next girl, but usually only have time to do that in between, you know, teaching my friends how to READ, WRITE and COUNT.)

I think I have strayed from my initial point. The point I was trying to make is that teachers like to hoard things. And that we also eye each other's things longingly and with occasional twinges of hoarder-jealousy. These feelings, which were previously limited to objects such as paint brushes, easels and extra sentence strips, now extended themselves to superior technology.

I remember walking by classrooms with Smart Boards, glancing inside and imagining what I would do if I had the power. I imagined powerful scenes...usually with children clustered around the board, engaged in furtive, productive conversation, pausing only to pay the utmost attention to my teaching brilliance and to interact with our learning through this amazing technological advancement that was the Smart Board. We would high five each other, drunk on our mutual learning and then maybe make a pinch pot or whatever. Sigh. It was going to be great. If only I could swallow the jealousy down and wait until it was my turn to receive what we had come to view as the Educational Holy Grail.

I never did get to use a Smart Board. I left before it was our turn down in the lower grades. I felt a little cheated. And then I read this article, which questions whether or not technological advances, such as the Smart Board, are the game changer we thought they were.

At the beginning of the piece, I have to admit that this Lonnise Gilley person sounds like she is a rock star of a teacher. I mean, rock on, sister friend! However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Ms. Gilley could probably rock it out with a piece of chalk and a chalkboard or an old dry erase marker and a scratched up easel. My point being that the fancy pants high-tech whiteboard didn't make her great, she made the technology great.

AH HA!

Okay. These super fancy white boards may have the ability to put my stick figure diagrams to shame with full color images pulled off of Google and offer a ton of opportunities for high tech student involvement but...

How do you even turn it on? The article mentions that a lot of teachers are "ignoring" it's interactive capabilities.

WHOAH! (insert incredulous tone.)

Before we go blaming the teacher, has anyone ever considered that no one thought to teach the teacher how to use those features? Or point out that they even exist? Or do anything besides hand her a billion page manual and say "good luck"? OF COURSE I'll read the manual, you know, during all my SPARE TIME. Sure, I'll just stick it into my schedule right here in between rehabilitating blind dolphins and folding paper cranes for charity!

I began to wonder if even Ms. Gilley, my new teacher crush, could make this high-tech whiteboard sing with educational genius without the proper professional development. (Notice I didn't say "training." We are not talking about the potty here people, we are talking about insanely expensive pieces of technology.) I mean, have you ever tried to pull off a new science experiment in your classroom and you probably should have done a dry run of the whole thing first, but you know , with your non-existent spare time and report cards looming in the coming weeks, you didn't get around to it and then your lesson kind of bombs because you spend more time fumbling around with the battery and little wires and totally lose the attention of your friends in the process? (C'mon....be honest with me here. We've all been there.) Now imagine trying to incorporate a new piece of technology that yes, has unlimited potential, but a) you have no idea how to successfully integrate it in to your teaching because it was literally dropped in your classroom with not even a whisper of subsequent professional development lurking on the horizon or b) you're not a very skilled teacher in the first place.

New technology is not going to turn mediocre (or worse BAD) teachers into Educational Trendsetters. And without effective professional development, even the best teachers are going to have trouble realizing their full potential.

So while yes, high tech whiteboards are very fancy and shiny and may spur feelings of Teacher Jealousy, let's stop parading them around as Saviors of the Classroom and recognize that supporting, promoting and encouraging GOOD TEACHING (with or without technology) is our best investment.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Rage Against the Machine

In my quest to Be Positive In 2010 (Take Three), I have made an honest effort to choke down that horrible feeling I get when things start to get all kinds of jacked up and despite my weeks of planning and preparation are totally out of my control because the jacked up-ness of the situation is a direct result of other people who wait until the last minute to get involved and then their involvement is totally not thought out and totally contradictory to everything we are doing. You might be able to imagine this feeling when you picture yourself on your latest Field Trip. You know, the one you've been planning for weeks and have worked out to the last second because that's just how prepared you have to be when you leave the building with twenty (or more) friends whose behavior on that day could be a total question mark? The Field Trip for which you have coordinated busses, lunches, bathroom breaks, chaperones, etc? Yeah, that field trip. And then, the morning of said Field Trip, you get a phone call or last minute email telling you that someone forgot to order the busses, or the whole thing was really canceled weeks ago and no one told you, or the chaperones fail to show up and now you are wondering how legal it is to leave the building with a 20 to 1 ratio, or some other such nonsense that is really hard to deal with when twenty friends are lined up in their coats with wide excited eyes staring at YOU, ready to blame YOU, depending on YOU.

(Deep breaths.) (In and out.) (Must refresh coffee. Excuse me.)

So, by now you should know the feelings I'm talking about, yes? Okay, isn't it amazing how quickly they all come rushing back to you? I had a friend tell me a story about a semi-botched field trip and it was like it all slapped me in the face. WHAM! I was outraged (for her, of course)! I was irritated (for her, of course)! I was incredulous (just kind of in general)!

Over the last few weeks (read: desperate attempts to post every day which I think I might try to continue into February although you didn't read that here), I have posted a few responses to articles about Attempts To Improve Our Schools. (Let's see....here, and here for example.) I know I am reducing the situation a little bit, but if involving individuals outside of the classroom + not consulting with teachers first = a jacked up FIELD TRIP (and above mentioned feelings of rage on the part of teachers everywhere), exactly how are we expecting this formula to fix our nation's schools? I'm just saying...

Natch, we need many voices. Some of which are not in the classroom, (Although if you want my honest opinion - a.k.a. me shooting my mouth off with little thought - those outside of the classroom voices should be very quiet. Hushed tones if you will.) and many voices that ARE or HAVE BEEN in the classroom.

(Cut to me dragging out my dusty soap box from the closet.)

