Friday, December 31, 2010

With My Hand Over My Heart...Today, I Will Judge

Well, friends, it's that time of year again. The time to make false promises to ourselves that this year, we will leave our classrooms early to get to the gym.This year we will be totally on top of all our paperwork. This year we will greet our little friends with a smile and a positive attitude every day. Yes, I said every day...even those days when you accidentally leave your coffee untouched on the kitchen counter and must forge on sans caffeine. I mean, talk about a resolution!

My infamous resolution is to "be more positive in (insert year here)." So far it's been negativity 4, Mrs. Mimi 0, but who's counting?

What can I say? A solid dose of negativity combined with a dash of snarky is the way of my people. That and an unreal love of all things cheese. My sister and I try to be better people. We raise our hands to our hearts and pledge, "today, I will not judge.". Again, so far we've only got the pledging part down, but baby steps, my peeps, baby steps.

However, this year THIS YEAR, Mrs. Mimi is feeling a little crazy. I'm all, "Let's mix it up this year, eh?".

Friends, today I will judge.

Ta dah! Quite the resolution, no?

I am going to judge what is best for teachers and, ultimately, what is best for children. Because, in my humble albeit outspoken and in your face opinion, what nurtures the souls and minds of gifted teachers will nurture the souls and minds of children. It's not all about the kids and it's not all about the teachers. It's all about the culture of the school and relationships.

I am going to judge others when they make remarks about my job as they awkwardly straighten their ties, realizing that they have no business speaking with their lack of classroom experience but refusing to keep their mouths shut all the same.

I am going to judge the new-fangled snap-your-fingers-and-everyone-learns approach to teaching. If it dumbs down my work, it's a no go. If it makes me feel like I'm a trained seal? That's a no too. And if it makes learning about as interesting as watching paint dry, I'm going to have to pass on that too.

Finally, I'm going to judge teachers. Who is rocking it in their classrooms and who is just getting by? Who is bringing us down with their "but my contract says" and their refusal to work hard (and therefore should be ashamed of themselves)? And who could use a helping hand because this work is balls out HARD?

So, welcome to the judgement zone, my lovely readers. Somehow, I think this is going to be a banner year for resolutions....

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Mother-effing blogs on a mother-effing plane! (Sorry, I had to.)

Monday, December 27, 2010

When Is This Horse Going To Die?

...because, honestly? Aren't we all sick of beating it?

But before we get started here...Yes, I know I've been gone fo-eva, I know I should probably explain myself and I know I owe many of you an apology. All of this is coming, friends, but Mrs. Mimi has to deal with this pesky piece-of-shit fly first.

What is so major that it snapped me out of my funk? Got me to dust off the old soap box? Shine up the fabulous boots for a little butt kicking?

Using student standardized test scores to evaluate, judge, compensate and, yes, sometimes publicly humiliate teachers, that's what.

I mean, what the deuce, Powers That Be? Why won't you let this one go?

A Super Colleague sent me a link to a piece in the NY Times this morning. After reading just the first few opening sentences, I could feel my old blog finger twitching. (For those of you who are non-bloggers, that's similar to a trigger finger, but with a lot less ammo and a lot more snarky.)

Here's the link. Take a moment. Soak in the ridiculous. I'll still be here fuming when you finish.

Why do city officials insist on using standardized test scores for EVERYTHING?! Is it because reducing something SO COMPLEX such as teacher effectiveness to a bunch of numbers feels easier, faster, neater? More science-y and fitting with your power ties, expensive lunches and big charts with graphs?

I guess from where city officials are standing (hint: it's not in a school), abusing standardized test data is the new rage in excessive back patting.

Why shouldn't we use said data to evaluate their job performance and determine their pay? Oh, because they can't be held directly responsible for something that depends on such a wide variety of factors?

Well then, NEITHER SHOULD TEACHERS.

I feel like it goes without saying, but I will say it again because that is the way of my people. The score a student receives on a test is not just a measure of his teacher's ability to teach. It is also a reflection of his parents, his entire school, the neighborhood he lives in, if he ate a decent breakfast and if he speaks proficient English. It's complicated, can we just agree on that?

And then did you read the part about how really these scores might
say something about the top 10 percent and the bottom 10 percent but really tell us next to nothing about the remaining 80 percent of teachers. Do I even need to throw in the reality that many teachers don't even test a subject or grade level that is tested?!

May I take a moment to make it very clear that my last statement was in no way an invitation to create another battery of tests. I know, I got the Powers That Be all worked up for a second there. Perhaps they need a cold, number free shower or something.

Let's just boil it down to this.

Stop saying that you respect teachers, that you think we have a difficult job, that you think we are so important to the future and then simultaneously reduce our jobs to a series of numbers and scores that are largely irrelevant and, in many ways, out of our control. Stop pointing fingers, trying to publicly humiliate us and pin the blame for failing schools on us alone and then wonder why the best and brightest don't jump at the chance to have a career in teaching.

Just stop.

The horse is dead. Put down your stick and walk away.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Friday, November 26, 2010

I Am A Teacher, Hear Me Roar?

Alternative title: Where My Balls At?

I know, somewhere Big Mama Mimi is reading that last line, shaking her head and wondering where it all went wrong. Sorry, mom! But hey, sometimes a girl's gotta say what a girl's gotta say.

Let me get to the point. You all know how I'm not afraid to say that there really are some plain old sucky teachers out there, right? I mean, it's true. (Granted, there are many of us out there who rock endlessly and yet the media loves to look the other way unless we are clad entirely in leather, essentially living in our classrooms and come with our hip hop soundtrack that magically follows us everywhere.). If you are a regular reader of the old Blog, you may also know that I often wonder whether these not-so-hot teachers blew when they first started their careers. Have they always sucked eggs or where they broken down by a system that constantly puts their needs and expertise at the bottom? Have their voices been silenced and their skills sabotaged by years of being told what to do, when to do it and how they will be punished if they do not follow through?

I don't know. Maybe it's a little bit of both. I know I spent nine years in a school where I learned a tremendous amount and was able to truly improve my practice. But there also came a time at this same school where I grew sick of the drama, the "speak when spoken to," the disregard of my knowledge. (And just like that, a snarky blog was born!)

Let me get to the point. I think education today is a dangerous business. It is easy to get wrapped up in the whole top-down hierarchy thing that seems to be our situation du jour. And it is even easier to lose your sense of self, what attracted you to the classroom in the first place, and your confidence in your own abilities and knowledge.

I know this is true for at least some of us, because it happened to me. Yes, Mrs. Mimi, she who is unafraid of saying pretty much anything, sometimes loses her mojo.

I have been a bit vague as to exactly what it is I do in classrooms these days. I am lucky enough to work for a visionary company that provides professional development to teachers. I am learning so much about the teaching of reading and writing, about how to work with adults (we can be difficult) and about myself as an educator.

Recently, I came to a sad realization about myself that made my super hero cape sag and shook my confidence. I had a particular plan for a school, knew it would work for teachers and believed in the process we were about to engage in together. But when that plan was questioned, I caved. Did what I was told. Lost my voice.

Nobody involved had bad intentions for teachers. The sad part isn't that my plan was questioned, or even that it was altered- the sad part was how quickly I lost confidence in my own knowledge, how I forgot to present my side, that I forgot about what I believe in if only for a moment.

Teaching can be brutal. I think that I am still recovering from some of my past experiences and still trying to find the voice that is so easily expressed here, but sometimes gets lost in the chaos.

So....I am now on a personal quest to build myself back up. To stop apologizing and to start trusting my teacher instincts again. Do I smell a New Year's Resolution in the making??

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Size Matters.

Ladies, am I right??

Okay, you dirty birds, Mrs. Mimi is talking about CLASS size not...well...sizes of other things.  Ahem.  Yes, class size.  We'll just go with that, shall we?

