Sunday, November 20, 2016

Repost: Children Can Emulate Native Americans Without Adults Screaming "RACISM." Here's Why...

This post was originally published last year and is worth sharing again as the debate regarding costumes and cultural appropriation make their annual appearance prior to many schools' Thanksgiving plays and feasts.


After reading through a debate regarding a parent's complaint about pre-k students making construction paper feather headbands in November, I came across this post at Education World, "Are You Teaching the 'Real' Story of the 'First Thanksgiving?'"  The article and debate made me realize how lucky I am to have been brought up the way I was as the child of  both native and non-native parents.
Born in Kentucky and raised for the first ten years of my life in Texas, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to be immersed in Inupiat culture, and live for over two decades in a state where Native peoples' values, history, songs, beliefs, mythology, subsistence lifestyle, and art aren't merely on display for one month out of the year: Alaska.  I learned about the good, the bad, the historical cruelties suffered by, and remarkable achievements of Indigenous Peoples. I have been a witness to the prejudices that remain and feel pride in the accomplishments and contributions of my Native family and friends today. Endurance, strength, resilience, community, love for family, pride, skill and artistry are all traits worthy of being shared, respected, and celebrated, no matter a person's ethnic or cultural background. 
To develop empathy, children must be encouraged to walk a mile in another's shoes, to imagine how they might feel when meeting strangers for the first time, when deciding who and HOW to trust. Young children try on the clothing and garb of others every day, from their mom's high heels to their dad's Army cap, to sister's riding boots and brother's varsity jacket, developing their personal identity by trying on the markers of others.  They also emulate family members, friends, sports heroes, celebrated musicians, actors, historical figures, community helpers and those blessed with a special talent or gift.
Can children create feathered headbands without the kitsch or racist connotations that instantly pop into their parents' minds upon viewing? Absolutely, but it's up to the teacher to share culturally relevant and accurate information about the earning of feathers (or wearing of a blanket, mask, or story belt) with students AND families.  It's also a family's responsibility to try to understand the intentions behind a lesson or activity before rushing to judgment and labeling a teacher as racist or insensitive.  Do I find it offensive if children emulate respected chiefs, warriors, healers, or shamans, just as they do ballerinas, astronauts, painters, singers, veterinarians, or teachers?  No.  Just as teachers, family and society expose children to other professions and roles worthy of respect through literature, history lessons, field trips, guest speakers, arts and crafts, so too can we teach children about Native Americans and Indigenous Peoples.  Native AND non-Native teachers need quality non-fiction materials and resources, or know how and where to find them. It's also up to teachers and parents to be aware of what's not only culturally sensitive, but developmentally appropriate for young children. 
Three, four, five and six year olds do not need to be exposed to and master the vocabulary of genocide because of the gut reaction of the adults around them. Rather, children should be gently guided as they broaden the scope of their universe from their immediate selves and family to their neighborhood, community, state, nation, and world.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Day After: Everything We REALLY Need to Know

Yesterday was a physically and emotionally lethargic day for me, thanks to the combination of too little sleep, our election plot twist, and the energy draining combination of not enough Midol and too many "Teacher-teacher-teacher-teacher" demands. I only encountered one adult who thought that my classroom was the best place to share her relief that "our country will be getting back to the way it used to be now," the rest of my colleagues (regardless of how they voted) too professional, too busy, and likely too tired to bring that can of worms into the building, much less open it. I was grateful that none of my students came in parroting their parents' political jubilation or fear- many colleagues across the country didn't have it so lucky.
After painting my nails red and getting almost seven hours of sleep, I woke up, had some coffee, stole a pack of The Fifth Grader's Pop Tarts, and sat down to surf social media. Twitter, Yahoo News, CNN Breaking News updates, and FB friends and family made for an interesting and concerning mix.
Visceral responses don't bother me: I cry, shake, shout out in jubilation, laugh, and dry heave just like everyone else. I seek out like-minded educators and creative, inspiring, humorous souls, with whom I feel a sense of belonging, fulfilling the same human need that so many others have. Unlike a significant portion of fellow citizens however, I don't believe I'm entitled to inflict my beliefs upon others through threats, attempts at intimidation, or violence. Reading that in reaction to the results of the presidential election, former Super Stars were facing threats of violence or unwelcome wink-wink pats on the ass from their colleagues and employers, I found my disappointment turning to exasperation.
Too many of us have forgotten the lessons that we learned in kindergarten, and too many schools, districts and communities have allowed data and calendars mapping the timeline of academic rigor to fill the days of young children and their teachers. "Don't hit," "be fair, share," "apologize and ask if the other person is okay," "help, don't hurt," "wait your turn," "be a good listener," and "use manner words" are all lessons that are only turned into intrinsic behaviors with time and daily opportunities for young children to learn and practice. These necessary skills and behaviors make sharing spaces and places with diverse community members possible, just as much as reading and math acumen. Diversity is the rule, not the exception, no matter how "icky" that apparently makes many Americans feel.

