Saturday, May 21, 2011

Got a moment to read some students' work?

This week, I am writing end of the year reports, so I won't be posting anything of my own, although my fingers are busy on the keyboard! However, my kind daughter typed all the poems that my class was ready to share and I posted them on Jan's 4-5 Blog. Please visit, read, leave a comment if you have a moment.

Thanks so much!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Best Laid Plans

The best thing about making lesson plans is that they can change! Sir Ken Robinson says, "Human life is not linear. You can't plan it like a production line." (Here's a link to the video in which he says that.) Well, that certainly is true of classroom life - and only more so in May.

This week, there have been rehearsals and performances and Grandparents Day. And, it's spring. School is ending soon. The children are a bit edgy. They have big research/writing projects to fnish. There's a lot going on.

Flash to Thursday morning. My plan book clearly said, "Attend Lower School Assembly, 8:25. Teach Greek game, Plakato,8:45,then play it. 9:30, Social Studies, Mini-lesson: how to use the Revision and Editing checklist.Recess/Snack, 10:15." My morning was planned.

Enter the real live class. Off to the Assembly. Then back to the class to finish up pizza orders for Friday and review the schedule for the day. Time to teach the game. A hand shoots up.


"I made a presentation I'd like to share. May I do it now?" the student asked.

"Okay," I answered, knowing it would be fine to give her a few minutes, excited at her initiating this, wondering where we were going.

The student, a cheerful, steady, quiet fourth grader, came up to the front of the room. She carefully opened up a sheet of paper she had typed in preparation for this presentation. The class shushed themselves and sat forward to hear her better.

The student shared her concerns about how we reaching conclusions about people based on looking at their clothing and appearance; she wondered why there are popular kids and unpopular kids; she talked about how terrible teasing makes people feel; she proposed a change.

It's a conversation we've had from time to time all year long, but somehow this particular morning, it took wings. Almost every student in the room had something powerful to add.

One child talked about being teased for being too short. Another child shared what it felt like when people made comments about her parents' car. Another talked about other children shunning her when her brother was very sick with cancer. Another student talked about how much she wished she didn't love the attention and concern shown her when she had a dangerously allergic reaction to nuts. Another student said that popular children aren't always the nicest children in the class. Another suggested that popular kids may look like they have many friends, but in reality, they only have a few true friends. Another said it was sometimes hard to know who his true friends were. A student with Tourette's Syndrome quoted, with difficulty, a comment he'll never forget: "Thank G-- I don't have what you have."

We agreed that judging people based on what they look like doesn't make sense. We sympathized with each other, we shared stories. We heard each other. We threw away boundaries and popularity scales. I tried not to cry. The importance of the conversation that resulted over the next 40 minutes far outweighed the plans I had laid for that moment.

We'll get back to researching next week. Ancient Greece won't have gone away!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Heart of a Teaching Mom

Yesterday, while dashing back to school from a meeting at the district, I listened to a radio essay (for which I've just failed miserably to find a link) which contained the quote from Elizabeth Stone, “Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

I want to take that one step further. To be a teacher is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around in hundreds of bodies.

I don't think it's just me. I think it happens to many parents who are teachers. Our hearts break, bend, tear, expand, fill with joy or anxiety or pride or love or despair for our own children as well as for our "children", our students.

It's why we teach, it's why each day is so rich and full, it's why it's so hard to say good-bye when they go off to another school or another class at the end of the year.

This year, we decided to let the fifth graders lead their own conferences. This changed the entire dynamic of the conference. What was especially new to me was the opportunity to sit and see my pride and hope mirrored on my students' parents' faces. Usually, I don't get to see the parents too often, interacting with their kids. Usually, it's just me, watching their kids and feeling that pride (or frustration, or pain, or excitement) alone.

Then there was the one conference that didn't go the way I hoped it would go. The joy and pride weren't there on the parent's faces. There was only criticism and defeat. Yet this was a child for whom there was so much to celebrate. His reading and writing have improved, he is a hard worker, he is a caring and thoughtful friend to other kids in the class, he never gives up - even though many school tasks are very challenging.

Listening to the derision and watching the child's posture slump noticeably with each barb, and not knowing how to protect him full time from something I only glimpsed for half an hour was one of the most heartbreaking experiences I've had as a teacher.

The pain was no different from watching my own child being treated unfairly. Actually, maybe it's worse because I feel less able to do anything about it.

Happy Mother's Day - to all who feel a mother's feelings for those who need us.