So word on the street is that Secretary I've-Never-Taught-Before-And-Therefore-Don't-Know-My-Class-Size-From-My-Elbow Duncan is suggesting that schools make some "hard choices" in these "difficult economic times."  I guess he's just realizing that tax dollars don't grow on trees and OF COURSE when you need to cut back on something, education is the first place you should look.  I mean, duh! It's only our future generation, right?

Basically, The Dunks thinks that rather than cut art and music or other things that "directly impact the classroom," schools should opt to make "targeted increases" in class size.  (You guys, he even said that he would be willing to send his hypothetical children to a class of 26 children if there was an excellent teacher in place...I mean, if that's not an endorsement...)  A few problems with his line of thinking:

(My soapbox, please!)

1.  Um, Mr. Duncan?  Mr. Secretary of EDUCATION?  When was the last time you were actually IN a classroom?  Because, guess what?  No, go ahead.  Guess.  No ideas?  Well, my friend, it's just that many schools ALREADY have class sizes of 25 and 26.  Are you imagining the jump to 30 students as being no big deal?  That means a teacher gets to spend less than 15 minutes with each child.

2.  What makes Duncan think that increasing class size is a decision that has no direct impact on the classroom?  I can't think of many other things that have a BIGGER impact on the classroom.  Um, logic much?

3.  Oh, and I guess being a Power That Be means possessing the magical ability to ignore massive amounts of data supporting small class size.  Are book burnings back in style?  Is data burning all the rage?

The Dunks also goes on to say that school districts should rethink pay scales that give teachers additional pay for advanced degrees.  Instead, he suggests that the most effective teachers should be paid between $80,000 and $125,000 a year.  Now.  Not that I don't agree that the Rock Stars of Education should be paid some serious Benjamins, HOWEVER, where is this imaginary money going to come from if we have to make "tough decisions" such as increasing class size because we are in tough economic times. Again, my friend, you are not making the sense.  But I guess when you are in charge, you don't have to.

Note: Due to lack of sleep and the reality that I can't put enormous amounts of bullsh*t out into the universe and just expect people to swallow it like some people I know, my fingers are crossed that this post is coherent.

Remember Me?

Annnnnnnnd  I'm back.  For now.

My peeps, I apologize for my absence.  Basically, Mrs. Mimi is drowning with a capital Not Enough Sleep.  I have been dissertation station every spare second of every day and, you know, working in classrooms, taking care of my Mini Mimi, writing articles for various other websites, holiday shopping and generally pulling my hair out the rest of the time. 

Um, balance much?

So, no.  I'm not so good with the whole keeping my responsibilities down to a minimum thing.  I think it's the Teacher Gene.   We love to pile things on that plate.  But hey, at least I'M in control of my own plate...because we all know that there are plenty of OTHER PEOPLE (Powers That Be, we're looking at YOU) who LOVE to get their pile on. 

I'm thinking about doing NaBloPoMo for December.  Which, for you non-blog-geeks, means posting every day in the month of December.

Shut the front door! I KNOW!  It's like all or nothing with me, but I figure if I don't go balls out, I may never post at all.

Thoughts?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Change.

So, all of you out there who are sick of hearing phrases such as the following:

"Teachers are resistant to change."
"Teachers are refusing to change because they don't want to have to work any harder."
"We're trying to change the schools, but the teachers don't want to change."

please put your hands up in the air.

Now wave them like you just don't care.

Except, contrary to this popular belief, we do care. 

Change is hard.  For everyone.  Last week I was on the phone with Mini Mimi's pediatrician and the nurse who answered was clearly having a hard time adapting to the change in their phone system.  When I stopped by one of my favorite restaurants to pick up a falafel (I HEART me some chickpeas), the person ringing me up complained about the change in registers.  And when I was at the hospital five months ago having Mini Mimi?  Guess what?  You got it!  The nurses were complaining about the change in diapers.

Did you see these individuals on the news being blamed for the failure of their respective businesses?  Probably not.  I'm sure the nurse was given adequate time to figure out the phones, the lady at the falafel place was given adequate support from her co-workers as she mastered the new register and the nurses?  Well, I bet someone actually listened to them because I hear they are now using different diapers.

Do you see where I'm going with this, friends?

Personally, I don't think teachers are resistant to change because we are hell bent on making sure schools fail, because, hey, who cares, we get summers off and oh by the way we need to walk out the door at 3.  I think some teachers are resistant to change because they know that in twenty minutes or two weeks or two months or two years it's all going to CHANGE AGAIN.  And again.  And again.  And one more time just for ha has and/or to possibly mess with our heads.  The Powers That Be can be crazy like that.

An example.

In my first year of teaching we used a scripted reading program, a games based math program, no particular writing curriculum and kind of made up science and social studies as we pleased.  (I know, it's probably OUR FAULT that no writing curriculum was purchased at the district or school level and that science and social studies were basically an after thought.  THAT'S why we spent so much time after school trying desperately to fill those gaps...) 

In my second year of teaching, we used a balanced literacy approach to reading and writing, began a brand new word study program and implemented a totally new math curriculum. Oh, and then the standards changed and we had to re-write all our science and social studies lessons. 

In my third year of teaching, we actually kept the same reading, writing and math curricula but, don't you worry!  No stability here, folks!  We totally changed word study programs and (you know it!) the science and social studies scope and sequence went through another overhaul which meant more time writing new units. 

In my fourth year of teaching, we adopted yet another word study program (third times a charm?), instituted a battery of new tests and began to work in committees.


In my fifth year of teaching, things stayed the same.  I got a taste of what it felt like to reflect upon the previous year and to thoughtfully improve my instruction.  I began to experience what it was like to push myself professionally, to feel confident which in turn pushed me to work even harder.  I started to....

Oh wait.  Then I was asked to switch grade levels.  Sorry professional upswing, time to start over!

On some level, because I am a sick and twisted individual who thrives on things moving at warp speed, I felt like I learned a lot by being exposed to so many different curricula, programs and philosophies.  But my teaching?  Well, that kept getting the rug pulled out from under it.  I was left to feel like I was constantly treading water, waiting to drown at any moment.  Let me just say that feeling like you are drowning does not do wonders for your professional confidence.

I know what you're thinking.  You're thinking, "Does this woman ever stop complaining? Doesn't she ever speak up and advocate for herself or her students?"

In fact, yes.  Yes I did.  Yes I DO.  But, with very few people other than my fellow Super Colleagues listening and supporting me, speaking up was a bit like pissing into the wind. 
(Yes, I went there.)

Maybe if I had been listened to.  Maybe if I had been given the chance to achieve some sort of balance.  Maybe if I had been asked what I think, what I need, what is working.  Maybe if someone realized that constant change isn't always a good thing and that perhaps by following every single trend that comes along, we've in fact crippled teachers, made them unable to adapt or see the value in changes that are made to their practice without their consideration. 

Maybe sometimes change IS bad.  And maybe, just maybe, sometimes it's NOT the teacher's fault.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

My Plate Runneth Over

If I could propose a buzzword du jour, I think it would be "balance."

I suck at balance. 

I think I suck at balance because I have the chronic problem of trying to balance too many things at once.  Which, now that I think about it, becomes a much larger (and much more delicate) balance between me and The Edge.  Lately, I feel a bit like I'm staring over said Edge...I'm basically holding on by my fabulous heels.  (Yes, Mommy Mimi is back in her heels and LOVING IT!)

As teachers, we have So.  Much. To.  Balance.  (Secretly, I think we'd all be really good at juggling plates or flaming batons...comes with the territory.)  We have to balance what we've learned in our latest professional development with what we think (and know) works for our friends.  We have to balance what we are passionate about with what is mandated.  We have to balance bathroom breaks with learning time.  We have to balance our desire to stop and look at a topic deeply and the constant administrative drive to move on, move on, cover everything, don't stop, don't pass go and (for the love of God) DON'T collect $200, are you crazy?  Teachers are overpaid and get summers off!

