Thursday, November 15, 2007

Thank Goodness I'm Not in New York

I'm supposed to be in New York City this morning, but thank goodness I'm not. I've got the Piggly Wiggly sales paper right here in front of me, and it's downright frightening to think of the sales I'd have missed if I'd gotten on that plane yesterday. Right this very minute, instead of making my grocery list, I'd be fighting crowds in the Javits Center. Who needs that? Not me. Much better to be perusing this paper. . .whoa! five pounds of flour for ninety-eight cents. That's gotta' be a good deal. Better write that down. Hmm. . . Better get some of these cocktail smokies for two dollars. I could set 'em out tonight to munch on while I'm being thankful I'm not at the Crowne Plaza in Times Square at that pesky Writing Project social. I wonder if two dollars is a good price for four pounds of sugar. Stove Top stuffing for ninety-nine cents. . .do people really feed boxed stuffing to their families on Thanksgiving? Surely not. Of course, I'm of the mindset that you can't beat cornbread dressing. They'll probably serve stuffing at the Scholastic Thanksgiving dinner Saturday night. I'm sure glad I don't have to sit through that. Let's see. . .they've got Honey Comb and Honey Bunches of Oats for two dollars a box. Is that a good price? Reckon what they'll be serving tomorrow morning at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square for the reunion breakfast? Probably stale pastries and weak coffee. I sure dodged a bullet with that one. 'Course, it would've been nice to see the old gang from Boston, but. . .omigosh! cream of mushroom soup is only eighty-nine cents! Thank goodness I'm not in New York.

Monday, August 27, 2007

We got some much needed rain yesterday and again during the night. The grass, which had gotten brown and crisp, is green again this morning. I think there's rain in the forecast every afternoon this week. Back in June and July when it was raining every day, I longed for just one or two rainless days. Now, I'm wanting just one or two wet ones.

I really wanted to watch a movie on the Hallmark channel last night. August is Mystery Month. It was Perry Mason, though, and I just can't get into Perry Mason. I like Mystery Woman, Agent Jane Doe, and McBride. I like Murder, She Wrote too sometimes but not always. It's impossible to believe there could be that many murders in Cabot's Cove. I do like that look Jessica Fletcher gives the criminals at the end. If I'm flipping through channels and I catch Murder, She Wrote toward the end, I'll just stop there and wait for Jessica to give that look. It's kind of like pity, reprimand, and disdain all rolled up into one look.

Well, anyway, since it was Perry Mason and not something I like on Hallmark, I watched Iron Chef America and then Throwdown with Bobby Flay. The whole time, I was writing a grant, too. I should've finished the grant before I went to bed, but I worked Friday night until 9:00 and then Saturday from 8:30 til 5:30, so I was pretty exhausted going into yesterday. I made myself get most of the grant finished, since it's due today, but by 8:00 I was ready for a little break. So, back to Throwdown. If you've seen it, you know the premise: Bobby Flay finds these people who are experts at cooking a certain dish, and he challenges them on their own turf. They'll cook their signature dish, and Bobby Flay will cook his version of the dish. Then, judges will choose the "winner" by having a taste test. I've seen Bobby whip up on a very nice lady who made macaroni and cheese, a man who had won multiple contests with his signature cocktail, a cake decorator, and I can't even remember who all else. Every time, I'm in a fury by the end. I mean, here's Bobby Flay with a culinary school background, a staff of helpers, experience in Kitchen Stadium, and on and on. He picks on some poor woman who has spent her life perfecting her macaroni and cheese. Flay and his staff meet and work for days on how to beat the taste of the poor woman's macaroni and cheese. They put in seven different cheeses, bacon, and some fancy herbs. Sure enough, the trained chefs they get to judge it choose Flay's mac and cheese over the poor woman who has only herself and her kitchen and her little local mac and cheese reputation. I've seen it happen over and over again on this evil Throwdown show. It always makes me want to walk up to Bobby and say, "Bobby Flay, I want to tell you a story about a man who has a thousand sheep, but he wants the sheep of a man who has only one. This man, with his thousand sheep, takes that other man's sole sheep. Bobby Flay, you are that man." BUT!!!!! GUESS WHAT!!!!! Last night, Bobby Flay took his cocky self to New Orleans to challenge some muffaletta kings down there. And guess what!!!! Bobby Flay's muffaletta got whipped up on. Yep!!!! He lost the Throwdown!!!! I was so into it, I completely stopped working on the grant. Which means I need to finish it up this morning. However, there are four men here building a staircase to our new addition. I'm tired, tired, tired of workers being here every day. Tired.

