Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Yes, There are Good Public Schools!

In my two months of teaching sixth grade in Brooklyn, I especially know there are some outstanding, public elementary schools in this city!

On the second day of school, I had to ask my students, "What schools are you all coming from?" Already I could tell the children were bright and extremely articulate. The students were using accountable talk by connecting thoughts to their peers, they were using transitions in their writing and choosing huge, independent reading books. It was beautiful! So I made that connection and was curious to know more. Their responses were all "P.S. this" and "P.S. that." In non-New York terms, they were all coming from Brooklyn public schools.

I believe that all children are bright, some in unconvental ways.  However, this brightness needs to be nurtured and in some cases, uncovered.  It is refreshing to see students who are entering middle school, shining brightly and not afraid to be articulate and share what they know.

The other day, a student showed me her awesome fifth grade yearbook. It was nice to see the poems written by some of my current students; the trips attended; the social clubs including a sister circle (I'm part of a sister circle!) and a boys-to-men club. Talk about teaching the whole child, and fostering community!  Prior to viewing the yearbook, I already had an idea of this student's former school in terms of academics.  It was nice to see that some of these academically rigorous elementary schools are also culturally rich in that they teach the whole child.

Teaching upper middle school for most of my career thus far, my focus has been on high schools, and more specifically high schools that accommodate students with special needs.  Now that I teach sixth grade inclusion classes, I can see the fruit of solid elementary schools thanks to the children right in front of me. As for my current school, it's refreshing to be part of a rigorous, college preparatory school with high expectations of all, one that is also a public school.

Miss M

Cropped Pants and White Chucks

A chill outfit today-- black sweater, blue Capri pants by J.Crew, white Chucks all day long. I love the mix of casual with work wear.

Almond joined me for the photo.  Now if only he could come to work with me!

A Trip with Sixth Graders

I recently went on my first trip at my new school.  While it was awesome-- my sixth graders are a lovely group-- the teachers seemed very stressed even though we were at an interactive museum with a science playgroup where the kids could safely run around and explore.

I mentioned this to one of the teachers, and was told that the school projects this energy around trips.  There seems to be an overall worry that if something can go wrong, it will go wrong.

At one point, after I had finished scaling the rope jungle gym, with encouragement from a student I'll call N, I had to monitor my energy by leaving a certain area of the playground and heading to another.  In the midst of such a fun, hands-on trip, there were unnecessarily sharp words and uncalled for attitude towards the children. So I removed myself.

I am aware that people don't always know what they're putting out.  Since energy is a big deal to me and I am sensitive to it, I noticed the slight stress. Maybe this is due to my self-contained teacher past, but I allow children to be children with guidelines of course.  I do not anticipate the worst and then prepare for it by being overbearing and in turn, stressed out.  I have the ability to keep tabs on ten children even if they're not hanging off my arms.  It's my job to know where they are, even if that means knowing they are in the vicinity of a place.

On a brighter note, I took pictures with my new, bright purple Olympus E-PM1, and bonded with the students in a way I hadn't prior to the trip.  The students saw another side of me-- wearing jeans, climbing ropes, enjoying myself, choosing to take my group into the gift shop and not being worried about what a disaster that would be.  Likewise, I saw different sides of them-- from N helping me scale the ropes and giving me confidence, to the student who remembered the bus numbers.

Trips are important.  Another thing I miss about teaching self-contained in my prior environment is being able to take my students on seemingly-random trips aorund New York City to learn.  This city is amazing in that there are so many oppurtunitites to learn.  As a middle school teacher, I think it is important for me to expose my students to new things, all the while teaching reading, writing, lsitening and speaking.

Miss M

Thursday, October 25, 2012

I Refuse

Today a student hit me with a pencil. I calmly addressed the situation and walked out of the classroom with the intent to make a phone call. But then I was reminded that I need to write it up. The situation warranted more than a phone call to mom.

I know this kid is acting out because there is something going on, but he won't say. He won't say to me or anyone else from what I hear. But that still does not allow him to disrespect my person. As I told him, I'll say here: I do not come to school to be hit with pencils. Or anything else for that matter.

I know of teachers being hit and physically assaulted. I refuse. I do not accept that idea with any ounce of my being. Unless you are mentally incapable of doing better, I expect that boundary to be respected.

More about that later.