See?  That last bit?  That little sarcastic rant?  It's those moments when I think The Edge just may be winning.

In Mrs. Mimi's world, the compulsion to pile things onto my proverbial plate bleeds into my personal life as well.  Actually, if I'm honest with you (which I always am, my lovely readers), I think I function better when I have a lot going on.  When my plate gets too empty, suddenly I find myself in front of the TV watching hours of Golden Girls re-runs and wondering where my afternoon went.  Again, though, it's all about balance.  How much can I pile on so that I stay productive and don't tip the scales over to Crazed Whirlwind of Activity Yet Actually Finish Nothing Town.  That place blows.

I'm currently working with teachers.  I heart me some teachers.  And I'm watching these teachers struggle with balance as well (which is what leads me to think it's one of our occupational hazards).  I'm trying to help them balance new, purposeful strategies for teaching with what they feel comfortable doing in their classrooms.  And I'm seeing them trying to balance new ideas that they are excited about with how much change they realistically think they can handle.

Friends, I think I have had a revelation.

The more we push on teachers, asking them to reshuffle their already very delicate balance, the more resistant teachers are going to become.  And can you blame them?  Forget about having a healthy work-life balance...most teachers are just trying to balance the demands of their work life enough to get through the day without feeling like they just went into battle.  Yet instead of respecting that balance, acknowledging that balance, being real about the balance, what happens?  More and more and MORE gets put on the teachers plate and then, that finger gets pointed when the teacher fails to achieve the perfect balance.  Does it feel like a finger-pointing set up to anyone else? 

If we want things to change, and I think all of us do, the first step may be toward acknowledging what a teacher ALREADY HAS on her plate.  Then, wouldn't it make much more sense to strategically remove some of those responsibilities before adding on even more?  Don't we want teachers to be able to focus their energies and achieve a successful balance?  Because right now, it feels like The Powers That Be are just looking for a plate to dump all their problems on. 

I don't know about you, but my plate is full.  Grab a fork and help me if you want...

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Think Carefully Before You Point That Finger

This whole "let's blame everything on bad teachers" business has really got me steamed.  I'm not sure why tearing teachers apart is suddenly a trendy thing to do - personally I think it's one of those trends that is about as stylish and hot as those shirts that changed color with your body heat.  Remember those?  I think they were called Hypercolor Ts or something ridiculous like that?  At the time, some may have thought they were cool, but now...NOW I am hoping those same people are looking back at pictures of their past, shaking their heads and thinking about how LAME that particular trend really was.  How it lead them down a road of fashion don'ts.  How it was a waste of time and money.

Here's to hoping that all of this finger pointing goes the way of Hypercolor shirts.  Years from now, with any luck, the people behind those self-righteous digits will be thinking back on their past, shaking their heads and thinking about how LAME this particular trend really was.  How it lead our schools down a road of overly standardized don'ts.  How it was a waste of time and money.

Friends, my point is (Yes, I have one.) that sometimes doing what is trendy is nothing but a waste of time.  I liken our schools to the closets of individuals who have fallen victim to too many passing trends.  Disorganized, costly and with no true focus. 

But hey, let's totally blame the teachers for all that mess.  You know, since they have so much say over what they do in their classrooms...

What a minute.

May I share a little story with you?  A story about what I see when I am in classrooms?  A story about what is actually going on in our schools despite all of the finger pointing, all of the negativity, all of the buzzwords that never seem to really go anywhere? 

I recently spent time with an early childhood teacher.  She is a veteran teacher who has been working with the small fries for many years.  Her classroom is adorable.  I sat down to read to the group and immediately noticed how wonderfully they were all sitting on the carpet.  Except for one friend.  This one friend would call out comments about the book despite all of her classmates modeling quiet listening behavior.  She threw her body around the rug, taking out several similarly small fries in the process.  I watched as these other students simply dusted themselves off, smiled and continued to listen.  As I continued to read (Mrs. Mimi is determined.  Must. Read.  Out.  Loud.), this friend ran over to her teacher's desk, grabbing a handful of stickers.  When the stickers were taken away, she grabbed at a nearby chart.  When the chart was taken away, she went for a marker.  I think you get my point.

Girlfriend was beyond disruptive.  But instead of appearing to be malicious in her movements, this little girl truly seemed to have no control. 

After my read aloud (which still managed to ROCK, thank you very much), I sat with the teacher.  She was honest with me regarding her struggles with this particular student.  She told me how frustrated she felt at times.  She told me how difficult it was to help this girl to understand how to keep her hands to herself. 

And then she told me how bright this little girl is.  How much she craves individual attention.  How far she's come in just a few short weeks.  How she is committed to helping this girl, survivor of the earthquake in Haiti, learn as much as possible. 

During our conversation I heard no blame.  I heard no excuses.  I heard nothing but the honesty of a gifted teacher as she acknowledged the struggle and considered solutions. 

So, Powers That Be?  Perhaps you should pause, look inside an actual classroom and see what you can see.  And then maybe you can put those blame-ridden, trend-loving fingers away and get down to work like the rest of us. 

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Just Shoot Me

I think my love of all things Barnsy is pretty well established at this point, don't you?  I don't know how many times Mr. Mimi has joined me in my beloved Barnsy, gotten separated from me and found me spread out on the floor with a pile of new picture book titles and a gleam in my eye that says, "I'm gearing up to spend heinous amounts of money on these bad boys" as my debit card begins to vibrate with anticipation.

I also think that I speak openly of my addiction to picture books in general, no?  I mean, we're talking about a woman who, in her third trimester, waddled around several public libraries tracking down 100 different titles just so that she could blog about them.  And fantasize about reading them out loud to Mini Mimi who is one lucky little cookie because, let's face it, Mommy does a mean read aloud. 

I think picture books are amazing.  A.  MAZ.  ING. 

What would I do without Birdie's Shoes? or The Paperbag Princess or The Other Side or Oink?! or The Dot or Strega Nona or....

Do I really need to go on? 

So you can understand how this article in the New York Times felt like a slap in my Barnsy loving face.

Basically, the article talks about how picture books are collecting dust on the shelves of bookstores as more and more parents push their children to read picture books at an earlier and earlier age.  Presumably because they are crazed by test scores and some sort of psychotic need to outdo the neighbors kids. Or whatever.

I will now attempt to restrain myself from running to Barnsey and violently shaking any parent of a child who is incapable of doing little more than word call the words on the page of their look-at-what-my-kid-can-do chapter book. Perhaps for their next trick, said child could jump through a flaming hoop...

Okay. (deep breath) It sounds like I'm hating on chapter books, which I'm totally not. Mrs. Mimi loves her some Pinky and Rex, some Junie B. Jones, some Judy Moody...I know I kind of let my review of children's novels fall by the wayside but that really had more to do with the insatiable need of a new mom to read all things breast feeding and sleep scheduling.

What really has my proverbial panties in a knot is that abandoning picture books in favor of chapter books before your child is ready is LUDACRIS! First of all, I'm not totally convinced that all those small fries out there toting around huge awe-inspiring sized volumes can do more than simply say the words on the page. Meaning, helloooooooo, comprehension? Ever heard of it? It's relatively important to, oh I don't know, reading and all, but whatever.

Second of all, shame on everyone who overlooks the beauty of a picture book. Many of the themes handled in these little gems are very sophisticated, lending themselves to interesting book talk and challenging thoughts. Just because a book has chapters, doesn't necessarily mean that it is more difficult in content or in text than a picture book. Ironically, that sort of limited thinking is called "judging a book by it's cover.".