Ahem! Anyone else care to join me up here?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Friday List Mania IV: Why Can't We All Just Get Along?

Schools are amazing places. So many exciting things happen in schools and if you are a Super Nerd like myself, all that learning and list making gives you the chills. In a good way. A very good, very nerdy way.

However (and you had to know that with me there is ALWAYS a "however"), schools are also hotbeds for drama of all sorts. Yes, there childhood drama of losing teeth, friends and homework, but I am referring to the adult drama. The drama of gossip, backstabbing, poor work ethic, cliques, long To Do lists and never having enough time to even go to the bathroom...for the love of God, all we want is one moment to pee in peace! (And in my current state, I have renewed respect for all my pregnant teacher friends out there...how you do it is beyond me.)

I mean, has this every happened to you? You're in the middle of your day, having a rushed conversation with It Doesn't Matter when:

Other Person: So you need to have those assessments done by Friday.
What You Want to Say: I'm going to punch you in the face if you add one more freaking thing to my plate. You wanna assess something? Well, assess this! (Insert gesture of your choice.)
What You Really Say: Sure, no problem.

Le sigh.

So, this Friday's list is dedicated to the drama of my former colleagues, because sadly they can't all be Super Colleagues. And since you can't always say what you think in a professional setting, let me say it in a post.

We'll just go with the top five. Again, I picked these five, because they evoked the most amount of reaction from all of you in the form of comments. (And I'm not ashamed to say that comments make my freaking day.) (No pressure.)

Drum roll please! And in no particular order, I present you with the highlights of ridiculousness that can be (and usually is) part of working in a public school. (Although if I could do it all again, I would do it in a heartbeat.) (I have problems.)

1. My Kingdom for a Parking Space was a very popular post. I think because it struck a chord of ridiculousness on so many levels. On the biggest level, the Department of Education decided to drastically reduce the amount of parking permits issued to each school with little to no consideration of HOW THE HELL WE WERE ALL SUPPOSED TO GET TO WORK. This decision came in October, when we were all firmly entrenched in our routines and DID NOT HAVE TIME FOR THIS CRAP. On a school level, this story exposes tales of deceit, tales of laziness and tales of general idiocy. And a good time was had by all.

2. Sound Logic? is a tale of how some people love to hide behind The System. You know, they make a major mistake that is totally fixable and probably best for the student but would mean a great deal of paperwork and perhaps an awkward conversation sooooooo, instead said person chooses to blame The System. Complete with eye rolling and a defeated posture, this argument can be very convincing at first, until you SEE RIGHT THROUGH IT FOR THE BULLSHIT THAT IT IS.

3. This Just In reminds us of the ways in which school spending can be so very jacked up. It is also a wonderful tribute to that spectacle we often refer to as The Dog and Pony Show. (Worth clicking on if you have a minute and a cocktail to sip on.) (Who am I kidding? These links are ALL worth clicking on, because they are the BEST.)

4. It's Getting Hot In Here is a delightful story of sweating. You see, many people think of teachers as "complainers." I like to think of us more as "Critical Friends." Whatever. Either way, I did not see the harm in mentioning to the janitorial staff (read: anyone who will freaking listen) that it was 90 degrees in my classroom. In the winter.

5. The Final Showdown Did you really think I was going to have a List Mania about some of my more challenging-to-get-along-with colleagues and not include a story about the Bacon Hunter? 'Cuz that would be insane. Um, hello? Bane of my professional existence much?

What You Really Want to Say: Mrs. Mimi is so hilarious, I want to fan her on Facebook.

What You Really Say:

(Oh who are we kidding, you said that last one out loud, didn't you?)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Lists, Lists, Good for the Heart, The More You Make, The More You...

So, maybe my invitation got lost in the mail, but how am I the last one to the party for this?




(And if you can believe it, that little picture is an actual LINK to the book! I have mastered the Internets!)

I don't know how I feel about this book. As you all know, I loves me a good list. Especially one that is color-coded and maybe includes a key...yeah, I get that into it. And not just professional lists...we're talking To Do Lists, Lists of Books I Want To Read, Grocery Lists, Lists of Clothes I'm Waiting to Go On Sale, Lists of Movies I Want To See. It's endless. Endless and sick I tell you. It's to the point in my insanity where if Mr. Mimi and I are faced with a new project or obstacle to tackle, he will turn to me, smile and say, "Go get the list ready...." because he knows it makes me happy. The act of just making the freaking list makes me happy and calm. HOW SICK IS THAT?

Curious about this new found potential genius, I was startled to see that it didn't receive the best reviews ever. People were pretty ambivalent about the book and expressed disappointment that it was so generic. I have to say, I do enjoy a good personalized list. Generic lists aren't enough to cut the mustard. If you want to get something done, you have to get specific. (Even if that means writing down something you've already done, just because it is a crucial step in the process and you then get the joy of crossing it off.) (I know, I need help.) (I'll add "Get Help" to my list now.) (It's like a vicious cycle.)

One reviewer wrote, "In my opinion, this book is a book published on lists simply because there's not a lot of book on lists out there."

And OH MY GOD! SHUT THE FRONT DOOR! HOLD THE PHONE! THE UNIVERSE IS SPEAKING TO ME!

Secretly, I have been plotting to write a Book Of Lists for Teachers FOR YEARS! And if I'm totally honest with you, I will admit that I have been saving many of the lists I made during my time in the classroom, squirreling them away, sorting them into piles, getting ready to TAKE OVER THE WORLD OF EDUCATION! I mean, how amazing would it be to have a book of lists catered especially toward teachers? (Any of you potential teachers or first year teachers out there, this is the part where you should be nodding your head or perhaps screaming, "Yes, Mrs. Mimi! Yes! Bring it!") (And if I see this book on the shelf someday when I am browsing through my beloved Barnsey, I may have to hunt you down.)