I have been in a deep, deep depression the entire month of August. School started on August 1, and I wasn't there. I can't even explain the way I felt except to just say it was awful. I've started to get slightly better now. Shontelle e-mails a lot, telling me the downside of everything, and I've talked to lots of other teachers who are all beaten down by the unreasonable demands of administrators who are pushing for test prep in August already. I know I'd be miserable there, but still it doesn't feel right not to be there. I'd just started to think maybe I'd truly done the right thing by leaving, but then something happened yesterday that was like a knife in the chest. I saw Shontelle and Emily at "Meet the Tartars" last week, and they were telling me about something ridiculous that had happened at school--something they were told to do that is just plain flat wrong. Yesterday, I was telling Tim about it and how ridiculous and bad for children it was, and I said to him, "Can you imagine how miserable I'd have been having to do that?" Well, he just looked at me for a few minutes and he said, "You're wrong. None of that would have happened if you had been there. You wouldn't have let it happen." Now, I know he didn't mean to hurt me, but it really has put me back into the depression because I'm pretty sure he's right. I could have probably kept it from happening.

I have some things I want to write about Mother Theresa, but the grant is calling. There are things I really need to say about an article I read yesterday. Later, I'll post the link here with my comments.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I've been sitting here reading the responses to last Friday's blog, wishing I had the e-mail addresses of each poster so that I could respond to them personally. After I posted it Friday, I packed for a weekend trip and forgot about it--not about the pain, but about the actual blog entry. I was pretty surprised to return home and find that there were so many responses, not just from people I know --Jen and Kim--but from others, too. I was pleased, and more than a little humbled, to know that my words have found their way to a listserve and a home school support board, in addition to Susan Ohanian's site. What probably was the biggest surprise was seeing Elizabeth Jaeger's name. Elizabeth and her four friends, the "Downer Five", have been in my thoughts and prayers for several months now. I also received several beautiful e-mail messages from close friends such as Dick Graves, Mary Kay Deen, Sherry Swain and others.

Throughout these past few years, I have tried to keep reminding myself that there are still countless (?) good people in education who, in spite of the fact that the light seems to be going out rapidly, are still working to keep the sparks of sanity alive. However, there are far fewer who are strong and courageous enough to speak up–just a few here and there, it seems. I would tell myself, "They’re not bad people, they’re just weak or scared." I have come to realize and accept that we may never get people to speak out in droves in any given school district or area of the country, but far from being discouraged by this, it should serve to strengthen our resolve to be those lone voices here and there and to know that there are always those others who, whether or not they publicly acknowledge it, are saying the inner and victorious "yes!" to our words. I say that "yes!" when I read about the Downer Five and Doug Christensen and Stephen Krashen and Susan Ohanian and Ken Goodman. Those lone voices crying in the wilderness give hope to all, courage to some and, perhaps, repentance to many.

Most of the teachers and administrators with whom I work can discern the wrongness of NCLB, but they lack either the courage or the know-how to right those wrongs. Of far greater concern to me are those who seem oblivious to the immorality of it all and appear to be genuinely baffled and even irritated when I try to "inform their discretion", to quote Thomas Jefferson. I was accused of being unprofessional and of having a personal agenda to keep the system from working. I was determined not to be sidetracked by those personal attacks and to keep working to keep DIBELS out of my school. To that end, I printed everything I could find about it and distributed it to several of my co-workers. I bought Ken Goodman’s book and gave it to my principal. I knew DIBELS had already been purchased for all three schools in our district, but I still held out hope that somehow none of our children would have to be subjected to it. My blog might have been misleading in that it may have caused readers to infer that my school will be using DIBELS next year in Response to Intervention; it will not. My principal purchased a different tool for progress monitoring. Still, the first weeks of school will be spent administering it to every student in grades K-3 rather than on crucial community-building and gathering information on the whole child. I cannot for the life of me understand why people will not acknowledge that children need to be made to feel safe before they can learn or that learning is not divorced from feeling. Why are these truths viewed as fluffy feel-good extras when they are indisputably the bedrock of learning?

