Friday, November 23, 2007

The Bistro

Starbucks has nothing on room 210. Hot java is brewed first thing and teachers wander in to the "kitchen" at the rear of the room to grab a cup of joe before students meet at their door. In eight years I'm only on my second coffee maker. Not bad when you consider I've conservatively brewed 10 cups a day, 190 plus days a year (I only count the work days!) for the last eight years. I calculate that to be 15,200 talls of Columbian or French Roast or Breakfast Blend or Kenyan or Ethiopian or Kona or Verona. That's a lot of ground beans. That's a great appliance.

Coffee is always available and if you are a regular you know the top drawer of the file cabinet above the social studies, science, language arts, health, math, and administrative files has food. The coffee is served gratis. There has never been a used coffee can with a slit in the plastic lid for change. No one has ever been asked to bring a pound. No need. When low and one never knows when that will happen, a bag of coffee shows up. We've had coffee of every flavor. We've had imported good stuff from the Netherlands. We've had organic beans from Kenya. We've had Eight O'Clock. We've had Starbucks. Yumm.

The Bistro is a wrought iron table with two chairs sitting in a well-traveled hall just outside room 210. It's a commissioned Impressionist scene painted by our art teacher as our French window view. It's lunch, a snack, or conference over a writing piece at this table. It's parents sitting and talking as they wait after school for kids coming out of the computer class. It's an invitation to sit. Many mornings a home-baked product appears for teacher consumption. Pastry chef unknown. Leftovers, quiche, coffee cake with crumbly topping, and juice from a team birthday celebration find their way to this tiny table. The goodies stay out all day with only a student or two feeling at all tempted to try a bite. They seem to know it is for teachers. We've even heard one student say he wanted to be a teacher so he could have something from the Bistro.
This fine establishment opened "its doors" during the work week before the start of the school year as a spin off from everyone knowing where the coffee was. It was a response to a customer need. I did promise the principal I would move it before school started and the fire marshal shut us down. She liked the table so much she let us keep it. I think she saw the possibilities- she's that way!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

weather, hearing, and crankiness as a thesis

One of these days I'm going to do a teacher research project that shows the correlation between crazy weather and hearing challenges which I believe results in cranky teachers at least 95% of the time. Up til now I only have observations. As we are learning in third grade science, research questions come out of observations. I believe I have some real science ahead.

Today in reading workshop (though there was evidence much earlier in the day) everything I said seemed to be lip synced as there was no action taken after any of my polite requests or comments. In fact, as I continued, my comments got less polite. "Please, find a good learning spot," "Please, don't trade books," "Please, stay in your seat," "Can you use a soft voice to conference?" "You must be reading or writing about reading; that doesn't look like either," "Don't bother her," "What are you doing?" I had a literature group with me and the students who were independently reading and know after 13 weeks of school that "reading is thinking" and that it is to be done quietly, among other things, heeded none of my requests. I finally raised my voice to one boy. I don't reach that decibel level too often . You think that might have brought some collateral results; but no, everyone kept right on keepin' on. It really made me cranky.

At the end of the workshop, I gathered everyone to the front, praised some students who had commented brilliantly about the cover from "The Green Book" and then pulled up the list of "Guidelines for Reading Workshop" the class had authored earlier in the year. This made the students a little cranky. After all they knew this stuff already. Having the chart and seeing the response to it, students looking sheepishly but, generally positive, reminded me that maybe little guys needed repeat lessons once in awhile. Maybe the expectations for independent work weren't part of the focus enough when we introduced our new novels today. I still think it was weather but, maybe there are just days we (teachers, too) need a little reminding about expectations.

Monday, November 12, 2007

an invitation to learn

The earlier post about my experiences at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA only begins to touch the surface of my reverence for the museum's founder, the mission, and the gentle manner in which high level learning occurs for those who walk through the doors. Ever the packrat, I mean collector of any item that can be potentially used for a future lesson, I recently pulled out and reread the small activity flyer from the exhibit, The Art of Allen Say: A Sense of Place that closed October 28, 2007. Even the words on the cover of the "Gallery Search" activity were kinder and gentler: "We invite you to look...", "We encourage you to describe...", " what you feel...", "Remember to look..." These nudges to purposefully look at the art were invitations, not directives. Built into these few extra words were the difference between being asked to do something and being told to do something. Embedded were choices.

One activity gives students a brief description of how Say sees painting versus writing as a more natural way to express and describe things. The activity has students looking for paintings that convey different feelings- surprise, lonliness, frustration, satisfaction, affectionate connection. It doesn't say, "Go to... and find the painting that..." It allows the observer to interpret those feelings using any number of paintings suggesting there are so many ways to express and interpret those universal emotions. How many times in an effort to be efficient, have I written activity/ response sheets for students with direct instructions? (Look at the image...) In fact, the prompts were sequenced and numbered. Heaven forbid a student go to step 3 before completing step 2! So what if they are more interested in step 3 and know how to do step 2.