Update: Am aware that link is just a question mark in a blue box. Attempt at linking = fail. However, if you click on it, it will bring you to the book, so that's something. Internets, someday (shaking fist emphatically), someday I will master you.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

PLCs - Professional Learning Community Genius OR...Please Leave Crabby Overworked Teachers Alone?

(Stu, my loyal reader, this one's for you!)

Since many of you wrote and said you enjoyed my dissection of articles, I thought I would include this one because it acknowledges that schools need even more than just good teachers to make significant changes. And no, by more than good teachers alone, the article and I are not referring to increased testing, increased accountability measures that just result in increased paperwork and pencil sharpening, increased number of meetings, increased scripted curriculum or any other increased whatever that the Powers That Be dream up in an attempt to control teachers sending the message that we are nothing but idiotic trained circus animals who are in need of an occasional whipping. (Phew. That was a mouthful.)

The author had me at hello when she began her article by disrupting the Teacher as Savior image perpetuated by Hollywood. (Or the Teacher as Wearer of Head to Toe Leather...I know, I love that joke.) And then, THEN, she quotes an education consultant who says we need to stop looking for superheroes to save our schools. Sha-bam! I mean, I like to imagine myself in a cape with some fabulous gold cuffs as much as the next girl, but let's be realistic here. While I have from time to time thought of myself as having Super Powers I knew that there was no way that I could successfully change the lives of each and every one of my students, no matter how much I tried or wanted to. Did that mean I just gave up? No, of course not. But some children are coping with pretty dire situations and I'd be insane to think that I alone (despite all my high-heeled fabulousness) had the power, the knowledge or the ability to help them all.

In this piece, the author suggests Professional Learning Communities in schools which are groups of teachers and members of the local community who work together toward common goals. I'm thinking the PTA on steroids and minus a few bake sales. If I'm right we're talking about teachers, administrators, parents, and community leaders here. And I know, I know, it sounds like we're also talking about one more freaking meeting that you have to go to that will probably take place after hours, HOWEVER, what I do appreciate is the acknowledgement that the school alone isn't the main source of a community's ills. Nor is the school alone the only way we are going to solve larger social problems that impact student performance every day. (Poverty, I'm looking at YOU.)

At first, this idea may sound scary because Lord knows we don't' need another non-educator sticking their noses into our classrooms and curriculum and telling us how to do our jobs (without even asking us what we think!! ARGH!), however, if the PLC is focused on the bigger picture, how schools and teachers can possibly fit into that picture and how the community can better support the work of the schools, I'm all for it. Although, I have to say that I would feel more encouraged about adding one more thing to our already overflowing plates if this article was written from the perspective of an actual teacher or at least a former teacher who had participated in a PLC. You know, 'cuz them folks on the outside have a tendency to a) have too many opinions b) suggest ADDING EVEN MORE without ever EVER taking away and/or c) act like they know how it is on the inside because, hey, they went to school once.

Who knows if this is the solution? I'm pretty sure journaling alone is not going to do it. Nor is walking the streets with a Badass soundtrack. (Secretly, I totally want one of those, but more for personal reasons than the whole Save The Children thing.)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

If At First You Don't Succeed...Duck Into A Supply Closet to Cry

(That's how that saying goes, right?)

Yesterday, while tooting my own horn (It's true!), I asked you what you might like to read about in the coming days. Because Mrs. Mimi's brain is tired. In the coming days, I will try my best to honor your requests for more advice, stories of Zen, stories of resounding failures and interesting debates (Which are really just me ripping up someone who had the balls to put something in the newspaper from the comfort of my own laptop). However, today, I thought I would start by balancing out yesterday's I-am-amazing fest with a little tale of failures past.

Now I have blogged plenty about OTHER PEOPLE letting the ball drop (let's see...here, here, here and here just to name a few), but rarely do I blog about Mrs. Mimi not being in total control. I guess I think about that like I think about leaving my house wearing head to toe denim. I just don't do that. And while I still am unable to see the point or value in wearing head to toe denim, I do see the point and the value in sharing our little failures with one another. Because I am no Michelle Pfeiffer a la Dangerous Minds (I also have trouble with head to toe leather) and I am certainly not perfect. (Although I think I have Mr. Mimi pretty well fooled.)

This gem comes from my first year of teaching. I was at a charter school...a charter school that was going down in flames and from which I fled as fast as I could. (Cut to me in the office of my former school, slamming my resume down on the island in the office, asking to speak to the principal and perhaps, crying a little. It had been a rough day.)

I was thrust into my first classroom in January. I had been co-teaching/subbing in the building during the fall while I finished up my master's degree. One of the second grade teachers had seen the writing on the wall, and quit before the school totally broke her spirit (and maybe her lip....her class had some tough kids). Fresh from my I-have-a-master's high, I took over for her, thinking it would be hard, but knowing that I was ready to work harder, to take on the challenge, to master my craft, to TEACH.

Idiot.

I have so many tragic stories from that year. I'm sure they'll call come out in due time. There are far too many to put together here (read: not enough cocktails....or mocktails...or therapists...in the world to get me to be able to pour it out all at once.) But...

Picture it. A basement classroom with NO WINDOWS TO THE OUTSIDE. NO. WINDOWS. The only source of ventilation is the giant hole in the ceiling from which I suspect there was a steady stream of asbestos raining down. A young teacher stands in front of her 28 students explaining her latest attempt to get them to like learning.

The art project.

For me, arts 'n farts has always been a time of Zen. I LOVE coordinating projects for kids. I spent many, many, MANY summers running arts based day camps for small children and thought I had this one in the bag. SLAM DUNK!

Uh, no.

Within seconds, my plan to create a whole class mural where we would just all get along and love one another in the spirit of team work, had been shot to shit. The floor was covered in heaps of scrap paper. I mean, how does it pile up like that so fast and seem to just...multiply? Children ran around their desks in circles - some clutching scissors, some wielding paint brushes, some just screaming. You know, just because. JUST BECAUSE THEY WANT TO MAKE ME CRAZY!