I think we absolutely cannot rest until sanity is restored to the system, beginning with a solid definition of what is basic and the conditions in which children, and indeed all humans, learn. It is imperative that the concept of the Big 5 is re-examined and re-defined to acknowledge the fact that the language arts are about communication: listening, speaking, writing, reading, viewing, thinking. Why in the world must people continue to attempt to quantify what cannot be quantified and plotted on a graph? Why must everything be reduced to numbers?

We must not let ourselves fall into that same numbers mentality; if we do, we run the risk of becoming discouraged when we can't drum up the support of large numbers of people. Whether it’s five as at Downer, or twenty, or one, speaking out is always risky because we do not know if others will join us or if our voices will be heard. However, one thing is certain: if we remain silent, it is guaranteed that they will not.

Friday, May 25, 2007

"I’d rather learn from one bird how to sing
than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance."
e.. e. cummings

This morning I opened my eyes at 4:00 a.m. and realized with deep despair that I am no longer a teacher of young children. Last week, after twenty years of introducing first graders to the power of words, I wrote words I never thought I’d write: Please accept this letter as formal notification that I am leaving my position. . . .I had put off writing the words simply because I couldn’t think of what to write. Suggestions from friends included such eloquent missives as "I quit" and "Take this job and shove it". But did I quit the system, or did the system quit me? And no, I do not want them to take the job and shove it. I want them to take the job and restore some dignity to it. Better yet, I want them not to take the job at all but to get their hands off it and let someone do it well and with passion.

While my co-workers spent the past four days attending meetings about next year, I worked in my classroom, packing away materials I hope to use again some day. While they looked over the schedule for testing every child in early August in order to get baseline data outlining the "basic skills" the children cannot perform, I packed away juggling scarves and pondered: What is basic? It seems to me that the term "basic" encompasses all those things human beings would do if there were no outside interference. "Basic" is organic. I imagine a conversation between Abraham and Sarah sitting under the stars in Mesopotamia. Isaac is sleeping in the tent behind them. Sarah says, "Is there anything you’d like to do before I douse the cookfire?" Abraham scratches his beard, thinks a moment, says "I know! Let’s segment some phonemes!" Sarah says, "Nah. We did that last night. Why don’t we do phoneme deletion tonight?" Basic. If left completely alone, people would work to find effective ways to communicate, discover artistic ways to explore beauty and truth, invent tools and machines to make their work easier. Basic. And, yes, woven into and throughout the basic there would be wordplay: bibbity bobbity boo, john jacob jingleheimer schmidt, flip flap flee I’ll meet you at the top of the coconut tree. I can’t imagine that there would be such inorganic permutations of letters as voj or fek.

I pack away the multi-cultural paint and remember the day we made an amazing discovery: Ain’t none of us black and ain’t none of us white. I think back to the day last November when the world began to crumble under my feet, the day I sat in a meeting and was told we would be administering DIBELS next year. "DIBELS?", I asked in disbelief. "Wait a minute. Back up, please. This district has purchased DIBELS? Without asking the teachers?" Oh, yes, I was told. The state is really cracking down on progress monitoring. We must have something in place to test the children three times a year for comparative data, and every two weeks for those who do not measure up. DIBELS is quick and easy. "But it only gives information that is not useful ," I said, still struggling to make sense of the news. "The tasks it tests are not things I want my children to be able to do anyway." We have to have something. It’s quick and easy. Quick and easy. Quick and easy. Quick and easy.