Miss M

Bright on a Crisp Fall Day

white Converse for my bike commute
go-to Frye pumps for when I get there
polka dot sweater from Old Navy| cloth pencil skirt from Target| black opaque tights from Hue| suede leopard tote by J.Crew
I love the mix of colors, from the tricolor nails to the outfit

I added a few bracelets to the usual mix-- tortoise bangles from street vendor in Soho and black rubber bracelets from market in Kenya
Perfect brightness fora  crisp fall day!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fixing Things: Using a Toolbox in School

I put some IKEA furniture together last weekend. I also took apart an old, cast iron table that was left in my newish apartment, and used a power drill for the first time.

As I sat there in the middle of my kitchen floor early Saturday morning, I thought of how I especially encourage my special education students to think critically and practically. We even had a toolbox in my self-contained classroom (a lovely paraprofessional I worked with bought it in).  There was one student who would fix everything-- from broken clipboards and faulty staplers to the DVD player which he disassembled piece by piece.  He liked to, as he put it, take things apart and see how they work inside. 

Aside from fixing things, this kid was not into school. He and his father lived and breathed baseball. This kid was going to be a star one day, and that's was that. So in between persuading him to read, write and think critically, I allowed him to take on side projects of things that needed to be fixed or improved around the classroom. 

This is one thing I miss about teaching self-contained:  having the space to figure those thing out, and to nurture children in different ways that do not fall under the usual academic lens.  From the naturally, organized students who organized the room and kept it that way, to the artists who made the posters and decorated the room when there was time. Seriously, there were some interior decorators in my classroom!  Maybe the environment I came from is especially different from my new, college preparatory, rigorous environment. Or maybe it's the pressure of the new Common Core State Standards and all the testing and test prep. 

Either way its important for children to explore and learn. Unfortutely this is not always encouraged in the home, and in the past as a self-contained teacher I had the space to do it. 

This weekend when I put together a table set with four chairs, and a lovely turquoise cart, I problem solved. I read the wordless directions that IKEA is quite fond of. I tried things out and tried them again. And then I got it.

We are all special learners. While I was never in a special education class, I am happy someone noticed and encouraged that I have a way with words. I'm glad that someone noticed I had organizational struggles and helped me with my binder and when my locker fell out in high school, didn't judge me. Reading, writing, mathematics, science and history are are main subjects. But, nurturing an artist, allowing an organizer to aid with organization, and motivating a student to complete classwork by allowing him to use a toolbox in class are also important.

Miss M

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Blues and a Floral Print

stretchy pencil skirt & flowery blouse from Target, staple navy Jackie cardigan from J.Crew, trusty Frye pumps
I love the detailing on this skirt.  It makes it more sturdy even though it's a cloth skirt.

I love that these pumps are my "nude."

Chip on Shoulder

There's a girl in one of my classes who has a chip on her shoulder. You could say hello to her, and she'll catch an attitude. The other day, I checked her class work and gave her a pointer. She caught an attitude. I simply addressed it in a very nonchalant way, as though I could be talking about giving text evidence. I told her, "You don't need attitude here."

And that was that.

I often address a situation, like the one here and some more troubling, with a piece of correction knowledge, and then walking away. If the student wants to talk back, I don't give her a chance.  I said the last word, and there is nothing more to say.

A few students will eventually apologize, but at least I acknowledged the situation. It's important that students understand that teachers will correct them when wrong.

Miss M

Monday, October 22, 2012

All About a Brooch

this was a fun outfit! navy up top, navy on the bottom!

snakeskin jumper/dress from the GAP. my accent finger nail inspires me!

these flats are comfy and fun! from J.Crew
this brooch from H&M stole the show! one student thought it was a roach?! the boys appreciated it, as did some girls.  nonetheless, it made me feel very teacherly and slightly librarian.
I was going to wear bright pink, patent leather flats but then I decided that would be too much.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Planting Seeds

Sometimes, whether out of frustration or sheer joy, a teacher takes a moment to write. Here is a reflection from last school year:

Who has taught these children that life must cater to their every want?

It is exhausting, yet I try. Granted this group of six does not represent all children, even in this school. By when children display rude, grating examples of entitlement, I worry. Who will put up with them?  What jobs will they hold? What will their quality of life be?

During math bingo in after school,  tried to reason with explain to seventh graders as to why they need to exercise their brains and divide. They insisted they will always have their cell phones or borrow one. And when they shop-- I gave scenarios-- they will never run out of money. Also they can swipe. "My momma swipe all day." Sigh. I tried to explain that you have to pay back credit card and the said, "no, you don't."

Often as a teacher I have to hold my tongue with patience and understanding as I acknowledge that children are not always ready or capable of understanding things like money, bills, credit cards and job responsibility.