When I look back on the chaos (and shudder....or reach for a sedative, whatevs), I realize that I had failed to set up rules in regards to the proper use and clean up of art supplies. I had failed to model their use. I had failed to ration them out slowly over time. Or talk about how we move about the classroom. Or how to share. Or how not to run around screaming like someone with in-patient status. My bad.

As I watched the insanity unfold in front of me, I was suddenly no longer able to bark orders, try the Teacher Clappy Thing to Get Your Attention, or really speak at all. It was almost like I floated up above the classroom - very out of body, very get me the hell out of here. Has that ever happened to you? Where you know you have totally lost control and you have no idea how to get it back and so you just kind of watch it all unfold? If you haven't, good for you. If you have, I'm sorry. Or maybe I'm not. I think we can learn a lot by those spectacular failures.

Honestly, I have blacked out the rest. Totally blacked it out. I have no idea how I managed to pull everyone back together - or really if I was even able to. Maybe they all donned war paint, selected a leader and ran out of the building clutching scissors and paint brushes. I'm not sure I want to know. What I DO remember, however, is crawling into my closet YES INTO MY CLOSET at the end of the day and sobbing. And then I cleaned up, set up and came back the next day because first year teachers are suckers for punishment.

So there it is, friends. Mrs. Mimi going down in flames.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Reinventing Fabulous

Happy Martin Luther King Day everybody! I hope you just woke up (LATE!) and are lingering over coffee and Matt Lauer. Don't late anybody hate on your day off. Just savor it, friends, savor it. (And for those of you who don't have the day off or perhaps in some sort of workshop...sorry?)

Here I am, more than halfway through this January challenge to post every day and I feel like I have nothing to write about. (Insert hilarious story about my cat or what happened last night while I was making dinner here.) (Don't worry, I won't really do that to you.) (Today.)

Writing everyday has forced me to reinvent myself. I can't rely solely on one type of post anymore. (Meaning, I won't just be complaining anymore...I mean, I just won't stop all together because I think that would be impossible, but it will definitely be sprinkled with things like advice, positivity, hilarity and commentary about goings-on in the news and other media.) At first, I was afraid to reinvent myself. (Why mess with a good thing, right?) But I realized that, I am no stranger to reinvention. As a teacher, I had to reinvent myself all the time to save my sanity, to find my Zen place where I was a good teacher and not a clock-fearing, schedule-whipped, overworked crazy person with more To Dos than coherent thoughts. Sometimes within the same week, the same day, or even the same hour. (Hey, assembly week was rough.)

I mean, how many times did I have to reinvent myself (and my plans) when there were weeks WEEKS I felt like I never saw my friends because I spent all my time ALL MY TIME in various professional development sessions held during the school day and a slew of meetings that I didn't ask for and really didn't want to attend? I mean, maybe I'm wrong, but I thought teachers actually spent time with the children during the school day. Who knows though, I'm also the same person who thinks teachers are smart enough to be able to push the buttons on the new photo copier, but we're not allowed to do that either so I guess being in control of our own time is a lot to ask. Bitter, party of one? Your table is ready. (Lea, hope you don't mind - had to use it! Too good!) After countless hours spent in the company of other adults, I really had to pull my you-know-what together and reinvent myself for my friends.

And how many times did I have a terrible week, I MEAN A TERRIBLE WEEK, where everyone seemed to have forgotten where the hell we are and all the rules that had been firmly in place forever?? Does that ever happen to you? Usually, it's after a long break and the kids come back all fabulous and cute the first day but the the next day OH THE NEXT DAY we all act like we don't know any of the rules anymore or where Mrs. Mimi has kept the extra erasers for the last 102 school days? So you need to take a breathe (and perhaps get yourself to the nearest happy hour) and begin anew, with a whole new refresher course on the rules and the way we treat each other. Reinvention #473.

Or, what about all the times that you're dutifully following your plan, sticking to the schedule, are a slave to the Powers That Be when you realize, "HOLY CRAP, I'M BORED!" And then, like the brilliant teacher that you are, you scrap the plans and reinvent yourself to be an exciting and engaging teacher once more. (Hopefully.)

So I guess really not all that new to reinventing myself. But just (for my ego) for my notes, what types of posts are you most interested in seeing from Mrs. Mimi in the future? (Links and commentaries to recent articles, advice, hilarious memories from classrooms past, general teacher hilarity....you tell me.) I mean, we do have 13 more days until the end of January and I might just keep going after that...

Consider yourself warned.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Mix Three Dashes of Common Sense, A Splash of Respect, A Smidge of the Impossible and STAND BACK!

Warning: refresh your coffees. lattes, cocktails (Hey, who am I to judge?) now because it's about to get heavy up in here.

I was catching up on my reading this morning, when I stumbled upon this little old commentary by a professor at Williams College. Natch, I was immediately drawn to the title What It Takes To Become a Good Teacher. Call me crazy, but words like this speak to me.

After reading the first few sentences, I was hooked. So much of it seems like common sense to me, but evidently it is more like rocket science for The Powers That Be who are frantically designing new teacher-proof curriculum and assessments and basically doing everything they can to leave teachers totally out of the equation. Listen to this. She writes, "...all those other modifications are for nothing, if we can't put good teachers into our schools." And I'm all BAM! IN YOUR FACE! (I'm not sure who I'm talking to, but these sort of statements tend to pump me up.)

Then she cites one of my personal faves Jerome Bruner, who wrote "...you can no more make a curriculum that's teacher-proof than you can make a family that's parent-proof."

BOO-YAH! FACIAL SCRUB! RUB YOUR FACES IN THAT! (Again, not sure who I'm yelling at, but it sure feels good.) (Insert fist pumping here.)