Please keep your hands, feet, and objects to yourselves.

Use your inside voice.

... and always follow the teacher's directions.


Read up:

Monday, November 07, 2016

Veterans Day Bulletin Board Display 2016

As the proud wife of an Army veteran and as the teacher of many children from military families, our Veterans Day bulletin board display is an annual favorite of mine:

This year I added another fine motor task for my students, scrunching up tissue paper to fill a heart shape pennant:

Each veteran bears the family's last name, soldier style:

For how to's, visit my original post from two years ago (by clicking here) to see materials and dimensions for this craft.

And here's a freebie for you, the "Thank You for Your Service" pennant template!


Thank you, Veterans!

Saturday, October 08, 2016

This Election: A Woman, a Duck, and a Bully

After the news last night, my Teacher Brain woke me up this morning, reminding me that Scholastic's Let's Find Out fliers have an election edition, featuring this year's presidential candidate, her opponent, and a duck. Yes, I meant what I did there.

I'm seriously considering not sending the flier home with my students this year, because the only developmentally appropriate approach to take with my kindergartners about whether or not a woman, a duck, or a bully could be president, would involve much too much discussion about what my Super Stars have overheard or absorbed by osmosis from the social media that permeates much of their lives. Equal rights and the affirmation that we have the opportunity/responsibility to elect someone highly qualified to one of the most important positions in our country are worthwhile lessons and discussions to have, even with five and six year olds. Young children understand hope, change, fairness, kindness, safety, possibilities, right and wrong. Many of their parents have described bullying to them as an example of some of the most inappropriate, unkind, unsafe and untrustworthy of behaviors. No one should aspire to be a bully, and no one should tolerate one.  

Five and six year olds won't understand the significance of email servers, foreign relations, or political double-speak, but they DO understand a bad man joking (?) about hurting their mommies, aunts, and sisters, and making their diverse friends move away or live on the other side of a wall. Those fear and confusion-inducing topics are not welcome in my classroom, no matter how much his supporters try to gloss over or spin them. In and out of my classroom, it's appalling to me that so many find what he says and does entertaining and worthy of their vote.

My professional judgement requires I advocate for the emotional well-being of my students, determining which content is informative and necessary, and which might be harmful. It's very possible that the simple photograph that is featured in "A Duck Can't Be President" will ignite uncomfortable feelings in some or many of my students, depending on the information and parental opinions they have likely overheard at home and out in public. I prefer to introduce and educate my students to the voting process itself, something photos numbered 1-4 in the flier do nicely. Perhaps this problem can be remedied by a simple trip through a paper cutter for the oversized teaching poster that's included with the pack, while the fliers themselves find their way into the recycle bin.

The only other time I've chosen to not utilize a take home flier from Scholastic was blogged about here. How do you decide what content is appropriate for your students? Do you decide as a grade level?

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


Our last story of the day was "Mean Soup," about a little boy named Horace who had a TERRIBLE day and arrived home "feeling mean." To cheer him up, his mother had him make Mean Soup, a recipe that included screaming into a pot of water, growling at it, banging the side of the pot, and breathing their best "dragon breath" into the broth. Once Horace's mood was lifted (because really, whose mood *wouldn't be* after breathing dragon breath into a big ol' pot?), he and his mother had an enjoyable end to their day.

After I turned the last page, and then closed the book, a Star exhaled "Amen." 

Every other classmate nodded and added "uh huh."

