Thursday, April 29, 2010

Fabulous McNerdison

As many of you know, I fully embrace my inner nerd.  If I didn't think it would be a bad look for me, I would wear a T-shirt that says I Heart Learning, but T-shirts always look so tent-y on me.  Regardless, I always feel insanely energized when discussing a new teaching strategy or watching someone demo a brilliant read aloud that I want to get back to my room to try it myself like twenty minutes ago!!

In my classroom, I tried my hardest to not be complacent.  Granted, there were days (those days) when I just wanted to put my head down on a desk or leisurely sip my coffee while taking in some Matt Lauer, but hey, we ALL have those days. 

I have been having this wonderfully indulgent year in which I get to finish my dissertation (a goal which doesn't always feel so fabulous, but I have to believe will do something for me someday...some day that feels far far far...), write as Mrs. Mimi and create a website for YOU ALL that ROCKS, REFRESHES and RE-ENERGIZES your teaching Mo Jo.  (Or at least I hope it does.)  Believe me, I know how lucky I am.  But I miss that feeling of nerding out with my Super Colleagues.  Those moments when you are exchanging ideas and think to yourself, "Self, this is pretty hot stuff.  There is hope.  We are able to create change!" and you kind of want to run out to the playground and hug all your little friends and tell them that it will all be okay...

Too far?

I think you know what I mean.

Well, today I nerded out pretty hard core with some fabulous individuals who are totally Pro Teacher (Yes, those people DO exist!) and all about creating a shift away from the standardization, mechanization and bubblization (I can make up words.  I am a writer.) of the learning experience.  We talked about teachers, who they are as people and how they can infect children with a joy of learning.  And while I get that it totally sounds like then we danced underneath rainbows together and gave out free hugs, it wasn't like that.  It was an idealistic conversation, but grounded in practical applications, action and a need to stay positive in this Negative McPointsTheFinger climate we are currently trying to survive.

I mean, can you say breathe of fresh freaking air???

*inhales deeply*

So pardon the bit of a mind dump post today, but Mrs. Mimi is feeling excited and as if there is possibility out there.  And I feel like we all could use a piece of that.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Content Lament

 I know I have written about this before, and I'm sure I will write about this again.  But seriously?  Currently, schools all over New York are tossing authentic learning to the side in order to furiously bubble their way into the hearts of political leaders everywhere.  If you are turned on by solid, dark circles, incessant pencil sharpening and thumb twiddling, then by all means - enjoy the crap out of this week!  However, if you are on Team Learning, you are probably stressed out, burned out and grossed out.

In this climate of Faux Accountability*, we are consumed with testing, test prep and teaching to the test.  I was talking to a teacher recently who was lamenting the fact that she spent so much time worrying about the upcoming tests and felt ashamed that she had used so much class time to mercilessly prepare her children.  But you know what?  I don't blame her.  The reality is that many of us have to abandon what we believe to be excellent teaching in order to bend to the demands of The Almighty Test.  The question is, how far can we bend before we break? 

And as I think about all the testing (So. Much. Testing.) and subsequent test prepping, I can't help but wonder** - what happened to a belief in deep, rich teaching?  Is our passion for numbers and graphs replacing our previous passion for instilling a love of learning and fostering the talents of young people?

When i was a kid (back when movies were 99 cents and jelly bracelets were all the rage), I remember truly amazing experiences in school.  Deep, authentic opportunities for me to push myself and integrate a wide range of learning.  Get this.  In sixth grade, my best friend and I became obsessed with environmental issues.  We were totally young crunchies in the making...and while I'm still into recycling, I definitely fell off the Crunchie Truck and onto the High Heeled Bandwagon somewhere along the line.  And you know what we did? We began a white paper recycling program at our school.  For realsies.  Two twelve year old girls calling recycling facilities, preparing quesitons, comparing prices, organizing data, making decisions, implementing a new program, designing programs to teach other children, interacting with adults....

It.  Was.  Hot.

Do I remember the day when I learned how to take notes in an outline form? No
Do I remember the day when I learned how to do the math necessary to compare different values?  No.
Do I remember the day when I learned how to read a non-fiction text?  No.

I remember the moments where I got to put all that good teaching together and use it in a way that felt meaningful to me.  And I was a better student for it.  (Just look at me now!)

I would give my left leg (complete with fabulous shoe) to have the opportunity to teach like this again.  In all honesty, I got a taste of this at my last school, which, despite it's flaws, saw the value in creating authentic learning experiences for children.  So, no, I couldn't touch the photocopier (because pushing buttons is hard), but at least I got to flex my creative teacher muscle every once in awhile.  Sadly, I know this is NOT the case in most schools, no matter what neighborhood you teach in.  I can't even begin to describe what a shame this and how NECESSARY subjects like science and social studies, which allow children to integrate their learning in real ways, if only to avoid the following scenarios.

Science Class.  The group is working on an herb garden. 
Teacher: Okay guys, get out your rulers and measure your plant to check it's growth. 
Kid: Rulers?!  (incredulous look) But it's not MATH!  (laughs at what he sees as confusion on the part of the teacher)
Teacher: *sigh*

Social Studies.  The class is working on creating a history of their neighborhood.
Teacher: So I think our next step is to find some more resources online and in the library.  Who wants to do what?
Kid: Library?  For books?  But we did Readers Workshop this morning!  Why are we reading!
Teacher: *tear rolls down cheek*

And these are just off the top of my head!