All I can do, and do do, is drop seeds of knowledge and hope that one day they take root, and blossom.

Miss M

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Colorful in Pants

navy cardigan by J.crew, olive blouse by J.Crew, blue pants by J.Crew, pumps by Frye

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Mr. Detention

Mr. Detention is always on my case

Ring Ring
Mr. Detention is on the phone
telling on me

Slap Slap
My mother is not happy

Snif Snif
 Mr. Detention must not have a life
because he's always taking up my time

Boom Boom
My father is yelling
His voice is loud
at my bedroom door

Tisk Tisk
My parents are disappointed

Mr. Detention is ruining my life.

A poem, written in class and shared with students, late 2011

Lady in Red, and Pink

Red dress from H&M, light pink Jackie cardigan by J.Crew, dark brown tights by Hue, brown leather pumps by Frye, tote by Coach
I love the mix of colors, the pink with the red, the brown softening the vibrant red. Love!

This dress is versatile! 

Nothing like a dress that fits me off the rack! A happy find...
ready to go!

TT: Small Rewards

Teacher Tip: Don't underestimate the power of small rewards. The students in my all-boys ,small group go crazy over stickers. Granted, my collection is awesome-- from animals to Spider-Man to patterned stars, hearts and excellent jobs!-- but even I, who acknowledges that middle school students of all grades thoroughly enjoy stickers, am surprised!

I had an honor system, but I have to seize control of the situation because two of the five are lying about how many they've taken. It's not that serious, but its the principle. I will teach it!

Also, star students in my larger classes get fun pencils and erasers as rewards. They eat it up. Part of it is that praise, or acknowledgement, and the other part is the actual reward.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Black, White, Mustard and Brown

print blouse from H&M, mustard wool skirt from J.Crew, black tights, brown leather pumps by Frye, suede leopard tote from J.Crew
I am loving this blouse.  Great detailing on neckline and sleeve-- a thin black line. Love love!I had to eventually untuck it though, as it wouldn't stay put!

A pop of color on the nail...
Changed up my usual with a charm bracelet by Betsy Johnson

Another Student I will Never Forget

Another student I will never forget...

Exhale. To start, this is the student who popped up in my dream the summer after he graduated from the eighth grade.  I literally woke up enough to push him out of my head. I had put up with him for ten long months and I was done.

This kid was, and remains, the most disrespectful child I have ever come across. What made it so terrible is that he was very smart. I've had not-as-bright students who are also very disrespectful. But when a child is bright and calculating with pointed belligerence, it can be rivaled by few.

I actually taught this kid's brother my first year, but he was different. Just as rude, but not as quick and pointed with his remarks. I met their mother and I understood.

But we, teachers are full people. In the end I had to protect my energy so that I could deal with the rest of my students.

I can only hope that he learns something new, changes his ways, and the world gives him a chance.

Unruffled, Unwavering, She Reprimands

she takes a deep breathe
and counts to five
five seconds is all she can spare

most people have ten
but she, she must react,
without emotion
a situation needs to be addressed
there is little time to waste

so she speaks
she speaks calmly
feet planted firmly on the ground
unruffled, unwavering
she reprimands

but her hands, her hands are not still
fingers twisting, and being twisted
she is human, she feels

yet, she must think things through
address the situation without emotion

so she does, she speaks her piece
gives the consequence, and

she let's it rest

A poem, written in class and shared with students, late 2011

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Cozy Sweater and Fall Tones

Broke out my thick, cozy sweat from J.Crew. Chambray button down from Old Navy, pants from J.Crew, pumps by Frye, suede leopard tote from J.Crew, scarf from this little shop on Washington.
Love this frog pin from J.Crew, navy ring from Forever 21
love these pants! so versatile, from work week to the weekend...

another perspective...

all smiles!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Orange, Blue, Black and Brown

 Jackie cardigan from J.Crew; cloth, structured pencil skirt from Target; black, opaque tights; brown leather pumps by Frye.

beaded bracelet from Maasai market in Nairobi, cloth leopard bangle from H&M, metal bangles from Congo, watch by Guess

I thoroughly enjoyed these colors today!  Especially vibrant in person.  I love when I play with colors and love, love the result.  Today was on one of those days...

 And my trusty jacket, once referred to as "if a cape and a trench made a baby..."

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

One Student I Will Never Forget...

