Tuesday, March 03, 2015

I Have to Wonder

Between teaching, mothering, housekeeping, illness, wonky weather, committee work, and a looming yearbook publication deadline, it's been difficult to regularly peruse my favorite education blogs, or check every interesting link on Twitter or Pinterest that comes along my feed.  Over the past month, I've only participated in one edchat, my usual Saturday morning global PLC gift to myself.

Don't get me wrong, the classroom has been HOPPING, my Super Stars have been growing, exploring and learning, and the weather, while not my preferred temperature, has not been as inconvenient for us as it has been for many others.  I have just twelve pages of the yearbook left to finish, and my personal goal has me completing the entire annual a week before the company's deadline.  My home has remained relatively clean, and (~whisper voice~) other than one bout of food poisoning, big bad bugs haven't breached our threshold.

Knock wood.

I've been able to tune into bits and pieces of education related conversations and topics though during this busy season, and I've caught myself wondering:

1) Pro/con arguments aside, how can the Common Core ever ~be~ common if the states that adopted it are now in various stages of its implementation or have begun working on repealing it?  And how many publishing companies, knowing the supply and demand rules that always follow fads, mandates, and "needed reforms," are already poised to re-label and resell all of their "Common Core aligned" materials without the CC stickers on them when the pendulum (that never ceased to exist) predictably swings the other way?   Publishers have been able to hit districts multiple times right in the wallet under the guise of providing current and much-needed materials thanks to the reforms of the last ten years.  Budgetary collapses impact STUDENTS in every way, and I haven't met a curriculum publisher yet who feels sorry for its contribution to the misallocation of needed monies  that once made possible appropriate teacher-student ratios and education and life-enhancing programs such as music, band, theater, home economics, art, or AcaDeca.  Those who want to hold folks accountable for their child's school and learning experiences fall for the huckster jive as well, and go straight for the teacher ~instead~ of the reformers, their funding agents, and the publishing companies whose wares they hawk.

2)  As a veteran instructor, when I hear a teacher (or three) from a single school sing the praises of newly discovered behavior tracking apps and classroom "management"/disciplinary tools, I think "Hmmm... must be a tough group of kids this year" or "Wow, that one must have hit the jackpot in diverse and clashing personalities, bless his/her heart.  Thank goodness a helpful tool has been identified, put in place, and is having a positive effect."  When I hear that an ~entire school~ is considering following a behavior management protocol that includes collecting data on each and every student in every classroom, the LAST THING I think is "Oh good, a tool that'll help manage these troublemakers."  Instead, I become VERY suspicious that a program, schedule, curriculum, pacing guide, or even the general expectations of children are waaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyy off base, especially if so many children demonstrate "misbehaviors" regularly.  Recesses are taken away from students who haven't "earned them."  Mastery of skills/content is expected earlier, and battery drill and kill "interventions" replace rich, repeated and varied exposure over time as acceptable pedagogical approaches.  Teachers complain that students won't stay in their seats, and even worse, that THEY TALK TO ONE ANOTHER during activities or even (gasp!) DURING L-U-N-C-H!

Let me ask you this: When did children stop being children?  When did they cease to NEED recess?  When did they cease to NEED deep immersion and practice at their own pace to build layers of learning upon a sturdy foundation?  When did children cease to obtain benefits from speaking, interacting, negotiating, questioning, or expressing themselves with adults and with one another?  When did children's natural tendencies, developmental stages, and even quirks, make them deserving en masse of public shaming?

Answer: They didn't.

When did it become okay for parents, teachers, and administrators to believe the hooey sold to them, based on the premise that ~overnight~, children could be rebuilt,  and have their very natures rewritten?

No child deserves to be looked at in disappointment and disgust, with parents, teachers, administrators, and society trying to figure out how best to efficiently and effectively erase, re-write and rebuild the incredible thinkers, doers, and learners that children already are into the automatons of the future.  Children are inclined to do naturally what best suits their growth and development, it's we adults who become impatient with their timeline.  It's we adults who want to speed things up, find a pill to make resistance to our will less strong, and find quick-fix tools that force children into immediate compliance any way we can, even if it means crushing their spirits and making them hate school.

So I have to wonder: Why can't we teach children, instead of inflicting ourselves upon them?

Monday, February 02, 2015

What Teacher Prep Programs Don't Teach You: Snow Day Magic

There's no school today due to snowy, cold and icy weather, and I've got plans for how to spend my free time:

Enjoying the eye candy found in magazines, crocheting a bit, and figuring out springtime craft projects that will utilize pastel-dotted dominoes.

Students aren't the only ones who enjoy snow days, you know.