Feeling just as frustrated as Mrs. Mimi?  Check out
this link to read more about what is on the mind of REAL TEACHERS.  (Thanks Allyssa for the link!)

Roll of thunder, HEAR US CRY!

 * I say Faux Acccountability because I think it is absolutely ridiculous that teachers are continuously being held solely accountable when we are told what to teach AND how to teach it.  Feel free to set the bar high (I mean, bring it on!) but then don't tie my hands with also telling me HOW I have to get there, limiting my access to resources all while refusing to acknowledge any other contextual issues that vary by school.  (Hello?  Poverty?  I knew was you standing over there!)  Honestly!  Is this some kind of challenge designed to test people's professional limits (a la Project Runway or Top Chef) or is this a classroom?  Is Heidi Klum hiding somewhere behind the writing center?

** A subtle (or maybe not so) homage to Carrie Bradshaw in honor of the upcoming SATC2 movie.  Be still my beating heart...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Can You Hear Me Now?

Okay.  Maybe not ME specifically, or really TEACHERS either, but STUDENTS.  At least it's a significant stakeholder in education making noise, and not more people who haven't ever walked the walk (but feel FREE to talk the talk).  

Did y'all hear about the students who walked out of their high schools in New Jersey today to protest the proposed school budget cuts and potential teacher lay offs?  Gov. Christie has proposed massive school budget cuts which would result in the loss of many music, after school, and arts programs or WORSE in some towns.  I heard the buzz about the walkout a few days ago.  And I'd have to be in a coma to avoid hearing about all this drama on the news.  I even heard a commercial this morning (while I was cutting my grapefruit, so wasn't paying super close attention) which mentioned the idea of  a "voluntary pay freeze."

Say whaaaaaaat?

WE have to VOLUNTEER for a PAY FREEZE?!?  Um, I'm fairly certain that there are SEVERAL government employees in NJ who are making slightly more money than your typical teacher.  I'm also fairly certain that these individuals will not be volunteering for a pay freeze, pay cut or pay anything.   (Once a d-bag, always a ....)

Friends, we now need to add to our To Do List balancing federal, state and local budgets.  Try to squeeze it in somewhere between solving childhood obesity and overcoming the wide reaching effects of poverty.  Need to borrow a pen?  

Evidently an 18 year old college student, and former New Jersey public school graduate, motivated the movement with a page on Facebook which spread like wildfire via other social media like Twitter and texting.  

Gotta love the power of cell phones.

Now I'm not condoning kids walking out of school.  Kids belong in school.  With their teachers.  However, they must have gotten sick of all the finger pointing too.  And maybe someone will listen to THEM.  (And again, don't want to get into a big debate about unions and all, but at least the kids can speak out for themselves...)

Here's a snip it of Christie's response:
"First, students belong in the classroom, and we hope all efforts were made to curtail student walkouts. It is also our firm hope that the students were motivated by youthful rebellion or spring fever – and not by encouragement from any one-sided view of the current budget crisis in New Jersey. Students would be better served if they were given a full, impartial understanding of the problems that got us here in the first place and why dramatic action was needed."

Do you love his implication that kids were using this as a way to get out of school for the day?  Way to demean what appears to be a motivated and peaceful group of young people getting involved!  Passive aggressive much?

I also loved his not so subtle implication that teachers are responsible for students "one-sided views of the current budget crisis."  Seriously, do we have a collective Kick Me sign on our backs?  If you check mine, I'll check yours.  And where, pray tell, are children going to get this "full, impartial understanding"? From Governor Christie himself? He sounds all kinds of impartial.  * eye roll *

We'll see what the fall out is from this student protest.  Even though it was organized by a student, led by students and made up of solely students, I can smell the blame from here.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Let's Get Physical!

As I enter the end of my pregnancy, I am finding that moving around is slightly more challenging than it used to be.  Yes, I get winded going up and down the stairs.  Yes, I can feel my heart pound as I saunter at what I previously would have considered a leisurely pace on the treadmill.  And yes, I find all things dessert highly attractive.  So although I'm told that I "look great for being SO PREGNANT" (Still not sure what this means when people say it but am choosing to take it as a compliment...) I definitely don't feel like my old self.  Which is fine.  Because, YOU KNOW IT'S TRUE, I still am able to put on my high heels from time to time and strut my stuff.  (If only to keep my irrational vow to walk into the maternity ward wearing heels.  I know it's not sane or normal, but it's principle, people.)

Basically, I am feeling as if my mind is the only thing that is physically fit these days and even that is a slippery slope (read: I can't remember shit).  So you'll understand when I paid special attention to this I post today about the Fitness Integrated with Teaching (FIT) Kids Act  over at Ed Week.  I fondly recalled picking my friends up from formerly slender self that is.  And then I thought to myself...wait a minute!  If schools are going to be required to adhere to and post all kinds of physical fitness standards, I know at least a few places that are screwed with a capital S.

First of all, the idea that schools are going to have to spend more time recording, posting and publicizing instead of teaching, engaging with children and motivating does seem...well, like bullshit.  I mean, we just had Earth Day, people, think of the trees if nothing else!

Second of all, while I am one hundred percent behind the idea that children need to be more active, as well as more food saavy, is it wrong that I am smelling one more thing to be placed upon the teacher's overly full plate?  Are teachers now going to be required to basically moonlight as nutritionists and add a healthy eating curriculum to the mix?  AGAIN, I have NO PROBLEM with teaching healthy eating in schools, but, excuse me if I think this may be one more buck that is passed.