I actually do not remember his name, but I remember him. It was my first year teaching. I was in a small room, a space suitable for a guidance counselor's office. My self-contained class was all boys and one tough girl. This boy stood out. He was brilliant, but angry. He was the angriest child I had ever met at that point. I never got around to learning what made him that way, as he was soon removed and placed in a district 75 school, a more restrictive environment.
I remember his thirst for books. I even lent him higher level books of my own. He presented and was seen by many as another angry, young, black male. But I saw more. The kind of anger he possessed was coming from some place deep. And he was a child. Sometimes you meet a kid, and you see something unsettling in their eyes. That is rare. Here was a kid fighting everybody at very chance because he did not know how to cope with his demons.

I had to let him go early that year. I didn't want him placed in a more restrictive environment, but it was my first year and I had yet to learn how to fight advocate. He was, simply put, too much of a problem for the school to deal with.  So that was it.

The most frustrating thing for a teacher is to see a child with masked potential that many will not take the effort to see. I can only continue to hope that he makes it in this world.

Miss M

Monday, October 8, 2012

TL: Adults are Sometimes Worse Than Kids

Teacher Lesson: I learned in my third year of teaching that sometimes the adults are worse than the kids.  Often teachers watch out for students swiping our belongings (more about that later), but it can be a fellow teacher stealing right from under your nose.  As it happened...

A teacher was doing a display on Africa, so I bought in some Congolese malachite bracelets.  I didn't think to count them, as they were just going across the hall. The display ends a week later, things are returned.  I didn't think to count them then either.

Fast forward to several weeks later. I'm sitting in the library during a student assembly, and my bracelet walks by. I look up to see who this arm belongs to and I see a woman, Ms. T.

I've never been one to seek out confrontations, but I knew I had to act fast.  I asked my in-the-school-building-confidant and he adivsed me to "go tell her, she's wearing the bracelet you're missing."  I did just that.

She stuttered and lied that a student gave it to her, and then offered me ALL of her bracelets.  I stayed  focused to the one that I wanted-- the one that was mine.  She gave it to me.  I later asked said student, who responded saying, "No!" and "I told you, Ms. _____ lies!"

Lesson learned. Things disappear in a school building.  To name a few: a grammar workbook from the copy room (after that I learned to write my name on everything!), my usb drive, a surge protector (such a teacher steal!) and a few brooms.

All a teacher can do is label her things, search for missing items when necessary and live and learn.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

V, Z and Y Sort

 As an extension, I usually have the students either choose a few words, or I assign a few words for them to spell.


In this case, I was only looking for the first letter.  I sometimes help them or give them clues as to the middle vowels because we haven't learned that yet.

For some reason they insisted on decorating their whiteboards with random pictures from their sort.

Teaching Students How to Read in Grade 6

It dawned on me the other day, I am a middle school teacher who is literally teaching two students how to read. Seriously, we started from AaBbCcDd and graduated to BeBop Books, an excellent series beginning at level A for emergent readers.

In between reading Bebop Books, there is Words Their Way, the alphabetic spellers edition.  I just finished teaching the first six word sorts, which have to do with the initial consonant letter/sound.  Next up is word families, like the -at family and the -an family.  Both of the forementioned sorts include pictures.  While the first group includes mainly pictures and just one letter on the header, the family sorts include both words, like cat, hat, mat, bat and the matching pictures.

I've actually had the complete set of Words Their Way as a resource for the last two years, but I never had the time to implement it. I teach five kids from my ICT ELA class in a small reading group. Two are emergent readers. Why one of them is just now learning to read is beyond me. The other is from another country and has had very limited schooling up until now.

In the past I have come across students in 7th and 8th grades who are emerging readers.  Middle school teachers are often ill-equipped to teach older children how to read. Also, regardless of small class or not, we have standards to follow and curriculums to teach.

I can now say that I know how. I can teach eleven-year olds how to read. The more I observe (I take copious notes after each session), teach and see progress, the more understanding I gain of how people learn to read.  Who knows, maybe I'll turn this knowledge into a side hustle during the summer!

In the past, with my non-readers, I did see some improvement just from the students being in a print-rich environment.  I, thankfully, had some BeBop books in my classroom, and would conference with these students as often as possible.  In those conferences, I would give them strategies to figure out unfamiliar words, take notes of new words and monitor comprehension.  I also used my paraprofessionals as resources to lead these children in shared readings.