Why do you think teachers encourage them to create snow day ~magic~ by sharing special instructions when helpful weather is on the way?


Do a snow dance.
Wear pajamas inside out.
Put ice cubes in the toilet.
Place a spoon under your pillow.

Just one more thing teacher prep programs DON'T teach you.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Coffee-to-Student Inquiry Ratio

Now that the 100th Day of Kindergarten milestone has been reached, our 100 chart has been changed into a Countdown Until Summer (or First Grade) chart. With some seventy-ish days to go, one of my Stars inadvertently opened up the floor to a clarification meeting this morning, making me realize that I should have splurged on a drink from Starbucks before getting to school.

Star 1: "Mrs. Sommerville, are we counting down to summer, first grade, or both?"

Me: Well, that depends. It definitely counts down to summer, but it also counts down to the LAST day of kindergarten. What will you be when you aren't kindergarteners anymore?

Star 2: "Graduates?"

Star 3: "No, we won't be ~gra-jee-ate-ed~, we'll be ready for first grade."

Star 1: "So we're counting down to lots of things, and they all happen on the same day?"

Me: Well, let's try to...

Star 4: "No, no, nonono, I've got it. We're going to take a day off (Star 1: "You mean SUBTRACT, we're going to SUBTRACT...")... okay, yes, yeah yeah yeah, we're going to SUBTRACT a day off of the chart, and when we get to the last ten days, we're supposed to get ready to move to another classroom. Is that right?"

Star 5: "Uh, do the first grade teachers know this?"

Star 4: "Am I right?"

Star 6: "One thing at a time. Okay. ~inhale~ We're going to subtract. I can do that. And we're going to get ready for vacation. I like vacations! I went to Disney last year!"

Star 4: "AM... I... RIGHT??????"

Star 7: "Maybe we should have just gone to first grade yesterday, you know. The first 100 days are for kindergarten, and then on the one hundred and... the one hundred and (Star 1: "The one hundred and FIRST...")... yeah! On the one hundred and, uh... (Star 1: "FIRST!")... YEAH! On THAT day, we go to first grade!

Star 1: "How come you can say first grade but not one hundred and first?"

Star 7: "What?"

Star 4: "I don't think I'm right."

... and that's when I knew I had miscalculated the amount of coffee that today was going to require.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Wildcat and Jayhawk Bulletin Board

Harmony between Kansas college mascots CAN happen, especially in kindergarten:

(My post about the purple wildcat craft can be found here.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Cat's Meow (Craft)

Kansas Day is January 29, and as my kindergartners begin to learn about our state symbols, I can't ignore the need for a mascot craft that will partner well with our Jayhawks.

Of course, being the ~mother~ of a K-State Wildcat, I can't very well guarantee future classroom volunteerism from my daughter (she's a rower) if I don't make sure she and her friends are well represented on our bulletin boards.

Purple:  body, ears, legs, paws, tails, feet, and nose
Gray:  tummy, snout, inner ears, and stripes on legs
White:  eyes

Since I couldn't find a cat template online that used enough basic shapes for a math review, I drew my own.  My Stars will describe the shapes and lines they find as they identify each piece, and will follow three step directions to assemble the craft.

Our finished Wildcats will be paired (in friendship) on our hallway bulletin board with the Jayhawks we'll make tomorrow.  Check back to see how they turned out!


Come to think of it, this craft could be fun if you're reading Splat the Cat, or some other book full of feline fun!  


... the cat's meow.  

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Circle Marks the SPOT

Like most kindergarten teachers, I have quite a few wigglers in my class.  For the most part, the wiggling is appropriate and safe, but every so often...

No.  Scratch that.

OFTEN... ~one~ of my friends can not (will not?) stay in a spot when excessive wiggling is a huge distraction and safety issue.

Calendar... wiggle-wiggle-scootch-scootch.

SMART Board... wiggle-scootch-scootch-bonk.

Criss-cross-applesauce at story time... wiggle-stand-jump-drop-scootch-scootch-bonk-BASH-scootch-scootch-scootch-kick-a-finger-plop.  

Scootch scootch.

This friend is fun loving, sweet, eager, mischievous and is wired to need full contact EVERYTHING.  But the rest of my friends (all twenty of them) prefer their space un-invaded, their fingers un-smashed, and their bodies and booties un-kicked.

If we give our friend too much space near the back of the group, the range of motion and sheer square feet of space that end up being used, explored, bothered and crashed into increases exponentially.