Third, there is nothing quite like the image of a classroom full of children sitting on the rug, staring open mouthed at their teacher as she reads from an enchanting, wonderful, irreplaceable picture book. Nothing! I think that image is more powerful than a ScanTron sheet full of correctly bubbled bubbles. So for the love of all things literate, stop thinking about those freaking tests for just one second, one picture book lengthed second.

In a nutshell, let children be children and let those children love books, no matter how thick or thin they are.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

And The "Can't Dos" Have It

I am really getting sick of everyone starting off sentences with "Teachers can't...." or "Teachers don't know how to..." Evidently, America's favorite past time has become filling in that blank and preparing their finger for some extensive pointing. 

WHEN IS SOMEONE GOING TO REALIZE THAT ALL THIS BLAMING OF THE TEACHERS IS REALLY A BIG SMOKESCREEN ELABORATELY CONSTRUCTED TO AVOID LOOKING DEEPLY AT WHAT IS REALLY WRONG IN SCHOOLS?  

Now, Mrs. Mimi has worked with some suckity suck suck teachers as colleagues.  I know they are out there.  But once I left my former classroom and the rage started to settle, I began to wonder if they all were always that terrible or perhaps (insert glimmer in my eye here) they had been beaten into submission by a system that is broken and hellbent on standardizing us down to how many pencils to sharpen and when.  No sharper!  More point!  You're doing it all wrong!

Teaching is hard.  Teaching well is even harder.  Combine that with all of the demands that are placed on us (ahem - collecting, recording and interpreting data, writing lessons, planning assemblies, communicating with parents, dealing with fights, social development, social justice, raising test scores, meeting standards, charting standards, filing paperwork, creating portfolios....need I continue?) and all of the fads that are simply dumped in a heap in the middle of our classrooms (oh, I don't know, like Smart boards for one?).  Tell me.  How do you expect a person who already doesn't have enough hours in the day to magically incorporate new technology into his or her teaching with little to no professional support in said technology? 

Or are teachers really getting fancy shmancy new things just so that we can continue to say, "Teachers don't know how to integrate technology."

I wonder.  What if we focused on what teachers CAN do.  What if we looked at individual teachers' strengths and then held them up as examples and resources to the remainder of the staff.  Someone probably rocks the Smart board and could hook their other peeps up with some practical and related knowledge.  Someone probably WORKS their data in ways that inform their instruction like you wouldn't believe.  That person could probably give the rest of the staff some pointers.

Oh yeah.  I'm going there.  I'm suggesting that perhaps we utilize the amazing teachers that everyone admits are out there but no one wants to point a finger at unless they are dressed entirely in leather and/or spending 18 out of 24 hours in their classrooms which is totally ridiculous....wait, where was I?  Oh yes, USING OUR EXISTING EXCELLENT TEACHERS AS RESOURCES.  REAL RESOURCES.  And not just resources for raising test scores.

I say to all those finger pointers who have crafted quite the distraction, "Step out from behind the curtain!  It's time for the show to be over."

Your hot air balloon and actual progress are waiting. 

Monday, October 4, 2010

*sigh*

I think it's been a very sad week for education.  We began the week with all sorts of excitement over the highly-promoted Education Nation over on NBC.  How naive...

I sit here blogging now, thinking back on last Saturday afternoon.  I had worked myself into a frenzy of DVR madness as I attempted to record every last minute.

I was ready to soak up all the dialogue.
I was ready to see teachers take a stand.
I was ready to see complicated issues tackled...things like the impact of poverty, standardized testing, RTTT, the common core standards, accountability, teacher evaluations...holding my breath with nerdy anticipation.

I was foolish.

How could I not smell the dog and pony show a mile away?

Then, a lovely reader directed my attention to the absolute ridiculousness that is happening in the LA Times.  I mean, how many times can it be said that using test scores to measure the overall effectiveness of a teacher makes about as much sense as tits on a bull?  (Pardon the expression, but honestly?  At this point, there's no other way to slice it.  It's just ridiculous and has to stop.)

No sooner did I step down off my soap box, fresh from my latest rant on the bullsh*t that is publicly humiliating teachers and calling it reform, then I found out that a teacher mentioned in this LA Times assault on teachers committed suicide.

Now, we don't know if this particular gentleman had other problems in his life, however, I am fairly certain that being publicly labeled as "ineffective" did absolutely nothing to help.  I am sick over this.  Sick.  First of all, using test scores alone to label teaching in some of the hardest school districts as "ineffective" without considering any other contextual factors is irresponsible and disgusting.  Tell me, HOW does this type of behavior help teachers?  Help children?  Help anyone but the people trying to sell newspapers?

So ENOUGH with the public shaming of teachers.  Hard working teachers are the LAST people who should be ashamed over the state of our public schools.  And in this situation, we have NOTHING to be ashamed about.  If I see one more finger pointed at us, I'm telling you, I'm going to reach across the internet and Snap.  It.  Off.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Childrens Book Reading Extravaganza 2010: Picture Book Party #s 6-2

Are you getting excited???  We are just one post away from PICTURE BOOK NUMBER ONE!!  (Hollllaaaaaa!!!!!)  Friends, it's been a long ride, but I have loved every minute of reading the Top 100 Picture Books and sharing my strange little thoughts with you.  My wallet?  Well, let's just say it's recovering. 

I can barely contain myself, so let's get started.

Starting us off at #6 this morning is Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey, another Caldecott Award winner.  I remember Big Mama Mimi reading me this one (and maybe even had it on record too...yes, again, I said I had it "on record"...on vinyl...whatevs.  I had it Fisher Price style).

Make Way for Ducklings (Live Oak Read-along) (Click on the images if you want to shop 'til you drop, nerdy style.)

Mr. and Mrs. Mallard decide to make a home on the Charles River in Boston, close to the bread throwing tourists in the Public Gardens.  Mrs. Mallard soon has eight ducklings, who she tries to take out on the town.  Suddenly the family finds itself in the middle of a busy intersection until Michael, a police officer the Mallards had befriended, rushes to their rescue.   The ducks continue on their way (with a police escort of course) down Beacon Street toward the Public Gardens  where Mr. Mallard is waiting as promised.

This book is such a classic that it's almost a crime NOT to read it. Despite my whole need-to-make-every-read-aloud-super-purposeful thing, I would suggest this one as a Let's Just Enjoy Reading Together book, or even (gasp - this may be sacrilegious) as a substitute/emergency read aloud.  I think our friends in kindergarten and first grade would enjoy this one the most...coming in at a Level L it would also probably make a lovely independent reading book for second grade friends as well.   

At #5 is another appearance from my boy, Mo Willems.  (I seriously can NOT get enough of his books.)  Have you guys ever read this one?  Believe it or not, a three year old totally introduced me to it and I have loved it ever since.  It's Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!

Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! 

The genius begins with a bus driver asking us to watch the bus for a minute and reminding us to not let the pigeon drive.  From there, the pigeon proceeds to make a very convincing argument as to why he SHOULD be allowed to drive the bus.  Sounds strange, but in reality, is hilarious.  There's rationalizing, begging, yelling...seriously, it's fantastic.  Like watching one of your little friends beg you for the extra donut hole after your writing celebration when you know full well that a snowball will sooner have a chance in hell than they will to get that last munchkin but, dammit, they are going to try every trick they have in their back pocket.  In the end, the pigeon does not get to drive, the bus driver returns and we see the pigeon move on to fantasizing about driving a big old truck.

I know it doesn't sound all that fabulous when you're reading my meanderings here, but take my word for it, it's pretty great.  The illustrations are simple, the text is simple, the story is simple, but put them all together?  Fabulous.  I can see myself using this with the small fries for pure enjoyment or as a humorous introduction to a (not so successful) piece of persuasive writing.