One student I had last year improved drastically!  She knew her letters and sounds, but did not have a solid bank of sight words.  By reading the BeBop ooks, each one several times, and writing summaries (retelling the important parts), her reading and writing improved drastically.  I like to think of her because she inspires me; she shows what is possible when a student is open to do the work that it takes.  Often students masquerade and pretend with books way above their independent reading levels.  It can be challenging to get past that barrier when a student has been doing this behavior for years.  But, it can be done.

As all parts of teaching go, you may not reach all students, but there will be some who will amaze you with their academic growth.

Ah, the challenges of being a teacher!

Miss M

Saturday, October 6, 2012

No, You Will Not

He said he was going to start throwing stuff and I just looked at him. And then a giggle escaped. I had to laugh.  This boy was trying so hard to get a rise out of me. But my calm, just-returned-from-Miami self was not having it. Finally I said, "No ________. You will not throw things."  And then I smiled.  A reassuring, slightly threatening smile.

Theme of periods seven and eight: You will not manage my class. I will.

Seriously vacation helped.

From a post-it, circa 2011, self-contained class.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Pretty in Lace

 blouse from Forever 21, black pencil skirt from Target, Frye pumps
 my serious teacher face

 love the lace detailing!

 Serious teacher face!
I later put on my leopard-with-black-outline flats from Old Navy.  Gotta let the feet rest!

Act With Understanding

I continue to learn about myself in teaching, and in life.  I understand too much. Sometimes you just need to act.  Interestingly enough, this is what I named as my flaw in my final interview for my current teaching position, and I am just now realizing the depth of it.

In the classroom, having a deep understanding of people and an interest in understanding children is important.  I am able to see good qualities in all children; I welcome the task of unmasking the different intelligences that children have; I enjoy cultivating positive class culture with an understanding of the varying needs.

Successful teaching demands a level of understanding.  However, that child who possesses a deep anger, as a few that I have met over the years, needs to be understood when he catches an attitude without reason.  I can reprimand teach a child how to speak to people who have nothing to do with his anger when his is angry.  But when this angry child throws a punch in the middle of class, there must be an action in the form of a consequence.  To do nothing would be a true disservice, as a teacher's job as teachers is to teach students to be full and productive, participants in society. 

Understanding is a also significant part of my dealing with people outside of the classroom.  I prefer to understand a person's situation, outlook, mindset instead of judging first.  I like to know why people do what they do, and how their lives are.  However, I am realizing that the energy it takes to understand on a deep level is draining.  What about me?  The teacher?  The whole person?  Attempting to understand a situation, or a person, does not dissolve it.  The situation that perplexed in the first place often remains with the only change being, less concentration on other things that need attention.

Thus, I am learning once again that balance is key.  Whereas I initially sought balance between my work life and my life, I also need to balance my understanding with action.

And that I am.

Miss M.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Cropped Pants and Navy Pumps

pink tippi sweater from J.Crew, cropped plaid pants from the Gap, navy round toe pumps by Style & Co (Macy's), patent leather purse by Dooney & Bourke

What a Day!

Yesterday was exhausting!  My co-teacher and I were slightly on edge because it was our formal observation day.  I co-teach three periods a day, so at least that narrowed it down a bit. During one of our periods,  our most challenging student created some trouble for himself and a new sidekick. It was ridiculous really. The main issue was his response to our redirection-- the laughing, looking towards peers for their attention, the loudness and the disrespect. At the end of the class, we ended up dismissing all except for two.  Let's just say, I learned about this kid. Usually when I show a strong-this-is-it energy, kids back away from it in response. While this kid's sidekick did, he did not. Instead, he stepped into my personal space and did not budge. I learned about him in that moment. A student with absolutely regard for boundaries.

Fast forward to end of day. Observation occurs, there are some hiccups but none of our doing, the class in front of us is a challenging grouping.  Last minute of period, as kids are packed up and standing behind their chairs, a fight ensues. I saw the punch go down and it drew blood. I held the kid who got hit back because he is such a good kid and he told me earlier that the puncher was disrupting his group and horsing around. I have never stepped into a fight in my teaching life, but these kids were sixth graders and of-age. (My former students were upper middle school, and tended to be older than typical middle school students and wouldn't have responded well.)

In the end, I took the kid down to the nurse and later wrote a statement. I talked to him throughout, giving him some praise because it is often very hard to do the right thing. I felt his frustration, but at the end of the day, he was still in the right and the other kid wrong.

There is no place for fighting in ELA class, nor is there room for disrespect of a teacher's personhood.

Miss M

Cafe Capri Pants and a Sweater

black sweater from Old Navy, blue cafe capri pants by J.Crew, brown leather pumps by Frye