#IPuffyHeartLoveThisClass #ThisIsWhyITeach #ReadingIsAffirming #OfCourseIGiggled #Amen

Dot Day Sculptures

Thanks to the alignment of our calendar and curriculum map this year, we're celebrating DOT DAY at the end of our "Colors All Around" unit.  We've learned about primary colors, secondary colors and shades, and have been identifying shapes and types of lines.  Searching for a dimensional art project that would be a great summary to the unit AND a link to Peter H. Reynold's beloved book, I stumbled across this video from Cassie Stephens, a wonderful art teacher:

... and EUREKA!  Give the pieces of paper FEET!  Wanting to see, hear and read more, I discovered Cassie's blog here, and wouldn't you know it, she has lots of beautiful projects for Dot Day that she's shared! 

Inspired by her paper line sculptures, I decided to adapt Cassie's project to include ONLY the primary, secondary and shade colors that we've learned about and used in our unit.  As it was the first time I was introducing sculpture and dimension into a class project, I decided to prep materials in advance, so that my students could spend most of their time experimenting with folding and gluing. I used 9 inch square white construction paper for the background, and about an 8 inch diameter black paper circle for our main "dot."

A school die cut circle block created the medium size circles in red, yellow and blue, but I also added some smaller yellow circles (after an unfortunate yet not terribly surprising spill accident) created with a paper punch.  The line pieces were our secondary colors, orange, green and purple, cut into 1 inch by 12 inch strips.

After rereading The Dot, reviewing our colors and color vocabulary, I modeled how to first add our primary colored dots to the black one, making sure to remind my Stars to glide their glue near-ish (see what I did there, Peter H. Reynold's fans?) to the edge so that none of the dots would curl up and away from the background.  Then the creation of "feet" began, and the Stars were ~entranced~ by the folding of their secondary colored lines.  When they saw the first strip of paper raised above the dot yet still attached to it, they were HOOKED.

The only other instruction I gave my students was to keep the primary and secondary colored pieces of their sculpture within/inside the black dot.  They loved this activity, and I suspect that I'm going to see a lot more dimension and height in their crafty creations for the remainder of the year!  


Saturday, September 10, 2016

When Asked by Parents About September 11

It's the fifteenth anniversary of September 11, and as I have done since that original event, I respectfully requested that my Super Star families do what they can to prevent their youngest children needless worry this weekend.

Here's what I included in my weekly newsletter, advocating for my students, their families, and developmentally appropriate practice:

Several families have asked how kindergartners learn about the events of September 11, 2001.  In a nutshell, they don't.  Adults themselves have a very difficult time observing, processing, reacting to, and coping with the visceral and terrifying acts of violence, terrorism, and cruelty which our nation and society have had to endure.  It is in my opinion, inappropriate to expect four, five, and six year olds to see and consider the possibilities of such horrors happening to them, their family members, friends and neighbors.  When viewing or hearing what is now considered historical footage of planes crashing into buildings and people jumping to their deaths, children are unable to discern that the events aren't occurring in real time, in front of them.  Compounding the stress, confusion and anxiety for children are their parents' reactions when reliving the event.
As many of us have news sources available to us twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, please consider limiting your television time over the events of September 11 to after-bedtime hours.  Just as children learn about health, human development, and receive driving instruction when they are age-appropriate topics and lessons, students can learn about our nation's distant and recent history when they are developmentally and emotionally ready to do so in later grades.


Fifteen years ago, I was very fortunate that my Super Star families heeded my request to turn off their televisions and radios prior to school starting for the day.  NONE of my students had any idea what had happened, and it was our school's priority to protect them from the news as we prepared to handle the aftermath and form our responses to the questions we were going to be inevitably asked.  My Super Star families and I shared proposed responses to the kindergartners' anticipated questions with one another, and were able to maintain our students' perception that home and school were safe places.  They were an exceptional set of parents.

A friend once told me that he greatly respected all that teachers do, but that he didn't envy a very specific requirement of our job: we always have to have the right answer, the correct response, and be perfectly supportive of our students in every planned and spontaneous situation we encounter.  My school, my colleagues, and our families were up to the challenge on that life-changing day.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

My First Rant of the 2016-2017 School Year: I'm GOING There

With August giving way to September, I am happy to report that this year's class of Super Stars and I have had a great start to kindergarten!  We've introduced ourselves, shared, learned and practiced rules and routines, have helped, asked questions, apologized, forgiven, laughed, and even outright guffawed with one another.  After twenty-plus years as a teacher (I took two years off to stay home with my youngest, otherwise this would have been year twenty-three), I too, can honestly say that it has been a fresh start with fresh faces and families.  It might be silly sounding, but adopting the current vernacular, I "puffy-heart" love them all.  
(clip art found here)