At my former school, we had a ROCK STAR nutrition person who made up fabulous programs, worked with parents to encourage healthy eating at home and hooked us up with a legit farmer's market.  Totally amazing.  Yet also, I'm afraid, not common across public schools. We were lucky.

Sadly, I think in this climate of rampant finger pointing and teaching bashing, I have a feeling this Super Colleague's fabulousness will be overlooked when the Powers That Be see an opportunity to place blame instead of praise.  Because, my friends, not everyone involved in the physical education of my little cherubs was quite so on the ball. 

Before I tell this next story, let me first provide you with the following disclaimer:  I am related to and have a great respect for excellent physical education teachers.  I mean, the idea of having a whistle at all times is tempting, but honestly, I so could not do that job.  HOWEVER, I have also seen the other side of the coin, meaning physical education teachers who are, shall we say, less than physical.

I think picking up your class from gym only to see the physical education teacher quietly balancing her checkbook in the corner, and perhaps paying a few bills, might be a problem under this new legislation.  (TRUE STORY. ) Or maybe reading the newspaper so that it completely obscures your view of the 60 children running around like crazy people with no obvious task.  That could pose a problem under this new bill as well.  I'm also thinking that having your students report back that they never play games in gym because they are banned for life is a wee bit of an educational snafu.  I'm all for consequences when children misbehave but banning a child for life?  Tempting but probably not the best decision ever made.  Or the most legal or ethical one either. 

I can picture it now: PE Standard 1A - Children shall entertain themselves, sustaining a minimum of five injuries per year, while instructor completes personal business.

If that's somewhere in this latest bill, can I just say NAILED IT!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Perhaps Our Invitation Was Lost In The Mail...

Or the dog ate it.  Something like that.

Yesterday's post about testing got a pretty strong response.  (And you know I loves me some comments...they are like crack for us bloggers you know.)   We are all horrified, disenchanted and beat down by many of the reforms that seemed to be thrown our way.  It kind of feels like we're the fan and the shit just keeps on hitting us, doesn't it?

Despite my resolution to Stay Positive in 2010 (which is preceded by a resolution to Stay Positive in 2009 and also 2008) (Clearly, I have some issues with this whole positivity thing, but any day now...), it has been hard to stay positive in the face of so much...well...bullshit.  So.  Much.  Teacher.  Bashing.

Today I read this blog posted on the Washington Post's Answer Sheet.  Basically, the author is saying that Obama should call an educational summit and invite "our most eminent educational leaders as well as teacher organization heads."


I feel like we're missing someone....

Who could it be?  Who could it be?

Oh wait!  I know!  TEACHERS!!  Actual, real life, work with children, hold their pee for hours on end, responsible for learning TEACHERS.

And no, before you ask, the "heads of their organizations" alone are NOT ENOUGH.  Because if you are the "head of an organization", chances are that you are NOT IN THE CLASSROOM and haven't been in quite some time.  Like many who are outside of the classroom, there is the chance that these individuals may have COMPLETELY LOST TOUCH with the realities of classroom teaching.  (A quality I am clinging to with every fiber of my being.) 

I'm not saying that we should take their names off the list, I'm just suggesting that we round out the group a little bit.

If you read the whole blog post, the author redeems himself with the following:
"Measuring teacher performance is complex and difficult. We want teachers from different schools to cooperate, support each other, and share what’s working, not compete like corporations trying to do each other in."

He also talks about how ridiculous it is to fire a teacher based on student performance alone without considering factors such as know, THAT.

Long story short, I am on an emotional roller coast with this author.  There are highs, there are lows.  He is super pro-charter school, I am pretty hard core public school although I can be swayed by those that have proven to be fair and successful.  And while I think he is right on the money with the ridiculous nature of many of these so called "Turn Around" reforms (turn around and they'll kick us in the you-know-where is probably more accurate), he definitely missed the boat, screwed the pooch AND hung himself out to dry when he forgot to invite teachers to the table.

We are wonderful guests.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I Am Chilled To The Bone

All right y'all.  As I have said many times before on this blog, I am not ready to get into a conversation about unions.  I have my opinions, but, for now and for ONCE, I'm going to keep them to myself.  REGARDLESS, I saw this recent petition and seriously felt chilled to the very core of my being.  Maybe because I taught first and second grade friends for years and my heart belongs with the little guys or maybe because every fiber in my being knows that this scary reality will destroy any wonder we have left in the primary grades. 

According to this petition, Bloomberg and Klein are proposing that children in grades K-2 in NYC be subjected to a battery of standardized tests.  In addition to ALL THE TESTS AND RAMPANT DATA COLLECTION that is already in place! 

And I'm sure we're not talking about data collection to drive instruction - because that would make too much sense - I bet we're talking data collection for the sake of having lots of numbers and graphs that evidently give the Powers That Be a sense of accomplishment or superiority (or hard ons, for all I know). 

As if things aren't bad enough as primary grade teachers run around like crazy people trying to "progress monitor" in a timely fashion (read every two weeks for children who are deemed "at risk") instead of actually teaching.  (Check out this sad but brutally honest piece I found over at Edwize about the toll testing and test prep can take on a classroom and our friends' perception of learning.)