The article continues with this gem, "Not everyone is cut out to be a teacher..." Um THANK YOU. I know I've said it many times before, and maybe it makes me unpopular with some, BUT (I will say it anyway) good intentions are not enough to make a good teacher. Honestly, I think it's lovely that you want to help the children but if that's all you've got or you think that's enough, you can take your good intentions and go find a lovely place looking for volunteers. I'm sure they'd love to have you and thanks for stopping by.

The article also discusses all the "training" teachers need to become truly great. While I am totally on-board with the idea that becoming a good teacher is a process filled with a lifetime of learning and development, I don't love the word "training." (I mean, do we really need in invoke images of circus animals or house breaking a new puppy when speaking about our profession?) But I digress because I really enjoyed this commentary. The author lists a much more comprehensive look at the learning needs of the teacher: a knowledge of child development, an understanding of curriculum and how to make it come alive, an ability to make the tedious fun and relevant, the skill to handle difficult children and communicate effectively with parents, how to assess, how to use assessment results thoughtfully (Instead of just giving more assessments which seems to be the latest disturbing trend and one with which I have sadly had much experience.), and how to keep teaching well when "buried by bureaucracy" (and what she is afraid to say, the ability to soldier on when sometimes working with people who strike you as well, morons.)

"It is also vital that these student-teachers have a chance to develop their skills before they are put in charge of a tough group of kids in a school with problems" Um, hi, fast track teacher certification programs, I'm looking at YOU. What's up? Not to be a total hater because on occasion truly wonderful people are discovered through your programs BUT if traditional certification routes are criticized for not providing enough hands on time in the classroom with a skilled mentor teacher, can someone please explain the thinking by speeding up the entire process? I'm not hating on those teachers AT ALL - I AM 100% ON THE SIDE OF ALL WONDERFUL HARD-WORKING TEACHERS NO MATTER HOW YOU GOT THERE - I'm just wondering if any of them felt ready for what they faced in their classrooms? I mean, isn't there a better way to attract smart, motivated, dedicated people from other careers AND also prepare them to be at their best in the classroom?? And if we can all agree that the above mentioned list of knowledge and skills are essential to good teaching, why are we trying to cram this up people's behinds in like six weeks?

And, while we're being honest with each other, may I please address almost every preparation program everywhere? I'm just curious, what's the obsession with teaching us nine billion different ways to organize a lesson plan or sort our manipulatives when really teaching is SO MUCH MORE than basic organization 101 (although I heart organizing) and a collection of discrete skills? I'm just saying...

Now I know the author's idea that we need to provide free teacher education might be a little out there. I agree with the idea that "...one good teacher is worth ten good assessment tools," but should I plant the money tree now, or wait until spring? Because we're going to need a whole orchard here. I think what she's saying is that our money is being poorly allocated to all sorts of scientific, teacher-proof curriculum when it could be used to fund better teacher prep programs which is true. Not sure how that is going to happen, but true.

So, snaps for talking about the breadth and depth of teaching with such respect, sister.

Just something for us to mull over while you enjoy the shit out of your three-day weekend. HOLLA!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

And The Medal Goes To...

I just came from the gym. Being pregnant has motivated me to exercise in a way that nothing has since the motivation of my wedding dress. Nice dedication, right?

Soooooo....how are we all doing with our New Year's Resolutions? Hmmm? By a show of hands, how many of us vowed to leave work a little earlier and get to the gym a little more often? Uh-huh. I thought so. (Because of the THRONGS of people suddenly taking up my favorite treadmill that became my favorite long before you made your resolution!) (Sorry, that wasn't directed at you. Lady in pink spandex who should have rethought putting on pink spandex before leaving the house, I'm looking at YOU.) And how is that going? Um, yeah, I thought so.

When are we going to realize that LEAVING WORK EARLY IS VIRTUALLY IMPOSSIBLE! Sure, I could do it when someone in my family needed something, but for just little old me to get my behind to the gym? Man, is that one easily rationalized away by declarations of, "I just need to grade these tests today, I'll go tomorrow." OR, "Okay, if I plan all these small groupstoday and skip the gym, then I'll have tons of time the rest of the week." OR, "I'm too freaking tired from (insert any number of things that exhaust teachers here)."

Can we all agree that we are making these false promises to ourselves because of our collective fear of developing the dreaded Teacher Ass? (Am I right or am I left?) Now, you know I hate when people justify their limited understanding of teaching by relying on their childhood memories of school BUT....in this case, I'll let it slide. Tell me you DON'T have a memory of one of your beloved teachers who was lovely, sweet, kind and fun but who also had a wide, flat, sad behind. (If you don't have that memory, I'll give you a free gym membership!) And tell me you don't secretly recognize that schools are designed to negate any sort of commitments to healthy eating made by teachers...I mean, the place is practically bulging with birthday cupcakes, chocolates on secretary's desks, the extra donuts from your writing celebration, someones birthday pizza...you know what I mean.

Before you go slit your wrists (or put down that gorgeous piece of coffee cake/bagel loaded with wonderful cream cheese), let me push you to think of all the exercise you DO get WHILE teaching. It may make you feel better. (Relax, and pick up that bagel again. It's worth it.) I have a little personal info that just may cheer you all up on this sunny Saturday morning, as you sip your coffee and most likely decide to just "skip the gym today" in order to write lesson plans, so perhaps you can find the time to go out to dinner later. Are you ready? I had to exercise more once I left my classroom because I a) wasn't tired enough to fall asleep at night without running around like an errand crazed psycho b) I found I had gained a few pounds by taking on the life of a writer/student (read: sitting in front of computer all day eating snacks rationalized as "brain food") and c) no more commute which yes, meant much more sleep but it also meant no more walking a mile each morning and afternoon between the train station and work.