Becoming literate is not quick and easy, I’ll have them know. It happens over a lifetime. It’s not something you do; it’s something you are. It’s the velveteen rabbit you love the fur off of until it becomes real. I cannot spend the first week of August asking children "What do you get if you take the /ch/ off chair?" Nothing you can sit on, that’s for sure. NCLB is taking more than the /ch/. They’re taking the rest of it, too. The very air is being sucked right out of our classrooms. If I don’t spend the first week of August, all of August, all of the entire year, asking "What do you love? What are you afraid of? What do you think? What do you feel? What do you dream?", then I can’t teach the children. If I don’t observe them while they’re building their Play-doh sculptures, performing their puppet plays, playing with the parachute in the yard, then I can’t know as much as I need to know about their oral language patterns, their work habits, their thought processes. I don’t want to give them busywork to do while I test children individually. I want to sit on the rug with them and read aloud Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and laugh and giggle at her reverse psychology methods. I can’t teach them if I don’t do these things and they can’t learn from me if I don’t tell them all about my fear of dogs when I was in first grade, the morning I went to get in the car for Daddy to take us to school and saw the neighbor’s house was on fire, the time I spent with my aunt while Mama and Daddy were on a business trip and the only thing I would eat was grits three times a day, and that I cried every single day of first grade–every single day–because I wanted to stay home and play on my swing set and read Nancy Drew instead of Dick and Jane. The reason I became a first grade teacher is that I hated first grade so very much because the teacher put us all through the same program of "basic skills" even though some of the children didn’t know the alphabet and I could already read the newspaper. I was determined never to do that to children. Never to standardize; always to individualize. That was 36 years ago, and we know too much to do that to children now, don’t we? Apparently not.

I roll up the rug, and I am overcome with remembering all the time I spent on rugs with children over the last 20 years. I remember the day we were sharing our fears and Maddie spoke very slowly, cautiously choosing the words through which she would bare her soul: "I still watch Barney. I’ve been scared to tell anybody that. That’s what I’ve been scared of. That somebody would find out." A tense moment followed the cathartic confession she’d made on the safe territory of the rug. Then, gradually, one by one, others began confessing that they, too, watched Barney or Teletubbies. Connections were made, bonds were forged, sighs of release and relief issued forth. After that, when we used Maddie’s "Barney" word card for word sorts, it was so much more than an r-controlled vowel and a proper noun and a capitalization rule, though it was all of that. It had feelings and emotions and new concepts attached to it.
I have wondered often since November if I am doing the right thing by leaving. Shouldn’t I stand in the gap? Shouldn’t I try to be an Esther in the palace saving her people? I don’t truly know. I think maybe the only life I can save is my own. As I packed the jump ropes and the handbells and Mac Davis’s "I Believe in Music" CD, I wondered if they’d ever be used again. At least I could’ve tried to work in some good things around all the testing, right? I really don’t think so. The struggle of going to work every day and having to choose between being a good employee or a good teacher, a choice none of us should have to make, became too much for me. The changing of definitions became too much. A good assessment is quick and easy? Being "professional" is implementing the plan handed down without asking any questions? I had reached the point where I could hardly look the children in the eye; I knew I’d let them down, but I didn’t know how to get around all the paperwork and testing. How could I teach them when I was so busy doing paperwork and testing them so I could prove I’d taught them?

People need to realize this is far more than that swinging pendulum you hear so much about in education. Good teachers never swung with that thing anyway. Good teachers don’t go back and forth, only forward. When good teachers can’t go forward because someone has thrown such a heavy weight on them that they can’t even pick up their feet, where can they go but home, I ask you? I ask you, because I truly do not know. . I cannot stand in the gap anymore. I tried to, and they knocked me down and walked right over me. I think of Mac Davis’s song, and I want to be "young and rich and free". I think of my favorite line in Charlotte’s Web: An hour of freedom is worth more than a barrel of slops. So I run free.

"Nor all your tears wash out a word of it. . ."

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Proverbs 24:17 , 18
Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth: Lest the LORD see it, and it displease him, and he turn away his wrath from him.

I have made myself wait two weeks to post these links. I really, truly did remain calm when I read transcripts of the hearings. I did not dance or shout or think cruel thoughts about these wicked men. I just took a deep breath, smiled a little, and went back to doing homework. But now that the semester is over (I turned in my huge final project last night and feel fifty pounds lighter) I think I am ready to think all of this over a little. I had really, really begun to think that Mr. Bush's Reading First friends were going to get away with the evil deeds they did to America's school children. Obviously, they thought they were going to get away with it, but I truly thought they were, too. I was weighted down with thinking it; sick with thinking it; bitter with thinking it. Yes, I know there are no indictments yet, and yes, I know it hasn't hit the mainstream media yet. I even doubt that it ever will. Those evil friends of Mr. Bush's squirmed that day. The rock was overturned and the maggots crawled out into the open. The turning on one another has already begun. The denials. The finger pointing.