I mean, just turn on the news and you will see that many school districts don't have two nickels to rub together, but we're going to spend ho-jillions of dollars developing standardized tests for babies?!?!  Can we say "misappropriation of funds"??  Anyone?  Sound it out with me.  "Mis-a-...."

Whatever.  Just give me the money and I'll get some teachers together and show you what real improvement looks like.  Boo-yah!

Now, we've been threatened with this reality before, but somehow, in this horribly punitive, finger pointing happy, numbers hungry, be damned with real improvement for the sake of appearances climate, this latest threat feels a little more, well, threatening. 

A little moment from my memories of data collection for the sake of having numbers on a chart that I never used, looked at, or thought about when planning instruction not because I'm lazy, but because those numbers were freaking meaningless. 

Setting: My fabulous classroom.  Although on this day, instead of sitting at desks arranged in collaborative groups, my friends sat in single rows.  Rows I had to waste precious instructional time teaching them how to form because of an administrative demand that insisted on the Re-Creation Of The Testing Environment.  (Insert the Powers That Be drooling over visions of me in a white lab coat, laughing maniacally as I hold my clipboard and prod at children at regular intervals...all mad scientist style.) 
Scene: I have just passed out a literacy assessment, in which I have to ask my second grade friends (whose reading levels span mid-first grade all the way through mid-third grade) to read forty FORTY! paragraphs about the most boring and mundane un-relatable shit known to man and then answer a multiple choice question on that paragraph.  They then have to successfully transfer their answer to a separate bubble sheet which, at the start of second grade, can feel like asking them to climb Mount Everest in flip flops.  Yes, they are that prepared. Oh, the best part?  EACH child has to finish.  Which means that I have to make some of them sit there for OVER AN HOUR while those who are finished (and those who simply think they are finished) must sit in silence as their opportunity for real learning ticks away.

Sounds like a party, no?

Don't tell anyone, but I used to just call it quits after a while.  I mean, enough is enough, right? 

Me: (noticing that one friend, a friend who struggles in reading... I mean STRUGGLES) (kneeling down and whispering) Are you okay?
Friend: (tears streaming down face) (STREAMING!) I just can't do it anymore. (Is your heart breaking yet?)
Me: I know it's hard, sweetie, but you just have to do your best. 
Friend: The words are just too hard.  I'm not smart enough.
Me: (trying not to let tears stream down my face because I have to get this kid to try and finish) Just try a few more and then we'll stop.
Friend: And we'll go back to learning?
Me: (choking back sob) Yes, honey, we'll go back to learning.

I mean COME ON! 

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Time After Time

(I totally hearted Cyndi Lauper back in the day...)


Scratch that.  Time in a public school.

Talk about one royal clusterf*ck.  Am I right?

I mean, you either never have enough of it to get everything done, or everyone wants a piece of it, or there's so much of it that the clock could not be moving more slowly and you swear that someone has messed with your second hand!  I'VE RUN OUT OF THINGS TO TALK ABOUT AND IT HASN'T MOVED!

Or maybe that's just me.

It seems like time never is on my side.  There are the mornings that fly by and you think, "Holy crap! We have got to get our behinds to lunch STAT!"  And there are those days when every specialist, administrator, staff developer and any other individual who doesn't actually have to practice what they preach is telling you how much time you have to spend on each subject, yet hasn't stopped to realize that WHEN YOU ADD UP ALL THEIR DEMANDS IT EQUALS MORE TIME THAN PHYSICALLY EXISTS IN A SCHOOL DAY!  And then (Yes, there's more) there are are those days when you speed through your afternoon and realize that you still have another half hour before it's time to pack up and you're wondering if you can possibly stretch out packing up to take that long.

Teachers have to be INSANELY CREATIVE at fitting it all in. I mean, we are like artists, contortionists, human pretzels who bend and mold time in crafty ways to get everything done because at the end of the day it is ALL UP TO US.

Last week, I saw a genius bulletin board made by a fourth grade teacher who had combined geography, writing, and social studies content into one big project in order to get it all done.  The more she told me about her project, the more respect I had for teachers who are so dedicated to not putting their heads down and crying from all the pressure.  (Although, I have not been immune to a little after school cry fest from time to time...)

All of this has led me to the following conclusion:

Schools are time sucks.

(Is that even grammatically correct?)

(But you know what I mean, right?)

And on top of all the aforementioned Time Traps, there is the After School Chit Chat.  I am an expert in this particular Time Trap because I have been on both sides of this tricky, tricky little fence.  It always seems like the days when you mountains of paperwork and a huge science something to set up for and oh yeah, like a bajillion copies to make are the same days when everyone (And I mean EVERYONE!) wants to stop by your room to gossip/chat/blow off some steam.  Enter the After School Chit Chat Clusterf*ck.  It's a slippery slope, because a) you have TOTALLY been the chatter and understand where this need to stall going back to one's room comes from, b) you are good friends with the chatter and want to be there for them and c) you don't want to come off as a total b*tch.  So what do you do?  Shut the door? Turn off your lights?  Pack everything up and just take it home to do there?  Give in and chat?

Usually, I gave in.  I chatted.  I listened.  I nodded at the gossip.  Because, really?  Teachers have to be there for each other, even if it means that pile of tests has to wait another day.  Super colleagues are nothing without their other Super Colleagues and so we give in to the chatting.