We have a classic book coming in at #4 which is The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. Another Caldecott winner, y'all.

The Snowy Day

Although I totally don't get this kid's snowsuit, do you?  What's with the pointy hood?  Anyhow, this book is about Peter's day out in the snow.  He does all the things a kid does in the snow...make snow angels, check out footprints, think about throwing snowballs.  He even puts a snowball in his pocket to save, but after his bath, he discovers it melted.  He dreams that the sun came out and melted all the snow away but happily discovers in the morning that even more snow has fallen.

Another total classic.  I think it works really well with your kindergarten and first grade friends as part of a study on winter.  However, if you want to take it up a notch, Ezra Jack Keats is great for a study on author's craft - there are sound effects to check out and the interesting ways that he uses just a few words to stretch out actions we might otherwise breeze by.

Number 3 is The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.  I think by this point, my love for Mr. Carle has been established.

Very Hungry Caterpillar

I'm thinking there is no summary necessary with this one.  The hungry caterpillar eats a bunch of stuff and turns into a butterfly.  The genius comes in the brilliant illustrations.  Brilliant.  Use this one to spice up a unit on insects with your kindergarten or first grade friends OR (my personal choice) use this one to inspire some really fabulous collage art projects!!

(drum roll please)

In position #2 is Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise.  I think Mini Mimi already has five copies of this one, but hey, can't go wrong with a classic, right?

Goodnight Moon

Ah, Goodnight Moon.  Shall I recite it to you from memory?  Because I have read it EVERY SINGLE NIGHT since my little friend was born.  And have loved every single reading.  I have always imagined this as a mommy read aloud and less of a classroom read aloud, but you know I'm open to hear how you all have used it in your rooms.  Thoughts?

Speaking of Mini Mimi, I think we're off to read some Elephant and Piggie.  I seriously have love for those two characters.  Is it wrong that I laugh every time I read them and, now that I am familiar with the stories, have taken my read aloud to dramatic new heights?  We're talking dramatic pauses, voices, hand gestures...the works.

I hope you can contain yourselves until next week....it's NUMBER ONE, NUMERO UNO....the big cheese. 

Try to hold it together. 

xo,
Mimi



Wednesday, September 29, 2010

My Head Hurts...

I was under the impression that NBC planned on dedicating an entire week to this big Education Nation business, which, you know, made sense that it would be at least a week since there is so much to talk about.

Wait.  What?

It seems to have ended yesterday?

There aren't any other scheduled interviews or panels?  No other non-teachers to talk to?  Brad Pitt wasn't available for comment?  The local barista at Starbucks?  No?

I was all set for a week's worth of blogging, venting and yelling at my television.  I had popcorn and everything.

Fortunately, a lovely reader (Thanks Laura Swain!) dropped this little 'ol bomb on me and bingo!  I'm all fired up again.

Evidently the LA Times has taken it upon themselves to do some value added analysis of ten years worth of standardized test scores in order to determine each teacher's general effectiveness and then (You guessed it!) point some fingers.  Very public fingers.  With pictures. 

(I will pause for you to at least read the beginning of the article linked above.)

(I will pause some more for you to finish yelling and maybe shaking your fist at the computer.)

(It's no problem, I totally get it.)

In the spirit of being Zen in 2010 (I mean, it rhymes so i HAVE to do it!), I shall start with the (relatively few) points with which I agree and/or find interesting without being inflamatory.

Well, okay.  Let's see.  The author FINALLY recognizes that urban schools are not pits of teacher waste, brimming with irresponsible adults hell-bent on widening the achievement gap.  I know that WE knew that, but the media just loves to harp on that one, don't they?  (Nor are we all clad in leather.)  (Michelle Pfeiffer, I'm looking at YOU!)  If we consider the very contraversial statistical analysis of the LA Times to be remotely telling, this is one thing I'm happy has been brought to light.  Teachers in urban areas kick ass.  Teachers in suburban areas kick ass.  Teachers in rural kick ass. And you know what?  The crappy ones are EVERYWHERE!  (Which is probably part of the problem, but I digress.)

I also found it interesting that the author would suggest that the teacher a child is assigned contributes more to that student's overall academic success than the school itself.  See above.  Pretty obvious if you ask me.  We are one of the MOST IMPORTANT PIECES TO THE PUZZLE YET ARE CONSTANTLY IGNORED. 

Dude, we just want a place at the table.  Just give us a say and I will totally stop with the all caps. 

I think this article (no matter how ridiculous it is to rely on these numbers to tell such a HUGE AND COMPLEX story) brings to light an interesting question for us all to ponder regarding student engagement too.  If there is teaching, by no learning is happening, is there really any teaching going on?  Very if a tree falls in the woods, very chicken and egg.  I'm going to go ahead and say no, there is no teaching going on if all the students are disengaged.  But I would also like to suggest the following mental cluster f*ck for your pondering pleasure: If "reform" and mandates abound, but no real progress is made, is it really reform?

Boo yah!

And now, on with the venting.

ARE THESE PEOPLE AT THE LA TIMES ABSOLUTELY INSANE?!?!?  THEY ARE GOING TO PUBLICLY HUMILIATE TEACHERS BY PUBLISHING THEIR TEST RESULTS IN THIS MANNER?  THIS IS HOW WE GO ABOUT REWARDING THE BEST TEACHERS?  BY PUBLISHING THE NAMES AND PICTURES OF THE BAD ONES?

I mean, can you imagine the aftermath of this puppy?  Parents running to the school to insist their children be removed from certain classes? Students deciding to totally check out because their teacher was written up as ineffective by a newspaper reporter? Administrators giving jaded feedback because they read the morning paper too?

Ah, sweet, sweet accountability.

Now, I'm not saying that ineffective teachers should remain in the classroom or be quietly shuffled to another district to become their problem. No, No, No.  HOWEVER, I do not see how this type of jaded, anti-teacher, anti-progress, inflammatory reporting is going to make anything better.  Yes, ineffective teachers need to be dealt with.  But no, they do not need to be publicly humiliated nor does their existence need to be spread all throughout the media masquerading as accountability when we can all see it's just another attempt to shit all over us. 

And for the love of Somebody With A Brain, when are we going to stop making test scores the be all and end all?  When are we going to actually use this data in ways that make sense?  When are we going to realize that the tests were not designed to measure teacher effectiveness and therefore should not be used to measure teacher effectiveness?  When are we going to stop minimizing the goal of schooling?

Um, hellooooooo?  TEST SCORES ARE NOT EVERYTHING.

They are convenient.  You know what else is convenient?  Nursing bras.  But you don't see me trying to remove a hot casserole from the oven with my nursing bra just because it is convenient in another context, do you?

But perhaps the saddest bit to this article?  The brief section where a teacher admitted that being held up as a successful teacher often makes you an outcast amongst your peers. 

It's sad.  And kinda true.  At least it is where I used to teach.  It's like if an administrator says anything positive about one teacher, there's another group of teachers that assumes this compliment means something negative about them.  And aren't we all supposed to be in this together?

Oh, my friends.  My head hurts.  Can't we just all get along?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Education Nation: The Latest Forum For No-Duh Sound Bites and Finger Pointing

With it being an election year and all, education is suddenly a topic everyone wants to talk about again.  And when I say "talk about," I guess I really mean "spread around statements full of bull shit and buzzwords" or "finger point."  It has been a loooooooooooong time since Mrs. Mimi has actually seen anyone on the old television have a constructive dialogue about education and even longer (read: never) since Mrs. Mimi has seen an actual teacher who is currently working in the classroom get a place at the proverbial table. 

Last night, there was a special segment (part of Education Nation) that discussed the issues covered in the new documentary Waiting For Superman.  Guess who was on the panel?  The one assembled to talk about the state of education in our country.  No, really, guess.