Let's think about it. Do we EVER sit down during the day? Um, NO. Teachers are on their feet, moving around the room (Or warming up their muscles), popping up to help a child at their seat (Those count as squats, right?), marching up and down the stairs (Hello, naturally occurring Stair master.), running to the bathroom in their few spare moments (Other wise known as sprints.) and of course, engaging in the ultimate cardio - trying to get to the photocopier first during that window of time when it's actually working so that you don't have to stand in line mentally stewing in all the other things you could be getting done if you weren't standing in this freaking line!

And don't forget the Teacher Olympics which happen TWICE a year. (Not every TWO years, you lazy athletes!) These Olympics are also known as Setting Up Your Classroom and Putting Away Your Classroom. (Am I alone in thinking that we deserve medals for the amount of physical labor, creativity and skill needed to complete these two essential tasks?) We get into shape for these marathon weight lifting/endurance/mental toughness challenges through out the year by Moving Around Students' Desks. Upon first glance, you might think a teacher is simply trying to break up chatty groups of friends or moving around hard workers to be "good influences" on less motivated groups but you would be wrong. It's so much more complicated than that. In addition to all the educational reasons teachers may move around the furniture in their classrooms from time to time, please also considering that they are toning their finely tuned bodies to be ready for exhibitions such as Field Day, Extra Recess Day and The Field Trip, all event which precede the Putting Away Your Classroom Games.

So, sure, maybe we should say no to the birthday cupcake (probably because it is made in a strange kitchen far far away whose cleanliness is unknown more than because of the calories). Maybe we should get to the gym more to achieve a better work-life balance. But you know what, I think we're doing pretty damn good just to get through the day.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Friday List Mania Trois: The Best of My Friends

It's FRIDAY!!! That means Happy Hour people! Happy Hour! Cocktails, drinks with little umbrellas, overly-fatty cocktail food...the works! I hope you have plans to go out and enjoy it. When I first started teaching, we religiously met in my classroom approximately twenty minutes (read: seconds) after the kiddos left, bags packed and ready for a cocktail. After staying in our classrooms Monday thru Thursday until 6, 7 or 8 p.m., we felt we deserved an early day and a bucket of booze.

Although our cocktail hour was less of a civilized gathering of professionals and more of a raucous crowd of half-crazed individuals all trying to out-shout each other as we each attempted to have the BEST STORY EVER from the week. And the hour was more like six hours. Come to think of it, we probably looked half crazed and less than sober, but hey, it was dark little bar, no one could see us. (Right?)

So, in the spirit of happy hour and story shouting, I thought I would share five of the BEST stories of my friends. (Warning: these stories are HILARIOUS!) (Just imagine me shouting them at you across the table, as I suck down a Captain and Ginger Ale and pick at the cold pile of fries in front of us.)

1. Sippin' On Gin and Juice - If you've read my book (Thank you and you're welcome.) (Don't hesitate to post a review on Amazon either.) then you've heard of the tale of the Malibu Rum. Who doesn't like to celebrate their summer vacation with a nice fruity cocktail? I just didn't know that my friends (and their families) were supporters of the Teacher Cocktail Hour/Shout Fest as well...

2. If You're Going To Spew, Spew Into This... - Who can forget Pukey Patty and the legend of the Official Pass to the Nurse? I wish I had saved that note...

3. Curly Reigns Supreme - You all know I love the Naughty Boys. (Does anybody besides me giggle to themselves when I write that? No?) Curly quickly became one of my most favorite and most infamous naughty boy. So, natch, a story about him made it into the top five.

4. Literally Bursting With Excitement - Clearly I have a thing for children with curly hair. Perhaps it's because of my own curls...but that's just a theory. Now, I know we all want our friends to be engaged in their work, but Curly Girl was so involved that even a puddle of pee (her own!) didn't stop her.

5. Stop. Fairy Time. - This post is probably one of my most popular because of the MC Hammer reference in the title. Right? Just a guess. From all the emails I've received, this is definite a Mrs. Mimi fan favorite because a) it involves a triumphant moment for one of my little friends b) it contains minor cursing and major hilarity and c) teachers seem to be totally into the idea of a Finish Folder. I know they saved my life.

Okay. Read, drink, repeat. And happy Friday!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

How Can I Not Write About This?

If you're me, and are used to writing mildly to heavily sarcastic pieces which usually poke fun at one or more people, yet in the end are really focused on how to make children's educational lives better (and hopefully the lives of their teachers too), you might feel a little strange posting your usual shenanigans with everything that is going on in Haiti. Normally, I like to take what I think of as a pretty dire situation in schools, something that may make you want to pull your hair out at the end of a long day, and make it funny.

This is more dire than I can imagine.

People have to be talking about this in their classrooms, right? I know I had a few Haitian students from time to time, but even if you don't...if you're students are mildly conscious of the world around them and have caught even five minutes of news or one recent headline, they have to know about this. I think this is a moment where "sticking to the basics" is a bad idea. Although it is sad that it takes something so drastic and devastasting to get some to talk about the lives of those who are poor in suffering in Haiti, we need to take the time.

While I was in the classroom, I often held canned food drives and Super Colleagues around me organized Gently Used Book Drives for local homeless shelters, Gently Used Game drives for local children's hospitals, Fundraisers for various charitable oganizations...you name it. And what I learned from these efforts is that this type of community involvement, ESPECIALLY when it is tied to something current, is beyond motivating for children. My friends became obsessed with counting, charting, sorting, cataloguing and advertising our bounty. We graphed, weighed, measured, wrote about, read about and put our backs into delivering hunderds of canned goods to a local shelter. And you know what? They loved every second.

I'd like to think if I was in the classroom today, I would be talking about this devastating earthquake with my friends. And I would try, with their help, coordinate some sort of effort to help, however minimal it might feel at the time. The learning involved with such a project, from how to talk about the issues, to designing posters, to making a plan and putting it into action is invaluable...PLUS you know you're hleping in the ways that you can.