Man, I miss it.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Friday List Mania 6 - The My Brain Is Fried Edition

I had two full day workshops this week.  Two full day workshops, an entire chapter of my dissertation to write, a ba-zillion pages of website content to generate (Mrs. Mimi website coming soon to an internet near you!), a nursery rug to purchase and a book proposal to polish up.  All while being 32 weeks pregnant and so exhausted that I could fall asleep on the floor with the vacuum running and the TV on. 

Long story short, my brain... she is fried. 

But you know I can always find the energy for list making. 

A while ago, a few readers asked me to post the titles of some of my most favoritest read alouds.  Request From You + Very Tired Brain = List Post About Books.  It's like a match made in peanut butter and chocolate.  Which reminds me, I must find some ice cream after posting and pre napping. 

So here are a few (Because, really?  We ALL know I have a Children's Book Shopping Problem) of my faves, in no particular order.  I hope this is what you were looking for!! (Click the images for links.)

(Keep in mind I taught the small fries in first and second grades.)

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory I mean, no brainer, right?  Although I have to say I miss the days before every child had seen that fairly odd Johnny Depp version because it's so much better when they use their imaginations...

Junie B. Jones's First Boxed Set Ever! (Books 1-4) I am also a closeted Junie B. Jones lover.  Talk about kids almost wet themselves laughing at these perfect End Of The Day bite sized chapters. And talk about a great illustration of the use of voice in a written text!

Willimena Rules! Rule Book #1: How to Lose Your Class Pet: Willimena Rules!: How to Lose Your Class Pet - Book #1 (No. 1) I am also a big fan of Willimena...girlfriend is pretty funny.  Her books are a great introduction to the chapter book experience.

Clementine I am seeing a theme here, now that I'm mid-way through this post.  I have a thing for books with strong female characters...shall we yell out "Girl Power" now, or save it for later?

Strega Nona  I am also obsessed with all things Strega Nona.  I mean, I can't pass up the opportunity to use a bad Italian accent during a read aloud, can I?  (Clearly, no, I can't.  Just ask my friends.) 

The Dot As a lover of teaching the arts and farts in class, this book is fan-tabulous.  So many of my friends would be consumed with a fear of "messing up" their artwork, but this book usually seemed to do the trick.

Stephanie's Ponytail (Classic Munsch)  Again, more with the whole Girl Power thing.  I'm sorry, but Stephanie's commitment to being an individual rocks.  Period.

The Paper Bag Princess  I feel like I mention this book every chance at get.   And at every workshop that I lead.  I should just get a Team Munsch T-shirt and call it a day.

Meggie Moon Girls who play in the junkyard?  Girls who have killer imaginations?  Girls who are unafraid to be individuals?  Yes, please.

Big Wolf and Little Wolf Besides clearly being obsessed with books about Girl Power, I also have a thing for books about unlikely friendships.  Don't ask me why, just go with it.  This book is just fabulous. 

Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge More unlikely friendships.  Except bring a Kleenex for this one. I always cry at the I don't see it coming year after year.

I think that's enough for now.  If you're still with me and reading, you deserve a virtual high five...or at least a cocktail.  Have one for me too. 

Thursday, April 15, 2010

She's Got A Big Ego...

And by "she," I really mean "me."  Sure, I'll admit it. 

I will also admit that a recent run-in I had with a Super Fan did NOTHING to help this situation. 

DISCLAIMER: When I go into a school to do a workshop, I don't mention that I live a double life as Mrs. Mimi.  I actually try to gloss over the whole "look at me and what I've done" part.  You know, I establish myself as knowing a thing or two and then we just move on.  HOWEVER, I do love sneaking in a hint or two.  For example, when appropriate, I show a model text I've created about my cat Mimi.  Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.  Get it?  Mimi? 

Yeah, nobody else has so far either.


Setting: Your typical conference room in your typical school.
Scene: I'm eating lunch with two other teachers, chatting about that morning's series of workshops
(Two individuals enter stage left *ahem*, I mean the room.  Yes, two individuals enter the room.)
(Commence giggling.  From the two individuals, not me.)

Me: ??
Teacher One: So you think it went well this morning?
Me: (Glancing over at giggling individuals.) Um, yeah, I was pretty happy with it. 
Teacher Two: I think the teachers took away some good information.
Me: Great! 
Individual One: Excuse me?
Me: Yeah?
Individual One: We heard that you're Mrs. Mimi.  That Mrs. Mimi is in the building today.
Me: I'm Mrs. Mimi.
Individual One...who from now on shall be referred to as Super Fan: *screams*
Me: ? (but totally smiling)
Individual Two: I told you.
Super Fan: OhmyGodIloveyourblogsomuch.  Ireaditallthetime!!  I'msuchahugefan!!
Me: Thanks!
Super Fan: I found you through your internet BFF, Notes from the School Psychologist?  I can't believe you're here!  
Me: (still smiling) I love her!  Isn't she the best?
Super Fan: Can we take a picture together?

I mean, can you stand it?  Let's just say that this Super Fan made my day.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Reunited and It Feels So Good...

And before you think about going there, no I did not go back and visit my former school.  While there are many people still there who I respect and/or consider a close friend, I have a feeling that in general my little old presence may be less than welcome.  Cut to me getting hit over the head by a guitar or strangled with a fanny pack belt...