Okay, let me give you some choices:
 a) a film maker

 b) a teacher
c) a singer/song writer
d) a fairly inarticulate union president who needs to work on her snappy come backs
e) a school chancellor who has been known to fire teachers on film
f) the founder of a successful charter school
g) a, c, d, e and f but NOT b. I mean, NO WAY to b.  Including b would be absolutely ridiculous!  Ha ha ha ha haaaaa.....

Wait.

Yes friends, you read correctly, John Legend got to weigh in on education in this country.  I know, I know, he did GO to school at one point in his life and evidently that qualifies one to open one's mouth.

Wait.

So if we're following that line of logic, I guess the next time John Legend is working on a new song for a hot new album, he's going to talk to a teacher about harmony?  A chorus?  Hot new dance moves?

Wait.

I think it's great that a movie such as Waiting For Superman can trigger so much national discussion about an issue as serious as education.  For real.  HOWEVER, I do take issue with the fact that this movie (and all the subsequent discussions) choose to only highlight successful charter schools while simultaneously spitting on all public schools, implying that going to a neighborhood public school is equivalent to flushing one's future down the toilet or something.  I mean, let's take a deep breath and think before we speak, shall we?  Let's not take the whole super hero, good vs. evil thing too far and draw an overly simplistic picture of what is actually happening...let's not pit charter schools and neighborhood public schools against one another and call it "competition"....let's not talk about test scores alone when discussing desirable outcomes for children...let's not be so quick to ignore the brilliance that is happening in public schools across our country.

This is Mrs. Mimi's year of zen and frankly, all this finger pointing is making me feel decidedly UN-zen.  In fact, it's making me want to dust off the old soap box and start throwing around the word "douche bag" again....

Then President Obama gets on television this morning and is all, "we need great teachers", "teachers are the unsung heroes of this nation" and "we need to reward excellent teaching" which (duh!) no one is going to argue with.  He talks about removing inadequate teachers which (duh!) no one is going to argue with.  He talks about having high standards for students which (duh!) no one is going to argue with.  He talks about raising respect for teachers and professionalizing the career which (duh!) no one is going to argue with.  It is like watching a train of buzz words fly by in a flurry of amazing sound bites just waiting to be snapped up by the evening news.

Where is the substance?  HOW are we going to determine the good from the bad?  (And please don't say test scores...or else I'm reaching for the soapbox.)  HOW are we going to have high standards for students when our only measure of achievement seems to be a number on a test?  HOW are we going to encourage excellent teachers when tying their hands through mind numbing standardization is slowly killing their creativity? 

Take a stand.  Say something.  Or maybe, ASK A TEACHER.

Wanna know what I think?

I think we need to start at the source.  Make it more difficult for people to be accepted into ed schools.  Make teacher preparation more rigorous, theory IS important to the development of one's overall philosophy of education.  Make student teachers spend more time in the classroom observing and watching expert teachers, not just any old teacher who signs up for the free credits.  Make new teachers work side by side with outstanding mentors at their same school and give those partnerships the time and resources to actually make a difference.  Make professional development for all teachers relevant and differentiated by speaking to teachers instead of planning for them.  Make a professional career ladder for people who stay in teaching - don't assume or imply that "moving up" means moving out of the classroom.  Make a place at the policy table and the school decision making table for excellent teachers - don't assume ONE rep actually represents us all.  Actually DO one or more of these things instead of talking about them or doing them in insultingly superficial ways. 

This whole education nation thing so far?  My hopes are feeling a bit dashed....but I'll keep watching.  What about you?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Childrens Book Reading Extravaganza 2010: Picture Book Party #s 11-7

Watch out, friends!!  We've only got two more posts to go and we're done reviewing the list of Top 100 Children's Books....I have to admit.  I have some mixed feelings about all this.  I think the peeps at my local library are breathing a sigh of relief (since I'm THAT JERK who reserves them all over the internet and then just breezes in to pick them up which was cool when I was pregnant times and essentially on bed rest but now I'm just...well, I'm a fan of the service, let's just leave it at that).

Here we go with number 11 which is The Story of Ferdinand by Monro Leaf.  I've never read this one personally but totes remember it from the movie "The Blind Side" and so feel like I love it already.

The Story of Ferdinand (Puffin Storytime) (As usual, click on the images for links to online picture book shopping paradise!!)

This story takes place in Spain, so I love it right off the bat.  (Did I ever tell you guys about how I met Mr. Mimi in Spain??  No?  It's a good one...remind me sometime.)  However, I will continue to sum it up for you here.  (You're welcome.)  Ferdinand is not like the other bulls.  He likes to sit under the trees and smell flowers.  He's the introspective type, I guess.  All the other bulls are running around in a macho pissing match trying to get picked to fight in Madrid.  Ferdinand could care less, but...sits on a bee and (who can blame him) jumps up and runs around like a bull possessed.  Clearly, he gets taken to the bullfight and everyone thinks he is so ferocious that they are scared you-know-what-less.  HOWEVER, Ferdinand sees all the flowers in ladies' hair, sits down in the middle of the ring and just smells.  Infuriated, the matadors have no choice but to take him home where he promptly sits down under his fave tree again.

Awwwwwwww!

I love it.  I mean, I love it when characters break traditional stereotypes and show that it's okay to be your own person.  (Am I getting to deep with a children's book here?  I have a smidge of a tendency to read into things.)  Basically, this book has a great story that will keep your little friends (perf for first and second grades) interested, simple text and lovely black and white illustrations.  I think there is a lot of potential for great follow up discussion about this meaty little lesson Mr. Leaf has tossed up for us.  All in all....heart it. 

At #10 is Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by the man, the myth, the legend...Mo Willems.  My love for his books is pretty intense, people.  I LOVE LOVE LOVE this book. LOVE.  L. O. V. E. I. T.  The only issue I have is with it's pronunciation...Similar to the whole "Henkes" debacle, I have heard "Knuffle" pronounced two distinct ways.  It's like an inner battle between the teacher inside me, who wants desperately to have "kn" always say "n", and the other part of me who, deep in her heart, thinks it's pronounced quite the opposite.

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale (Bccb Blue Ribbon Picture Book Awards (Awards))

For those of you who know I love kitties...I was pumped to see the following title at #9.  It's Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag. Bonus, this is also a Caldecott book.  Kitties and awards...I mean, how good can it get?

Millions of Cats (Gift Edition) (Picture Puffin Books)

An old man and old woman are lonely.  The woman wants a cat to keep them company.  (Can you blame her?)  So, the old man sets out to find her one.  He comes upon this hill filled with millions of cats.  He tries to pick out the prettiest cat, but every time he turns around, he sees another one she might like.  (Picture me at the shelter trying to pick out my kitty...Not.  Easy.)  He ends up bringing them all home.  Clearly the one who thinks ahead in this relationship, the old woman asks how they are going to feed all these cats.  The old man suggests he lets the cats fight it out and choose which one of them they should keep.  While not graphic at all, I don't condone kitty violence, so this part bugged a little...I mean, all the cats are fighting each other to determine who is the prettiest.  In the end, all the cats ate each other up, except for one very homely cat that none of the other cats bothered with.  They take him in, feed him well and give him a bath and soon he is a lovely little cat too.

Minus the cat fight part, I think this is a sweet book.  I love the whole ugly duckling twist on things too.  It has fairly simple black and white drawings, and I bet your friends could come up with some really creative, colorful and fabulous drawings on their own too.  I'm trying to imagine where you could fit this into your day to get the most out of it, and I think that it may be one of those books you hang on to for those emergency five minutes and/or put on the sub plan pile.  (Because don't you hate it when a last minute sub reads one of your faves that you have been saving forever?? ) 

Although I totes think they spelled it the wrong way (one of my BFFs spells it the truly French way with the extra "e"), #8 is the Caldecott Award winning Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans. 