Learning styles, needs, strengths and interests haven't changed much over my near quarter-of-a-century career.  Young children still learn best when offered a myriad of tools, songs, stories, and experiences, finger paint and iPads, Blueberries for Sal and Pete the Cat, play dough and teddy bear counters... the more the merrier, with all sorts of growth and mastery occurring in good measure.  Large group, small group, and one-on-one with the teacher, students experience a lot of interaction with their friends, new classmates, teachers, staff and volunteers.  I too, have learned and grown with each and every class.  My advocacy of my Super Stars remains both professional and personal.  I teach them, guide them, support them, and protect them.  Teaching kindergarten for two decades has rocked- it still rocks.

Though students haven't changed much over time, parents certainly have.  Twenty years ago, it was a rare occurrence indeed when I'd have to make a report to Child Protective Services, or teach a parent how best to help their child develop the social, fine motor, behavioral and academic skills necessary to soar at school and life.  Parents were my natural allies, answering the phone when I'd call, attending every conference, replying to my notes, and offering helping hands without (many) hidden agendas.  Only one brought a gun with her to a parent conference, and most parents, colleagues and neighbors agreed that she was crazy.  Over the course of the evolution of education's latest "reform" however, notably beginning with No Child Left Behind and including the mass adoption of technology use in every day life, I've witnessed an uncomfortable shift in parenting, resulting in mothers and fathers eyeing teachers and schools with suspicion first, voicing accusations loudly second, and rarely, if ever offering an appropriate apology when common sense solutions have been reached after much patience on the teacher's part. 

Oh yes, though I truly puffy-heart-love my students and families, I'm going to go there. Other teacher bloggers have expressed similar sentiments, like this well shared post from 2014, but I haven't yet stumbled across an editorial article or blog asking parents if they truly believe that their children are only ever victims during their years within a school's walls, as knee-jerk and frankly, sometimes assaultive parental behavior suggests.  Parents' emails or phone calls to teachers demanding immediate action, threatening a visit to an administrator, or the surprise arrival of a parent simply marching him or herself into the principal's office without any prior notice or attempt at communication with a teacher, occur much more frequently now than they did when I was new to the profession.  Because my career and students have mattered to me, past parental complaints have immediately caused me to ask myself the tough questions:  did I make a mistake?  Did I miss something?  Could I have solved this problem differently?  When faced with parents who employ the sneak attack as their preferred modus operandi, my first response (after shock) for years has been to immediately offer an apology and time to meet to discuss the it's-news-to-me issue.  That's right: I've given parents the benefit of the doubt, and assumed I've made a mistake, miscommunicated, or somehow missed something occurring in my classroom. 

That reaction, now that I'm forty-six years old, have raised three children, taught in three states, in four schools, over twenty one years, and can count my Super Star students and their families in the hundreds, is going to stop.  Instead of half-stories, half-truths, misinterpretations, outright lies or Drama Debbies and Dons pushing me to self-defense, self doubt, or whatever-you-do-just-make-the-parents-happy apology and appeal mode, I'm going to take a deep, cleansing breath, count to three, and then jump right into professionally standing my ground. The child who appeared to enjoy the day, mentioning a small tummy ache right before lunch, and after having eaten bounced through our activities with a smile on her face throughout the rest of the afternoon?  No Ma'am, I didn't ignore her, deprive her of food, force her to eat food, or cough germs onto her food, even though she's now complaining to you at home that her tummy hurts.  The parent who interrogates and escalates his child with questions like "Did you tell Mrs. Sommerville?  And what did Mrs. Sommerville do?  Why didn't Mrs. Sommerville call me? OH MY GOODNESS, YOU MEAN YOU TOLD MRS. SOMMERVILLE AND SHE JUST IGNORED YOU?!?!?!?!?" I'm going to let him know that there's a slight chance that 1) he's not getting the whole picture and 2) I'd be happy to talk with him calmly and respectfully to solve the problem. When a learning disabled classmate is overly-attentive to another child out of admiration and a hope for friendship, and is perhaps awkwardly stumbling through the process of friend-making, I'm going to tell an accusatory parent that her child is not being targeted, bullied, harassed, or stalked.  When a child's responses to unexpected interactions with peers include scowling, screeching, yelling, hitting, flouncing off, sitting and crying, NOT using his or her words, or simply waiting to tell a parent at home, I'm going to tell Mom and Dad that their child too likely needs to learn, see modeled, and practice some social skills strategies in order to self-advocate.  I'm not going to agree that little Bobby or little Sarah be moved to a different class because little Charlene doesn't like him or her.  No pandering or schmoozing choreography, even though those parents want it.  When they approach me with verbal guns a blazin', they're going to be met with Mrs. Sommerville in all of my teacher glory.  It's the Golden Rule folks, and it's time you followed it. 