The next activity in the Gallery Search further challenges the student to higher level learning by adding a writing piece. "Write about what in each picture made you match it to the described feeling?" So much teaching and learning in just a few words. These are the kinds of tasks all teachers are challenged to place in their daily lessons.

I rationalize my sometimes direct approach in curriculum writing by saying so many students are English language learners. They don't need to navigate so much text. Hmmm. But, don't they still need to be invited?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

title IX, moms and daughters

My daughter's field hockey team just qualified for the NCAA Sweet Sixteen. I'm a proud mom. It is resurrection for a team that has risen in the last year above challenges athletically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, collectively, and individually. I'm an empathetic mom. In a few ways. I played college sports (tennis and field hockey), too. I was in that first generation of title niners in the mid 70s whose favorite subject after English and Geometry was recess. The year Title IX became a federal mandate (1972) our girls high school basketball team was still wearing the boys hand me downs over white t-shirts. Legislation rarely ensures immediate compliance- federal or otherwise. Hey, at least we had a team. I remember riding in a parent's car instead of on county buses to matches and games, some of which were over 2 hours away. But, at least we had a team. We did not get meal money for away trips like the boys who played football. We ate at McDonalds while they sat down and had steak and pie. Booster money was for football and boys basketball. But hey, we had a team. Pretty progressive stuff for a little high school of 600 students in the middle of the high desert. Now this next generation is enjoying the fruits of a year round labor, all expenses paid, hotel, per diem for meals, gear, shoes, coaches with impeccable reputations of the international ilk and most importantly, the joy of playing a physical and intellectual sport hard with your best friends!

As I write this I'm en route to my college field hockey team reunion. It's been almost 30 years. Talk about dilemmas! I had to make a choice between attending her game or this reunion. I have my daughter's blessing even though it could be her last collegiate game. Love that kid. As I torturously pondered the choices I finally realized I wanted to go to honor two coaches and some teammates who were such a positive and powerful influence on me personally and professionally. These were mentors who brought out the best in you, who developed your every dimension through a daily dose of sport and hard work, and did it without yelling. They were my family and women before their time. So after almost 30 years I'm acknowledging the bonds of friendship, family, and sport as much as anything else. It is the same bond I know my daughter will enjoy for the next 30 years with her coaches and team... and hey, do they ever have a team!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

mother bear and the substitute

Mrs. R. was in my class substituting til lunch today. The time and initial has been changed to protect the hopefully innocent. I can only assume this innocence. I was at an offsite Teacher Research meeting working on my professional project. Love my school. Love my administration who supports me personally and professionally by giving me time to work on what I want to work on. But I digress. I came back in time to enjoy a real lunch with a few friends basking in the fact that I had a productive morning. I was met by the sub who had come looking for me. Immediately and with no regard for who else was also enjoying lunch in the teacher lounge, she began telling me negative things about the morning, her voice tinged with emotion and specifically about one student who "...drove her crazy" among other things. "Hi, are you Mrs. R?" I asked. She slowed enough to reply yes. I smiled semi-sincerely and thanked her for her information while thinking about how many of my colleagues and additional substitutes (lots of us were out for Teacher Research that morning) also "received" the information.

While my literacy partner and good friend went to get our students from recess I went to the class to prepare for the focus lesson on reading log responses. A parent volunteer walked in to prepare the "Tuesday" communication folders that go home to families each week with school announcements, forms, newsletters.

Reflecting on the event in the teacher's lounge, my mother bear protectiveness kicked in. I began thinking about how our staff works hard to maintain confidentiality out of respect for our students and families, right down to the preschoolers, how we do not speak about a student's difficulties unless we are seeking consultation and someone needs to know, and how we would directly deal with an issue in private in a professional way teacher to student, teacher to parent, and teacher to teacher. That's when Mrs. R. walked in asking for her water bottle. I had just cleaned up her leftover coffee cup and a few sundry papers left on my desk. I had been looking for her written information and feedback required by substitutes when they are in a classroom. I noticed much of the carefully written plans I left were not completed. I had not seen her water bottle and told her so. I didn't mention the plans. I didn't mention the missing note. Again, she began talking in detail about the student with whom she had difficulty, again speaking publicly and negatively about an eight year old, again with no regard for who else might hear the comments. It was at that point I introduced her to the student's mother who was organizing the "Tuesday" folders for me.

At the end of the day after hearing a few comments about the unprofessional behavior (yelling, leaving a student alone in the hall) of this teacher I sought her out hoping to catch her before she left our school. I found her, asked to speak with her privately and let her know in the future (though with me there wouldn't be a "future") I would prefer she speak with me privately about a student issue. I also asked that she put her positive (there had to be something good!) and negative feedback and information in written form in the event I should follow up later. Mrs. R. apologized. I accepted her apology knowing she didn't have the luxury of knowing each of my student's challenges and knowing substituting is tough work. I suspect she had no idea why I would defend a student whose change of routine created such disruption for her. He may have been the reason she couldn't get through the plans. He is in fact a challenge behaviorally...but he is making progress and hey, he's my "cub", my challenge and I'm the only one who can say that!