Madeline

Do I really need to summarize this one?  I don't want anyone to feel left out if I don't and they haven't read it, so I'll keep it short.  Madeline evidently goes to boarding school and has to have her appendix taken out.  She's scared, but, of course, everything ends up being okay and all the other little girls from boarding school come to visit her.  When they see all her fab gifts, they all want to have their appendix out too.

Very cute, very simple, very basic story.  HOWEVER, totes a classic AND totes has a rhyming pattern.  And you know how Mrs. Mimi loves that word study connection to a read aloud.  LOVE IT!  As an added bonus, famous landmarks from all over Paris are included in the illustrations...*sigh*...making me want to be in Paris right now.  I can practically taste the chocolate croissant...

For our last book this morning, we have #7 which is the always popular Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson.  *sigh* I do love children who can spend a whole afternoon crafting arts and farts projects all on their own.

Harold and the Purple Crayon 50th Anniversary Edition (Purple Crayon Books)

Um, classic titles much?  I heart this little boy's imagination.  Harold and his trusty purple crayon draw themselves all sorts of adventures including landmarks so they don't get lost.  Would I love Mini Mimi to take a crayon and draw herself silly?  Um, yes please. 

I love this story.  Love, love, love.  Talk about a wonderful story to share with your little friends, especially if you are an arts and farts lover like myself. 

All right kiddies, that does it for this week.  Mrs. Mimi is going to go treat herself to a nice cup of tea - watch out - I'll be back to cocktails before you know it!

Have a fabulous weekend...did you notice that we're basically done with September already??  I thought being a teacher made time fly, I didn't realize becoming a parent would multiply that by a ho-jillion.

xo,
Mimi

Friday, September 17, 2010

Childrens Book Reading Extravaganza 2010: Picture Book Party #s 16-12

All right, all right! Happy weekend! We only have a few books to go on our list of Top 100 Picture Books - we're almost done!!!  By the by - how is everything going?  Are your little friends everything you'd hoped they'd be? Are you deep into your most favorite read alludes? You have to let me know if any of these made the cut!

All right, September means no one has time for my ramblings...so on with the list!  #16 is a total classic. It's the Caldecott Award winning Owl Moon by Jane Yolen.  Yet another text that I used frequently in my classroom, but always felt that I could have used better.  I worked hard to make sure my read alouds felt purposeful, you know what I mean?  And I just felt like this one didn't quite hit the mark...and I knew it was me.

Owl Moon

Enough of my ramblings...

If you haven't read it before, Owl Moon is about a boy who goes owling with his father in the woods.  They wait quietly, walking deeper and deeper into the woods.  His father makes owl calls and finally, one answers back.  They catch a glimpse of the owl in their flashlight before the it flies away.  The father and son have shared an important moment, one that you can feel is some sort of right of passage in this family.

I mean, the language in this book is absolutely beautiful.  I did use it during our poetry study to talk about how to create a strong mental image...the shadows, the quiet, the anticipation are all describe fabulously by Yolen.  I have also used this text during units on winter and family, although I felt like those readings were slightly less successful.  My first grade friends never really dug this one, but I think second, third and maybe even fourth graders would enjoy and appreciate it more.  The illustrations in this text are also gorgeous - especially the one with the owl.

#15 is one of my favorite books of all time...FAVE!  I love the story, I love the characters, I love the illustrations, I love the author!  Any guesses?  It's another Kevin Henkes book - Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse!!!  This Lilly is just one of the coolest female characters around - at least in my opinion.

Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse

I love Lilly.  Love her.  Love her spunk, love her boots, love her attitude about school.  In a nutshell, Lilly gets some fabulous glasses, a great new purse and bunch of quarters and is dying to show them to all her friends at school.  She just can't wait until share time and whips them out, distracting her friends and getting her precious possessions taken away by the teacher.  Lilly always loved her teacher, but now she is angry.  She writes a nasty note (complete with nasty picture) and sticks it in her teacher's bag! (Can you imagine?)  At the end of the day, Lilly's teacher gives her things back along with a special snack to take home.  Needless to say, Lilly feels like crap.  She writes her teacher a lovely apology, gets her family to help her make some special snacks and...all is forgiven.

Have I already told you that I love this book?  LOVE!  I used this one every year at the beginning of the year (to establish read aloud routines), when we studied strong female characters (you know we did) and as part of our Kevin Henkes author study (Connections across texts much?).  Downright fabulous on a stick.

Ack!  What a fabulous piece of the list we've got on our hands this morning!  At #14 is a book I discovered a little late, but loved to pieces!  It's The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka.  Talk about hilarious and imaginative!

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs



#13 brings a nice twist to today's books...a bit of a classic edge, if you will.  Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey (remember Make Way for Ducklings?) is another book that I had in my library, liked but never felt like I used very well in my classroom.

Blueberries for Sal (Live Oak Readalong)(Book + CD)

And last but not least this morning, is a book that I give every single friend of mine when ever they have a baby.  You KNOW Mini Mimi has a copy on her overflowing bookshelf! I think this book is fabulous for all friends, young and old!  It's Good Night Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann.

Good Night, Gorilla

The only text in this book is made up of the zookeeper saying good night to all the animals as he locks up the zoo for the evening. What he DOESN'T see is the super cute little gorilla sneaking his keys off his pants!  The little gorilla then proceeds to let out all the other animals who all follow the zoo keeper home.  The zookeeper's wife says good night to the zookeeper and all the animals answer her back.  She opens her eyes to see the gorilla, and then walks all the animals back to the zoo.  What SHE doesn't see is that fabulous little gorilla has taken the keys once again...

I am really digging these texts with very few words!  I think they are fabulous opportunities for oral story telling practice with picture support or possibly inspiration for sharedvwriting with the small fries.

Guess what today is? It's Mini Mimi's first official trip to Barnsey!!! I know! A very big day....I only hope she loves books as much as crazy Barnsey-loving mother does.

Have wonderful weekends, my dear readers!

xo,
Mimi

Friday, September 10, 2010

Spam!

Friends.  I have come to hate the hotmail.  No offense to any of you out there who are totally digging the hotmail, but seriously?  My hotmail accounts have brought me nothing but annoyance, the occasional virus and pleas for me to buy a penis enlarging device.  Basically, hotmail is like a bad boyfriend.  And so, we are breaking up.

Currently, my personal hotmail account is sending out millions of bogus emails a day to everyone in my inbox offering free iPads, various penis related accoutrement, and a whole lot of computer heart ache.  I fear that it is only a matter of time before the same happens with this account...unless it's happening already and you've been too afraid to tell me.

Tell me! 

So, in the future, when you want to reach out, email me at itsnotallflowersandsausages (at) gmail (dot) com.  I know.  Could I have picked a longer name?  The answer is no.  However, mrsmimi was already taken.   Thems the breaks, people. 

(PS - I do love getting email from you all and try my hardest to respond in somewhat of a timely and helpful manner.  For reals.)

Happy Friday!!
xo,
Mimi

Childrens Book Reading Extravaganza 2010: Picture Book Party #s 21-17

Okay, my friends, it is officially back to school season for all of us, yes?  Some of us went back WAY before Labor Day and some of us are just getting into it, however I'm sure we are all EXHAUSTED!  Hopefully some Picture Book Love (fresh from the list of Top 100 Picture book over at the School Library Journal blog), will make you smile.  Or run to Barnsey.  Both are good in my book.

Getting this party started today at #21 is Bark, George by Jules Feiffer.  Seriously, the number of new titles I have come across never ceases to amaze me (or my debit card).

Bark, George (Click on the images for links or...if you are so bold...just run to Barnsey.)