Rather, I meant that yesterday I was reunited with teaching.  The actual teaching of actual children in an actual classroom.  If you've been reading this blog for awhile you may be wondering if you will ever get all those minutes of your life back you already know that I am not in the classroom this year.  No, this year, due to a little old booky poo I wrote, the need to finish my doctoral work once and for all and the now extinct possibility that Mr. Mimi and I might need to move, I left my former school.  Which meant leaving my friends.  Which meant several fall months spent wondering who I am now that I do not rule the roost in a place filled with snot and glue anymore.

In between pounding my head against the wall as I tackle the beast that is the dissertation genre...wait, was that out loud?  I mean, in between working on my dissertation, developing a website and toying with the notion of writing a humor novel about the experience of being pregnant (Thoughts on me doing that anyone?), I've been trying my hand at consulting.

I know, I know...simply whisper the words "outside staff development" and most teachers will instantly have somewhere else to be a.s.a.p. and then take off down the hall like people who have been holding their pee for the last eight hours.  (Wait a minute...)  Yes, many times outside professional development translates loosely into trust falls, never-ending power point presentations and/or individuals who talk to us as if we are also six years old.  (Every once in awhile we get a glimpse of the rare Hat Trick Staff Developer who is capable of including all three of those mind numbing and yet awfully demeaning situations into one presentation.   But you have to be vewy, vewy quiet, like Elmer Fudd hunting for wabbits.)

I try my hardest to NOT be like these people.  I try my hardest to create presentations that are relevant within the given context and to always be conscious of the ba-zillion demands that are placed upon teachers.  I try my hardest to channel my Teacher Crush.  Basically, I never ever EVER want to be one of those "let's just add this to your plate" people because I know that once shit hits the plate, it never goes away.

How have I already written this much and not gotten to the part where I got to teach kids yesterday yet?  Maybe Mr. Mimi IS right, maybe I am long-winded.


So yesterday I went into a school to do demo lessons for various groups of teachers.  Which means, in reality, I wasn't really teaching the children as much as I was demonstrating something for teachers, but who's counting?  The bottom line is, I sat in front of three groups of friends and did some mini lessons.  And you know what happened?

I totally sweat through my shirt.

Yes, Mrs. Mimi, the queen of attitude , arrogance and an asinine love of organizational supplies was nervous.  (And to quell your fears, no, I did not VISIBLY sweat through my shirt...which is a very important distinction.)  But after my first few sentences, I felt the old Teacher Mojo coming back and I knew it would be fine.  Actually, I knew it would be better than would be fabulous.

I'm not saying that my demonstrations were flawless (although I WILL say they were fairly hot).  I'm saying that it was fabulous to sit there and interact with friends (even though they don't belong to me) on the rug.  (Which I sat on BEFORE I heard the school has an issue with stink bugs.  STINK BUGS!)

One of my favorite moments:

Setting: Your typical elementary school classroom
Scene: I sit conferencing with one 5th grade student while a group of other teachers look on.  (No pressure, right?)

Me: So, you see, when you switch voices in your writing, you need to give the reader a few sentences to catch their breath and get their minds know, kind of set the scene for them.
Kid: You're right, Mrs. Mimi!  I never should have assumed that the reader would understand that I'm switching between writing as myself and this other character.  I mean, look, I even assumed everyone would know what the word "ragolith" means!! (laughs)
Me:  ???
Kid: Right?
Me: Um, yes.  Exactly honey.

Cut to me googling "ragolith" in an effort to not be outdone by a fifth grader.  (As the theme of Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader ominously runs through my head....)

I get to go back on Thursday and do some more lessons.  I am discovering that I enjoy working with teachers (because so far I've been very lucky to only work with motivated, engaged and smart ones) but MAN OH MAN do I miss my friends.  I miss them so much that I'm excited about the opportunity to bogart someone else's, even if it is just for the afternoon.

Monday, April 12, 2010

I Had To...

I freaking had to.  I think once you read on, you'll get it.

And if you don't, consider this me raising my Freak Flag.  (And I'm not ashamed.)

You see, I was in the midst of  figuring out what the hell I was going to post about today my sophisticated writing process, when Mr. Mimi dropped pure genius into my lap.  (Keep it out of the gutter, people.)  He had just received a big book of "stuff" from his office - you know, all that stuff that companies have made with their logo all over it?  That stuff.  And tucked in between the requisite pens, flash drives and magnetic clips were these:


CAN YOU SEE WHAT THIS IS?!?  It is a small hard-covered book which opens up to reveal three different sizes of Post It Notes!!!!  It measures about 3 inches by 5 inches and is going to save me from all those Post It Note know, those moments when you REALLY NEED a Post It note, but all you can come up with is the mangled pad that has been sitting at the bottom of your purse for the last two months?

Those moments are changed forever.

Clearly, I hopped on the old Internets asap to locate this genius for my peeps.  Evidently, something of this size has to be purchased in massive amounts of bulk by a large company HOWEVER, I did find these other stylish options (click on the images for links).  If you've seen stuff like this before, humor me.  If you haven't, you're welcome.

Chronicle Books - Oh Joy! Sticky Notes & To-Dos

So, this lovely new friend to our left has a variety of different sized sticky notes including a nice long narrow one that is PERFECT for a To Do List.  *shudder*

Then there is this little gem which also has a bunch of different sized sticky notes with one that is List Making Magic.

Lotta Sticky Notes & To-Do's

I mean, does it get any better?  I know I've been blogging about far more serious topics in education lately, but for a sunny Monday in the spring when we are all feeling a little burnt, I think this post feels just right. 