I don't do carpet squares (but used to, years ago), and I'd rather not have to put tape down on the carpet that will end up getting sucked into the vacuum each night.  We've reached the point where my friend is going to have to compromise a bit and try to keep himself restrained and contained for a longer amount of time while we hope he comes to the realization that at school he'll need to share his space with his peers in a way that is safe for all, even if he has acres of space available elsewhere.

Discovering "Sit Spots" in our music teacher's room, I inquired about their price, durability, and ease of removal/relocation.  Imagine my surprise when she pulled one up with the telltale rrrrrriiiiiiiiiip sound of velcro! Inspired, I quickly got online and checked out the products available, experiencing a sinking feeling when I saw the price and realized I didn't have it in my budget to immediately order a set for classroom use.

But I'm a crafty sort, yes sir-ee Bob, and here's what I used to make my own circle-marks-the-spot tools:

Construction paper
Laminating film
The rough side of hook and loop adhesive tape (velcro)

I cut out different colored circles (though my friend's will all be the same color), roughly four or five inches in diameter, and laminated them using my desktop laminator and 3mil film:

I cut out the circles, leaving 1/4 inch border of lamination around each, and then affixed a strip of the ROUGH loop (not the soft, fluffy side) velcro to the back.

Here's what they look like in a row on our carpeted floor:

And best of all, they don't really stick to the carpet until you get them exactly where you want them, and then press down firmly to work the rough loop velcro into the carpet's surface:

Firmly stuck, easy to see, simple to move.  Since I don't teach 400 + students like our music teacher, I'm hoping my spots are durable enough to get a lot of use out of them for the remainder of the year.

Wish me luck as I introduce my friend to Circle-Marks-the-Spot!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Professional Resolutions

As I began to consider new year's resolutions a few weeks ago, I decided to revisit goals I had set last summer for myself as a teacher.  Changes planned in July included:

  • Adding Twitter to my students' digital citizenship curriculum, as a basic introduction to social media on how, why, and what to share with those who might be looking. 

  • Participating in professional chats via my own Twitter account.  I've come to look forward to connecting with other teachers and friends of education on a global level via #satchat, #sunchat, and #teacherfriends each week. 

  • Adding an updated sensory tub into my students' center rotation seemed important too, after having gone without a sand and water table for years.  Dear Husband and The Third Grader made one for me out of PVC pipe and a clear storage tub with lid.  Its popularity rates right up there with the iPads that my Super Stars love to use. 


But I'm a teacher whose annual personal and professional calendar runs August to May, with some professional development activities planned for June and July.  I don't eat, breathe, and sleep teaching, because I'm a wife and mother who is far too interested in exploring my little corner of the world, expressing myself, and learning about other things and other people.  I have hobbies that have little to do with teaching kindergartners the rhythm of public school.  I enjoy loud music and bawdy humor that aren't appropriate for classroom and school settings.  I want to spend time with my family, garden, read, nap, and breathe deeply in a way that just can't be done when every moment is scheduled with objectives to be met and measured.  June, July, many weekends and holidays are mine, for me and my family, though my teacher's eye is never completely closed (hello Target $1 bins, yard sales, used book stores and Pinterest).

Proud to be a teacher, I try to be a good one, and thankfully I can say that the good I find in and feel about teaching young children still outweighs the burdensome, depressing, and defeating events that also find their way into this profession.

What does the future hold?

I'd love to take the next step in having my students collaborate and communicate with other kindergartners via Twitter.  I don't believe in throwing my students into the deep end of the social media ocean, or burying them under an avalanche of new vocabulary, tools, apps, and requirements for mastery listed on seven pages of objectives.  Let's explore, share ideas, and learn from, about, and with other like-minded children, at our own pace.

Though I've shared to #ksedchat (hoping it's Kansas Ed Chat), teachers here in Oz don't seem to meet up via Twitter at any set time.  I'd love to explore the possibility of becoming a co-moderator for a chat.  Anyone else with me?

... and, because I don't have more hours in the day than anyone else, and I believe in an effective and efficient plan for a well rounded life, I'm considering passing the torch of committee work and extra duties to someone else next year.  I want to take more college classes, but just can't while Dear Husband works until seven at night, The Third Grader needs help with homework, and the house requires upkeep.  While many teachers accept their heavy work load, over time becoming adept at meeting the requirements of their contract, such efficiency tends to cause administrators (and the public) to believe that three or four more responsibilities will be also be well managed and executed by capable employees in the same brief amount of time allotted within a school calendar.  So many of us feel we can't say no, so we don't, or fear we shouldn't because we might receive a less than proficient rating on our teacher evaluations.  It's our families, spouses, friendships and our own souls that end up neglected for it.

This is my nineteenth year of teaching.  I'm committed to it.  

But I am no less committed to the rest of my life.