Still, I do not rejoice at their stumbling. My heart is not glad. A million children stumbled with them. A million trusting children were swindled and cheated while these men grew rich with the blessings of the president and his education secretary who has not one minute of classroom experience. Those of us who knew watched, waited, hoped, lost hope, prepared to write Ichabod over the door and leave. Vengeance is the Lord's and He can deal with them as He will, and He will not see gladness or rejoicing in my heart.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

I am taking a break from measuring my practice against the IRA Standards for Reading Professionals. It is one of many homework assignments for my Tuesday night class. Last week, I finished my assignments at 5:45, just before the class met at 6:30, and I had worked on them for two or three hours every day. This week, we don't have quite as much, but only because one of the students in the class is a pathological talker and, because of that, the instructor didn't get around to showing us how to do this week's major assignment.

I worked with National Board candidates this morning. Let me just say again: GWB has ruined education in this country. I really think I might need therapy to deal with my feelings toward him, because now my animosity toward him has taken a disturbing twist: I now feel animosity toward anyone who supports him. I find myself avoiding people and situations where I might have to hear someone say something favorable about him. I have some very good friends I used to see regularly whom I now avoid because they are Bush fans. I love these people, but I am now so very bitter toward them that I just don't even want to see them. Therapy. Yes.

This morning was one of those times I needed to be able to clone myself. I needed to attend two things at the same time: National Board work and writing project work. That's what my life has come to. I know I have to work the second and fourth Saturdays of each month, and yet I scheduled a writing project staff development meeting for today in the Liberal Arts building at the exact same time I was supposed to be working in the Curriculum & Instruction building. Kim did the wp thing, thankfully. I knew I'd be spread too thin for this semester, but it couldn't be helped.

I got a lead on another part-time job for next year. A friend sent me an e-mail about it Friday. This one is almost as if I were walking down the sidewalk and someone stepped into my path and said, "Here's a wonderful gift for you." But, then, they've all been that way. And, of course, that is exactly what is happening to me since I decided to jump the sinking ship that is public education. First one friend said, "Here's a gift," then another said, "Here's a gift", now another has said , "Here's a gift." There's a story behind this, but it's personal I think. I wouldn't think so except that there are quite a lot of people I know who are jobless and in a mess, and here I am walking away from a job that pays me fifty thousand a year with really good benefits and lots of vacation time. So I don't feel quite right going around saying, "Hey, guess what? I decided to walk away from a good job, but it's okay because right away a whole bunch of other great ones just popped right up out of the blue." Just about the only bad thing is that I had to go ahead and start the part-time stuff now, and my teaching contract goes through June which means I'm overwhelmed with work, in addition to working on a graduate degree.

I need to get back to the homework now.

Monday, January 15, 2007

I emailed the link to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s letter from Birmingham jail to several people today, and I have had the most wonderful time reading their responses. I’ve gotten several e-mails from friends who lived in Birmingham during that time, sharing their own personal experiences. If I had permission to share their responses here, I would. Especially a long letter from a preacher friend who told me some very interesting things about King’s stay in that jail. I was glad to see that Bonnie posted the letter on her blog. I am enjoying reading her blog every day; it kind of reminds me to try to post a little here.

It was a hard weekend, mainly because I never sleep when I’m away from home, and also because several things happened Saturday night that kept me from getting any rest at all. In spite of all of that, it was great to see everyone and to get a good bit of work done. The next few weeks are going to be busy ones, and it’s nice to get some planning behind me.

I have a Tuesday night class this semester if I can ever get officially registered. I’m going anyway tomorrow night; I already have the textbook and everything, even though I’m not registered. I’ve let the instructor know I’ll be there and that I’m not registered. We’ll see how all that works out. I’ve read the textbook already, and so now I don’t really understand why I have to take the course. I learned a lot, I’ll try out all the strategies, so what’s the point of sitting in the class, you know? I know I have a problem. I know. I simply do not know what to do about it.