Friday, April 9, 2010

Perhaps I've Been Inhaling Too Many Industrial Fumes...

Alternative title for this post: My Personal Crisis of Identity and Resulting Virtual Mind Dump

I think this one is going to be a doozy, folks. (And right after I was named in the top 100 ed-blogs...let's hope they don't take it back.)

This whole mental crisis began after I read the following piece which makes the argument that teachers are becoming little more than factory workers. Granted, this is not the most original metaphor, nor is the idea of efficiency models of education. Historically, we have been reduced to cogs before, but I can totally see where this guy is going in light of current crap coming down the old political pike.

I mean, check this out. He writes, "The notion that teachers should be highly skilled in developing relationships is commonplace at the elementary level, but discussions of education reform, both locally and nationally, continue to ignore the central role academic relationships play at all levels of education."

Shall we all just high five now? Because talk about being right on the money. I guess considering the role of relationships in education would (*gasp*) involve talking to and taking seriously the thoughts and experiences of ACTUAL TEACHERS.

I KNOW! I said it out loud! You will be happy to know that no, lighting has not struck me yet. YET.

Okay, if you clicked over to the actual article I'm referring to, you'll notice that then the author says this, "The latest education reforms suggested by the U.S. Secretary of Education and leaders in the Pittsburgh Public Schools are more enlightened than those of the past..." which kind of made my skin crawl, but let's just stick to the whole idea of teachers undergoing a crisis of identity and lack of voice, shall we?

Thank you.

Moving along, I will now bring you into my doctoral life where I am desperately trying to finish my dissertation on teachers' constructions of their professional identities and how the context in which they work either positively or negatively impacts those constructions. Basically, I'm in interested in how TEACHERS define THEMSELVES and THEIR ROLES and how THEY THINK their school context impacts all of that good stuff.

Again with the whole considering the voices of actual teachers thing. Maybe I'm out of control. Or maybe I've hit the nail right on the head. The nail which The Powers That Be are missing time and time again. (They must have very sore thumbs.)

Do I think my dissertation is going to change the world? Uh, no. I mean, if I'm honest with myself I know that no one is ever going to actually read this thing, nor would I EVER subject anyone to that kind of torture HOWEVER...

it has led me to do a great deal of reading around the idea of teacher identity.
(And by "great deal" I mean overwhelming amount. We're talking crap loads of reading here, people.)

And do you know what I've learned??? That teachers tend to consider the influence of the larger political climate surrounding education, the dynamics of their own school site and combine all that with their own relationships with colleagues and students as well as their personal biographies when forming their sense of identity as a teacher.

(I know...SO MANY WORDS.)

Really, what I'm saying is...WE consider a whole lot of people and factors when thinking about ourselves and our work. Yeah, we consider ALL THOSE THINGS while running around like crazy people trying to educate our friends to the best of our ability. Talk about MULTI-TASKING!!

Yet somehow, those Powers That Be (a.k.a. D-bags In Suits) refuse to consider us.

And when reforms fail? Who gets blamed? Teachers. And who feels guilty? TEACHERS. Who ducks the finger? The Powers That Be. Seriously, I'm not sure how they sleep at night.

Perhaps if one of them, JUST ONE TO START, was capable of multi-tasking or looking at both the big picture and the realities of the classroom, you know, like a teacher? Maybe then we would be in a much better place.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Overstuffed Teacher Bags And Extra Long To Do Lists? Sounds Like Spring Break To Me!

In New York City, teachers just went back to work after a luxuriously long spring break. A lot of Connecticut teachers have one just around the corner. If you listen closely, you can hear sighs of relief and audible anticipation coming from schools all over the East Coast.

I heart spring break.

(Of course, this is where the far-removed and unaware would insert their bullshit arguments about how teachers "get so much time off" and "have nothing to complain about" and "are overpaid.") (Kind of makes you want to tell them to either try walking in our shoes for a day or to just go and suck eggs, right?) (Or at the very least stick out your tongue as you roll over and shut off your alarm.)

However, spring break is NOT all flowers and sausages either. SOME of us make BIG PLANS for EVERYTHING WE'RE GOING TO GET DONE because we are TEACHERS, the universe's masters of multi-tasking and general getting shit done-ness. (All while we hold our pee I might add.) Enter the To Do List to end all To Do Lists. I'm talking To Do Lists so long that they are actually crippling. Mind numbing. Awe inspiring.

And then there's the bag. Which bag you ask? The Vacation Teacher Bag(s). (Insert people clutching their hearts and screaming here...most likely these people are former teachers who are all too familiar with the scoliosis inducing wonder and horror that is The Vacation Teacher Bag.) For those of you less familiar with this phenomenon, The Vacation Teacher Bag is similar to the regular Teacher Bag that teachers all over the country routinely drag to and from their classrooms laden with assorted papers, books and educational whatnot. (The whatnot could include everything from old water bottles to abandoned paper clips, old receipts to misplaced markers, but that's another post for another day.) However, the vacation version of the Teacher Bag is MUCH MORE FULL of both To Dos and Guilt.