But I simply must ask... shock and awe videos, social media memes, and urban legends aside, do you believe that teachers spend our days sitting in classrooms, twiddling our thumbs, taunting, ignoring, harassing, belittling, neglecting, and abusing your children?  As I read Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See at the carpet, do you honestly believe that I wouldn't see shenanigans if they were occurring, and upon seeing them, wouldn't intervene to stop them to get students back on track?  When little Jon accidentally trips little Maisie, don't you think I pause to notice whether or not he apologizes?  Did you know that if he does apologize, and Maisie accepts it, I consider the problem solved, and won't report it to you?  If either Maisie or Jon mentions it to their parents, I certainly hope both families will respond with something along the lines of "Oh good.  Accidents happen, but I'm glad you apologized and were more careful," instead of calling the school and demanding the immediate expulsion of little Jon and an administrative reprimand of me by my principal.  Common sense is always preferable to overkill.

And because I'm truly curious, here are some more questions I have for parents: who on earth told families that my colleagues and I don't care about our students, that we didn't choose this profession as our lifelong career, that our paychecks aren't a necessity, and that we only seek to undermine families, parental authority and involvement, intending to harm our students in any way possible for the sheer entertainment of it?  Who told you that the parent/teacher/school relationship is a one way street, and that your only responsibilities are to police the employees and loudly beat your chest from time to time to show us who's boss?  If you're so concerned about the allocation of resources for your child and his classmates, or think lower student to teacher ratios would benefit all children, why don't you regularly attend school board meetings, familiarize yourself with Department of Education policies, or advocate for increased funding for education?  Why do you refuse to trust teachers until after the school year is over, and you've put them through the wringer?  Why don't you apologize for the mistakes you make as readily as you demand we do?  Would you ever allow anyone, to include your spouse or significant other, to micro-manage, accuse, and disrespect you in the ways that you feel entitled and justified to do to us?  Who told you that good parenting was going from attentive to alarmed in 5.2 seconds, and from involved to subversive and accusatory in less time than that? 

As a teacher, I make mistakes, but not often.  Twenty-one years, three children, and lots of experience works in my favor that way.  My students' favor.  Their families' favor. 

Yes, authentic bullying can happen at school, even in kindergarten.  As a person who experienced my fair share of bullies as a child and an adult, and as an educated professional who doesn't see a benefit to bullying, I stop it when I see it, I investigate it when I hear of it, and I advocate against it.  A child upset because the classmate who played with her yesterday doesn't want to play with her today is not being bullied or neglected, even if those crocodile tears pull insistently at her parent's apron strings.  A parent who tells herself "I'll go above the teacher's head and straight to the principal to demand that this be handled NOW" is not a partner in her child's education.  She's a bully, a blowhard, and likely a chicken.  That's right: if a parent won't speak with me, I don't assume s/he is the authority, I assume s/he's afraid.  I'm polite, and I'm certainly professional.  I do what I can to build relationships with families for the benefit of my students,  but I'm not bowled over, frightened, or put in my place when a parent tries their alpha-commando schtick on me.  I'm experienced, qualified, and well-intentioned, and I refuse to let currently acceptable parenting behaviors suggest as truth the lie that I am victimizing their children, and that my pedagogy is mere punting and parlor tricks.  Hypocritical bullying doesn't impress me.  Doesn't impress many of my colleagues, either.

So there you have it for my first rant of the 2016-2017 school year.  I guess this is what happens now that I'm no longer twenty-six, or thirty-two, or even forty, a first year, seventh year, or fifteenth year teacher.  Luckily, my students have understood me all along, just as parents from "the good old days" did, not too terribly long ago.  School's in session, and as usual, I aim to teach.  We'll see how many parents end up needing a lesson from the teacher who puffy-heart-loves them and their children.

Seriously.  PUFFY.  HEART.  LOVE.  It's going to be my hashtag for this year.