Super cute!  I mean SUPER CUTE!  George's mother wants him to bark, but all poor George can say are things such as "meow," "oink" and "moo."  Clearly not dog talk.  Concerned, his mother takes him to the vet.  The vet reaches in George's mouth and pulls out a cat, a duck, a pig AND a cow.  All of a sudden George says, "arf!"  Thrilled, his mother takes him home and along the way, wants George to show off his new found skill to all the people on the street.  But this time when he opens his mouth, all that comes out is, "Hello."

I mean, awwwwwwwww, right?  Probably better suited for the small fry version of our friends, this book would make a fun read aloud.  I'm thinking preschool when you work on animal sounds and even to tackle a bit of predicting what might come next. 

Watch out, because #20 is one of my absolute faves.  FAVES!!!  As in, I used this book every year and still love it FAVES.  It's George and Martha  by James Marshall.  Ta-dah!!!!

George and Martha

George and Martha are perfect for a character study.  PERF!  I used to always use these babies in my mini lessons for modeling and thinking aloud because they are amazingly short and memorable.  Oh, and totally HI-larious.  

Number 19 is Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney.  I'm ashamed to admit that this book was in my classroom library (the one given to me, not the purchased one) for years and I always breezed right by it.  No time like the present to get this one under my belt, I guess.  I mean, girlfriend DID score an American Book Award for this one.

Miss Rumphius



I'm totally digging this book and regretting not reading it sooner.  It's like I had a billion stacks of papers to deal with or something for eight long years.

Anyhow, the narrator is Miss Rumphius' grand-nephew (??).  He tells us that when Miss Rumphius was a little girl, her grandfather would tell her stories about all sorts of far away places, prompting Miss Rumphius to someday want to travel herself.  However, he tells her that it is also important to do something in her lifetime to make the world more beautiful.  Miss Rumphius grows up, becomes a librarian, travels the world and finally settles down in her house by the sea.  She isn't sure what to do to make the world more beautiful and before she can decide, she gets very sick.  She admires the flowers she can see out her window, lupines she planted the previous spring and hopes that she will be able to plant a garden again the next year.  After being sick for quite awhile, Miss Rumphius begins to feel better and discovers the seeds from her lupines have spread to another hill.  This gives her an idea!  She buys as many lupine seeds as she can and spends her days walking everywhere, sowing lupine seeds to make the world more beautiful.  Now very old, the children call her the Lupine Lady.  Her grand-nephew listens to her stories, wanting to go visit faraway places.  Of course, Miss Rumphius tells him that he must also do something to make the world more beautiful.

Sorry for the long summary, friends!  But I think that book deserved it!  It's a lovely story that can be used in so many ways in your classroom.  I'm thinking Earth Day off the top of my head, but also if you were talking about the idea of giving back to a community or even about what children want to do when they grow up.  This is a sweet story with an important lesson, making it a perf read aloud for friends in first through third grades.  For sure.

At number 18, we have another book by the genius Maurice Sendak.  It's called In the Night Kitchen.

In the Night Kitchen (Caldecott Collection) 

Okay, honestly?  First impression?  There's a mini little penis on page five.  The little boy falls out of his clothes and into this mysterious kitchen in the middle of the night and yes, it is full frontal.  Full.  Frontal.  I know that personally, I was not ready, willing or able to deal with this in my classroom so I may choose not to use this one.  Am I being too judgey?

As the story continues, these bakers bake the boy into a cake, he turns some dough into a plane and flies into a giant bottle of milk.  ANNNNNDDDD...then there's more full frontal.  (No joke.)  Full frontal once?  Shame on you.  Full frontal twice?  Shame on me.  And we're just going to move along.

And at the end of our list today, at #17 is Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina.  A classic, but one I was never sure I was using well or in the right way.  Does that ever happen to you? You know everyone loves it, you feel like you should use it but somehow, it always seems to not be what you thought it would be.  Oh well, let's give it a fresh look, shall we?

Caps for Sale Big Book (Reading Rainbow Book) 

Evidently this book is a folk tale (according to the info on the inside flap).  And since most of you have read this one before, we'll do a quick summary. A peddler has a bunch of caps that he sells.  One day, no one buys any caps, so he walks to the country, sits under a tree and takes a nap.  When he wakes up, he sees that a bunch of monkeys have stolen his caps and begins to freak out.  As he is about to walk away, the monkeys give him back his hats and on he goes with his day.


I guess this book is funny?  Or funny to a five year old?  The thing I do see in this book is the simple, mostly repetitive text.  I think it would be great to work with readers on being careful as they read, since one or two words changes on each page in certain sections.  Definitely best suited for first grade friends, I can imagine using this book to teach various reading strategies...especially if I had it in big book form.  Maybe if they were shoes, I would feel more connected to this text....

Okay my fellow book nerds!  That'll do it for this week!  (And August!)  Here's to soaking up every last drop of summer!!

xo,
Mimi

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Brown Baggin' It + A Little Flair

Let's face it.  Most of us choke down our lunches in exactly 4.7 minutes, usually while correcting something, filing something, or organizing something.  Rarely do we sit down and enjoy a leisurely 45 minute lunch break.  In my experience, 45 minute lunches usually happened when some major S-H-I-T had gone down and the gossip was just too good to get through in 4.7 minutes...

However, this is the Year of My Zen Self, My More Professional Self, My More Positive Self and therefore, avoiding gossip in the teacher's lounge/classroom in which you eat is paramount!  (Although still deliciously necessary from time to time.)  (Will I ever change?)

So, what are we going to do to spice up our lunch hour sans gossip?  Because, honestly?  Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches can be da bomb, but not on day #105 of having nothing else in your refrigerator that you can throw together at the last minute.

Can I tell you a secret?  For YEARS Mr. Mimi would pack my lunch for me the night before.

All together now!

Aaaaaaaaaaaawwwwwwwwwwwww!

(Total. Keeper.)

However, then Mr. Mimi started to travel a ton for work and poor Mrs. Mimi was forced to pack her own lunch.

All together now!

Oooooooooooooooooohhhhhhhhhh!

(No sympathy?)

Regardless, it was during that time of lonely lunch making that I realized brown bag lunches can totally start to blow.  Yes, they save us money.  Yes, they can be a much healthier choice.  And no, I can't imagine having the time to actually GO OUT for lunch.  But come on!  Day after day after day can get b.o.r.i.n.g with a capital Sucks.

In those moments, I would get creative and pack left over Thai food from the night before.  Then I would totally stink up the room of a fellow colleague as I microwaved my yellow Thai curry with tofu.  I would then proceed to shovel it down my throat, alternating between burning my mouth and severe stomach cramps. All in all, it was not fabulous.  And the subsequent 2 pm food coma?  Definitely did not help put a smile on my face.

The point?  I was always looking for some ideas to keep it fresh and thought I would share some of them with you!

Like getting a much more fabulous bag to tote your lunch.  I used to shove my things into a Ziplock bag that I would reuse until it absolutely begged to be thrown out.  When I could have just bought one of these from Pottery Barn


And paired it with these other lunch accessories from Pottery Barn Kids:


Or, if Pottery Barn is too everyone-has-that for you, try this little Dutch number.

Or any of these from Built NY:


Here are a few from Amazon too (click for links):

Built LB31-FVE Gourmet Getaway Lunch Tote, French Bull Vine PatternBuilt LB7-MDT Extra Relish Lunch Tote, Micro DotKids Konserve KK035 12-Ounce Insulated Stainless-Steel ThermosSassy Travel Case with Fork and Spoon Colors May Vary

Bon appetit, my friends!  And, in the midst of your daily multi-tasking, perhaps try to take a moment, just once a week, to slow down and actually chew your food.

xo,
Mimi

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