I know that sometimes doing the legwork blows and what with all the test taking, mini-lesson planning and small group making, time is tight. Here are some sites I found which may help. I would love to hear your stories - what you decide to do, how you did it or any other resources you found that you might want to share with the rest of us.

Here's a great link from CBS news with a list of links to other organizations.

Here is a short list of various charitable organizations I found via a quick Google search. I focused on how to help children when doing this search. (Just FYI.) (Sorry if some are redundant after the CBS list.):

Haiti Children.org
Unicef
Feed The Children

And last, but not least, I stumbled across this blog post via my obsession with the blog Dooce. It seemed like a helpful list of ways to help that start with something as easy as texting to make a small donation.

Tomorrow it won't be over, but tomorrow I'll try to bring funny back.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Happy Birthday To Me

Yes friends, today is my birthday. (I considered ending that sentence with an exclamation point, but it feels like after 30, a period is more appropriate.)

And while I'm feeling a little bit like, "when did I turn around and become XX years old?", I do love birthdays. I am the type of person who believes the month of January should be a celebration of me, and am more than happy to schedule multiple celebratory events rather than have one big blow out. (Although, I had some blow outs in my 20s and then there was my 30th in Vegas...complete with table dancing.) This year is no exception. (Sans dancing on tables of course. Pregnant lady dancing on a table = sad.) My sister is coming over today to spend the day Being Girlie (translation for my male readers: mani/pedi, lunch out, shopping and then dinner...basically looking for opportunities to spend money). Mr. Mimi is taking me to one of my fave restaurants on Friday and of course, there is the requisite family dinner occurring on Saturday night. (Your welcome in advance, family for I know how you love that my birthday stretches out the holiday season just that much longer and creates the need for just one more family dinner.)

I know I'm going to have a lovely birthday. BUT....

I'm not going to be with my friends. And by friends, I mean my little kiddos. While I was in the classroom, I sometimes fantasized taking my birthday as a personal day, but could never rationalize it enough to actually pull the trigger and just do it. Hence, I always had my birthday at work.

And you know what?

It was always awesome.

I mean, today will be fabulous. My sister and I get to spend the whole day together and we will have a blast (read: spend a lot of money....) (Just kidding, honey!) but there is still a pathetic part of me that will miss the Teacher Lunchtime Celebration and Spontaneous Student Festivities.

What is the Teacher Lunchtime Celebration you ask?

WELL. The Teacher Lunchtime Celebration consists of pizza from the local pizza place because, honestly, pizza is one of our only fancy options. That or sandwiches from the bodega on the corner with lots of cats. (Although, I have to admit, I have had one and it was relatively cat hair free, but for a birthday? No.) So we have pizza. I always eat one and a half slices (and then scarf one more down before I pick up the kids which is ALWAYS a mistake yet I make it year after year and birthday after birthday because....well, because pizza is not PB&J and as sad as it is, ordering lunch out is a big freaking deal for teachers in my neck of the woods.)

You might be thinking that pizza doesn't sound very special, but have you ever tried finding a time to discretely use your cellphone to order a pizza while teaching? I mean, those of us that are teachers know that using your cell phone in front of the kiddos feels very illicit. The few times I have done it, I felt this overwhelming sense of guilt and just plain "wrongness". Like I was lighting up a cigarette or taking tequila shots in front of them or something. So the fact that one of my Super Colleagues figured out the proper time, REMEMBERED said time during the chaos of the morning and then actually MADE THE CALL makes pizza pretty special.

And it gets even better. There are cupcakes. From one of my favorite bakeries. Which means another Super Colleague trudged there the night before and then dragged a bag full of deliciousness to work, hid it in her closet all morning and kept her fingers crossed that our resident vermin were not interested. I mean, does that say special or what?

The best part though, was the kids. Every year it would be something. Piles of home made birthday cards sneaked into my chair. Impromptu renditions of "Happy Birthday" sung on the playground. Small pieces of artwork. For that one moment, there were no cries of, "My brother's birthday is in January!" "My birhtday is in May!" "There are only eight more days until my birthday." They put all that aside for me, even if it was just for a moment.

Roll your eyes, call me ridiculous, I don't care. School birthdays were the BEST.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Lighting the Corners of My Mind On Fire - OR What I'd Really Like To Do With Your Pile of Data

A recent phone call:

Big Momma Mimi:I've loved all your posts recently honey.
Me: I have nothing to write about and tomorrow is only day twelve. I am seconds away from blogging about what happened to me at the chiropractor's office last week or maybe the laundry. But somehow, I don't think that's educationally relevant.
Big Momma Mimi: Well, we're doing Progress Monitoring right now. You could always write about that.

BINGO!

Ah, yes. "Progress Monitoring" or some idiot's genius alternative to the words "Data Collection." (Also known as "A Period Of Time When No Observable Teaching Occurrs Because The Teacher Is Lost In A Flurry of Checklists, Graphs, Running Records and Number Two Pencils.") At my school, there were some assessments for which we had to "monitor progress" every two weeks. TWO WEEKS! So, if it takes me two days to complete the testing...

Wait, that sounds like a great number story! Ready? Get those pencils out!

"A teacher teaches for for 6 hours every day. She works five days a week. Every ten days she has to take four to six hours away from her regular teaching to Progress Monitor her at risk students, who need more instructional time than any other group. If she takes four to six hours of teaching away every ten days, how much teaching time is left over?

(Furious scribbling.)
(Gets up for eraser.)
(Chews on end of pencil.)

Answer: Not enough, friends, not enough. Certainly not enough to warrant "Progress Monitoring" when really children just need to be making process.