Whether you run out the door the second you dismiss your kids on the last day before a vacation or you stay and get yourself organized for after the break, you most likely pack yourself a nice, big, Vacation Teacher Bag. You fool yourself into thinking that while you are resting, relaxing and cocktailing, you will also find a few moments to catch up on your correcting, plan that next unit or create a bevy of inspirational math centers. You know, because you can do it from your porch, in your pjs, late at night, early in the morning, from a sidewalk cafe...we teachers are pros at telling ourselves that we can DO IT ALL even though what we should probably be doing is catching up on sleep, crossing our fingers that we don't catch the spring round of flu, going out to eat and watching late night TV.

People, I have dragged all sorts of crap from my classroom to all sorts of vacations. Seriously, I have been to Hawaii with both my bikini and my planner. MY PLANNER. Is that the saddest thing you've ever heard or what? (The planner part, not the Hawaii part...and maybe the bikini part depending on how much time I've had to get my Teacher Behind to the gym.)

The worst part is, this can only end one of two ways. And both blow. The first way this can end badly is you end up spending a disproportionate amount of your time working on school work over your vacation, end up not getting any rest or personal To Dos checked off your list (There's always a list!), and return to work just as burned out as you were before it all began. Sounds rad, right? The other tragic ending to this tale is that you spend time (gasp!) actually enjoying yourself (Perish the thought!) while your Vacation Teacher Bag gathers dust and pet hair in the corner. The night before you return to your classroom (OH THE NIGHT BEFORE!), you spot your dust and hair covered bag filled with undone To Dos and feel a guilt unlike any other guilt you've felt before. Throw in the anticipated back pain from shlepping that bag all the way back to school and you've got yourself a recipe for quite the Debbie Downer end to your break.

And even if you are nodding your head right now and going, "That's totally me!" I also know that you are not going to change your ways any time soon. This behavior is part of our teacher DNA.

I wonder if those D-Bags In a Suit would bring home their work night after night, vacation after vacation if they weren't anticipating some sort of related bonus...

Monday, April 5, 2010

Bitter and Cynical, Party of Two? Your Table Is Ready...

Over the weekend, I caught up with my reading. Okay, in all honesty, Mr. Mimi and I changed a home office into a nursery and, as a result, in between some pretty intense naps and doing all that stuff I had a moment to catch up on my reading.

Because I am a TEACHER and we are SUPER HEROES when it comes to Multi-Tasking.

Someone hand me my cape, please!


And because I always have my friends, bitter and cynical, with me I saw the following question, "Are educators' opinions factored into reforms?" and my immediate thought was, "NO. Duh."

I know, my knee jerk reaction is to utter words of brilliance. It's a gift.

You see, I was reading this piece in EdWeek about how much or how little the opinions of real teachers factor into decisions made by policy makers.

The article begins by saying that " no other time in the history of American education has there been more publicly available information about what teachers think about their profession, their students and the conditions under which they work."

Really? I mean, yeah, I guess we have blogs, and books (buy mine!), and surveys and things, but really? Who is looking at those? Other teachers? And who is listening? Because while I heart my readers, don't you feel like sometimes we're all just talking to a wall???? Just because we're saying it doesn't mean that the Powers That Be are listening, taking us seriously or think that we have anything intelligent to offer. I've worked at educational research organizations and more often than not, the concerns of Real Teachers are met by eye rolling. EYE ROLLING! By people who claim to care about education...

Perhaps I need a table for three - bitter, cynical and hopeless.
(insert Debbie Downer music here)

Later in the article, a few recently compiled teacher surveys are referenced. You know, like the one done by the Gates Foundation? But everyone who has a brain knows that you need to consider the source when reading reports of that nature. Criticism of this survey in particular has been all over the blogosphere and while I don't really want to get into it all here, I do wonder:

Can we just hear and listen to the voices of teachers? No surveys, no filtering, no compiling, no bubble sheets...just real, honest voices of the people doing the work that EVERYONE ELSE seems to have so many opinions about.

I mean, do we really even need to debrief on this whole situation where teachers get to weigh in and comment on the proposed National Standards? Does anyone else think that this feels a bit like flushing a twenty down the toilet? Like the proverbial tree in the forest?

If a teacher posts a well thought out response to the National Standards but nobody listens, did she even make a noise?

I don't know about you, but I feel all trippy just thinking about that one.

In MY SCHOOL (Friends, one of the biggest arguments used to discredit our words is that they are too contextually bound...meaning, they are too tied to our actual schools rather than the system at large. But me thinks that looking at the system at large, you know, with all those numbers? Me thinks it just ain't working.) teachers took an annual survey about overall satisfaction. The results were used in many ways, but perhaps most interesting, is that they were sent back to our school principal, The Visionary. One year the survey revealed that an overwhelming number of teachers felt that they could not trust their colleagues or administrators. It also revealed that a majority of our teachers felt as if they could not speak up in regards to school wide decision making.

I know, sounds fantastic, right?

These points were brought up in a staff meeting and then guess what happened?


That's what.

How about we say enough with the surveys? How about we actually invite a REAL TEACHER (or better yet a WHOLE BUNCH OF TEACHERS) to the table when these policies and decisions are actually being made?!?!?

(insert jaw dropping on the part of policy makers everywhere)

(Close your mouths boys, you'll let all the flies in.)

I know that the article states that it is difficult to get teachers to donate their time to take a survey but maybe JUST MAYBE if someone offered to REALLY LISTEN and not just count our bubbles on a survey, I think the Powers That Be, who are so superficially concerned with the opinions of teachers, would find themselves with a line out the door.

Who's Peeking?