I saw several friends from the Gulf Coast this weekend. They are still living in FEMA trailers. Good grief. I am almost embarrassed to be around them.

I have finally remembered about "happies" and "purties". I don’t have time to write about them now, but I definitely will soon. Or maybe not. I’ll have to see the course syllabus tomorrow night before I’ll know what my life will be like from now until May. Now that I’ve started working on Saturdays again with National Board candidates, I already have less free time. I’ll have to drink a lot of carrot juice.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The List

Yesterday, before I went to do the grocery shopping, I told Hannah some things I wanted her to have done by the time I got home: hang clothes on line, feed Lizzie, and one other thing I can't remember. So then on the way to town, I started thinking about all those lists Mama left for us when she went to work. Angela brought up the lists on Christmas, and we all had a good laugh. Here's the story:

I always got up earlier than Angela, and I'd go straight to the list, which Mama always put on the counter under the wall phone. I'd read through, and a typical list would look something like this:

1. Wash clothes /hang out
2. Iron 5 of Daddy's shirts/pants
3. Cln bthrms (she'd start to run out of time, and use a form of shorthand)
4. vcm
5. dust
6. swp ktchn
7. swp prchs
8. run btrbean runrs up poles
9. pck tom.
10. ct okra
11. pck snapbeans
12. shell peas
13. Start supper:
bbq chickn
baked pot.

Sometimes the "shorthand" was worse than that. Sometimes it was completely indecipherable. By the time Angela got up, I'd say, "Well, I've figured out all but #4 and #7. You give it a shot." Sometimes, even between the two of us, we couldn't figure them all out. We didn't dare call Mama at work. That was simply not done. So, we'd just split everything up that we could decode, and then when we were finished, we'd meet back at the list and try to crack the more cryptic items. "It could be. . ." "Wait! Maybe it's. . ." "Do you think she meant. . ." "What in God's name have we not already done?"

Mama would come home, and if there were even one or two items on the list not done, she'd say "I guess tomorrow I'll just take that TV cord with me to work." We'd just look at each other. TV? TV? We were in the garden all day. We never got near the TV.

One day, number 17 on the list, under the Supper heading, was "pot. and dump." Pot and dump? What on earth? When Angela got up, I said, "I've exhausted all possibilities. Potatoes I'm pretty sure of, but dump? I give up." So we did the divide and conquer thing, and met back at the list at the end of the day. Pot and dump. Pot and dump. Pot and dump. What could it be? POT AND DUMP!!!!! We were pacing, pulling out our hair, wringing our hands. We'd started the roast, cooked the butterbeans and corn, sliced tomatoes, made the cornbread and tea. There was nothing for it. We'd be pot and dumpless.

So then Mama came home, and when she walked in the door, we immediately admitted failure. "We didn't know pot and dump, Mama. Sorry." Mama just shook her head and stood there looking at us. "Potatoes and dumplings? You didn't know potatoes and dumplings?" Well, no, Mama. We've never had that before. They don't even go together. Potatoes and dumplings? That's two starches in the same pot. How do you even make such a dish? Why would you want to?

Mama acted as if we had potatoes and dumplings twice a week. "You boil the potatoes and dumplings, then make a white sauce. My goodness. I make it every year." Well, not since 1965, I wanted to say. I've never in my life even heard of such a dish.

I really shouldn't be writing about cooking. The heating element in my oven went out Tuesday, and I'm beside myself waiting for the new one to come in. Why in the world should it take seven business days for a heating element to arrive? I can order anything I want off the internet and have it shipped next day. Then, when it finally comes, we'll have to wait for a serviceman to come out and put it in. I never realized how much I cook in the oven. I never cook a meal that I don't use the oven. Suddenly, I want roasted chicken, baked potatoes, asparagus, brownies, pineapple upside down cake, yeast rolls.

I think I am going to set the setting on this blog to private. Invitation only. I switched over to a new version and went into the settings menu, and it occurred to me that that is something I should maybe do.