Now, I'm not against assessing. Not at all. I LOVED sitting back and looking at how my friends did on certain assessments, reveling in their progress. I mean, nothing makes a teacher feel better than seeing those numbers go up, up, up! On the flip side, I also loved sitting with a well-designed assessment, a cup of coffee, a stack of Post Its and my beloved Sharpies, thinking about ways in which my children's mistakes were going to direct my future teaching. I relished creating new small groups and making new plans of action for struggling friends.

Here's what I didn't like.

Assessments that were collosal wastes of my time. And my friends time.

Assessments that were poorly designed. The same assessments that my Super Colleagues and I volunteered to upgrade, on our own time, so that they were better reflective of our students' needs and progress. The same assessments that the Bacon Hunter insisted that we continue to use in their original form for no apparent reason other than teachers should just do what they're told. (Kind of makes you want to stab someone with your recnetly sharpened lucky test-taking number two pencil, doesn't it?)

Or, assessments given as part of a good old dog and pony show.

So if you are out there somewhere dutifully monitoring progress, collecting data, pulling your hair out - whatever you want to call it - my heart goes out to you.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Paws Of Fury

As I have said (read: complained about) before, it is hard to come up with something to write about each and every day. Even when I was in the classroom full time, I would often come home with nothing to say. (I know, hard to believe. Me with nothing to say.) (No smart comments about that being a relief, please.) And as a result of that difficulty, I often threaten to write about my cat. You know, her nap schedule, eating preferences, etc. Basically, FASCINATING STUFF.

Well, friends, you have to know how close I came to telling you an adorable story of my robust kitty and her sleeping habits UNTIL...

I remembered I never told you the drama/minor trauma that was my first and only classroom pet. (And just like that, you were spared from Tales of My Kitty.)

Okay. So this all happened WAY BACK WHEN in my first year of teaching at my former school, which was only my second year of teaching ever. (I'm still not sure my first year even counted what with all the crying and threats to quit. Just ask Big Mama Mimi...there was lots of crying. LOTS.) Regardless, I still had yet to find my voice as a teacher and would basically do whatever I was told and please tell me what to do because this job is so much harder than I ever imagined and I will take any help I can get. Thank goodness I loved my friends that year. LOVED them. To pieces. (Translation: I would have done anything for them including giving up most of my weekends and evenings to plan lessons and make the horrible decision to accept a class pet.)

ANYWAY, back to the pet (or should I say pure evil reincarnated as a furry little hamster). One day, after I had dismissed my friends ( who I LOVED but they exhausted me beyond belief), I was getting ready for the next day (read: frantically running around my room starting and stopping eighteen various projects because I had yet to hone the wonder that is my To Do list) when The Weave walked in. Now, at the start of my career, The Weave was extremely supportive of me and my progress. Really. I know you are staring at the computer screen in disbelief, but I have to be honest, she really was.

Her: I have a great idea for you and your class!
Me: Okaaaay?
Her: Something I think will really bring an even more positive vibe to your room and be good for the kids.
Me: Okaaaay?
Her: I'll have someone bring it up. It's going to be great.
Me: Okayyy.

She leaves the classroom. Within seconds, a fifth grader is in my room and drops off two big packages on the desk nearest the door and leaves. Like he had been lurking down the hallway waiting for the signal. Like The Weave had been making her way down the hall working each teacher to see who was the least resistant to her idea (read: biggest sucker). Or something like that.

The first package is a tremendous bag of cedar chips. Immediately, I know I am screwed. The smell of cedar has already filled my room and, having had a hamster in college (RIP Zeus....), I know that the stench of pee is soon to follow. Like I need more pee in my life.

The second package is a brown paper bag. With a plastic cage. And a sweet blond hamster.

At first. AT FIRST, I think to myself, "What a sweet hamster! This could be great! Think about the observations! Think about the classroom jobs! Think about the incentive! Think about the lessons on caring and responsibility!"

When I should have been thinking, "Think of all the times you will have to clean out the cage! Think about all the weekends when you are afraid to leave this thing in the freezing temperatures and end up bringing it home on the subway! Think about trying to find a home for it over the summer! Think about how overwhelmed you are by all the new curriculum and how much time you spend planning each and every day and how this is the last thing you need!"

I get our new friend all set up. The next day I introduce him to the class and let's just say they were excited. (Although it was more like someone had just announced FREE CANDY FOR A LIFETIME! and then proceeded to stuff each and every child with heinous amounts of sugar and caffeine.) We established some ground rules, I modeled the care of our friend and cleaning of his cage, we made some observations of his behavior and I thought, "This isn't so bad."

WRONG.

I soon discovered that this hamster was programmed to hate children. H.A.T.E. They treated him like a rare treasure, and in return he treated them like a chew toy. Children would earn time to spend with Wilbur (they named him after the pig in Charlotte's Web which was sweet but later very ironic given Wilbur's evil streak and hatred for all things human) or clean out his cage while the rest of us were engaged in some other activity. Without fail, and within the first fifteen seconds, there were howls of pain and cries for a Band Aid heard from Wilbur's little enclave in the corner of our room. It got so bad that I just put a basket of Band Aids next to his cage. (I probably should have put some heavy duty work gloves there instead, but hindsight is 20/20 I guess.) Did they begin to hate the hamster? No. Did they refuse to clean his cage? No. Did they try like hell to get him to love them? Yes. Did he eventually learn to love and trust my friends? NO.

Let me just say that the day I got some parent to agree to take him for the summer was one of the BEST days of my entire career, and one of my proudest triumphs. The family was thrilled, especially when I told them, "No need to bring him back in the fall. He's yours forever."

I have since learned that perhaps I am more of a fish-in-a-bowl type teacher, despite my personal love of animals. I have also learned that hamsters do not fare well in our school. My advice to you: just say no to pets in your first year of teaching. Classroom pets can be a wonderful thing, but you have enough on your plate.

Who's Peeking?