Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Have You Ever Thought About What Makes You Crazy?

Here's a fun list for you: Mrs. Mimi's Top Five List of Events That Make Me Want To Poke Myself In The Eye and Run Screaming From the Building

5.  When "special" teachers (phys ed, art, music, etc) are absent yet, despite the fact that said teacher has called in or requested the day in advance and therefore said teacher's absence is known to everyone in the front office, you don't find out until you are standing in front of their door with a line full of disappointed 7 year olds.   How is this bit of information so difficult to communicate clearly and in a timely fashion?  How easy would it be to remedy this problem that happens FAR TOO OFTEN?

4.  When you have to submit a formal "request" for photocopies that includes the date, the number of copies, the reason for the request and a blood sample.  Because, even though you have several advanced degrees and a general interest in the maintenance and well-being of the photocopier, you are not qualified to press it's glorious buttons yourself?  Or because budgets are tight and schools are forced to ration paper and you are not to be trusted in your paper consumption?

3.  When push in/pull out support acts as if their schedule is optional or merely a suggestion despite the fact that I am busting my own balls to get everything in and plan around their 'schedule'?  Then they stand in your doorway with this far off look on their face and you are, you know, teaching and therefore unable to have a little chat about what to do now.  (Note: Similar to the girl with a curl in the middle of her forehead, when pull out / push in services are good, they are very very good and when they are bad, they are horrid.) 

2. When other adults in the school building are just outright nasty to children and hold them to an expectation that they themselves can not live up to?  For example, those individuals who SCREAM at children to BE QUIET during a fire drill and then GO BACK TO THEIR OWN CONVERSATION?!   Very do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do because I probably don't do anything productive?

Drumroll, please, because we are ready for the number one event that makes me want to poke my eyes out and run screaming for the building! Can you stand the anticipation?  What is she going to complain about next?!

1.  When your moments of brilliance are thoughtlessly interrupted by a knock at the door, a ringing classroom phone, an unnecessary announcement over the intercom or someone ballsily (Can I petition to have "ballsily" added to the dictionary?  I kind of love it.)  walking into your room with some minor question/request/thought that could absolutely  have been handled by a note in a mailbox or an email?  You have no idea how many times I have wanted to simply punt Interrupters right back into the hallway without blinking an eye!

Some of you  may know that I've started a Nerd Out book club in which, just about once a month, we choose an inspirational or practical book to read and reflect on in an effort to inspire ourselves (since no one else seems to want to do any inspiring around here these days...).  This month we are reading Donalyn Miller's book The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child.  She writes,

"The greater issue of limiting classroom interruptions is a systemic one, but how to recoup lost time with students is within a teacher's reach."

And I began to wonder, how many other professional people are asked to regularly find way to recoup time lost to constant, thoughtless interruptions?  How many times does someone walk brazenly into a board meeting at Businessy Business Headquarters and say, "Hey - I know you're in the middle of something but did you get me that paper I asked you for?  I haven't checked my mailbox or email yet, in fact I have done nothing pro-active or thoughtful to deal with this, so I thought I'd just stick my head in here and interrupt you."  I'd venture that the answer is never.  Or you do and your ass is fired.

How many other professionals are given a specific and fleeting amount of time to accomplish a gigantic goal and then have to deal with that time being treated disrespectfully?

How many other professionals are given just a few hours to solve the world's problems (you know, because the world's problems are the fault of teachers) and then told to solve those problems in a highly prescriptive way that comes with hours of additional paperwork that must be done outside of all those original hours?

Is the problem that people inside education but outside classrooms don't understand how precious our time is or that they don't see us as professionals?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Toplessness - Always Good For A Laugh

All right, friends.  It's Friday.  It felt like this week went on forever.  It feels like we could all use a laugh.  By the by - I know our job is CRAZY IMPORTANT and, in my opinion, more important than most jobs, but when did it become so heavy?  Ugh!

So, here is a hilarious story as a bit of a TGIF-go-grab-a-cocktail-you-made-it-through-the-day celebration.  Full disclosure- I am actually about to retell one of Big Mama Mimi's famous stories.  (And before you ask, no, this story does not involve my mother getting topless.  Sheesh.)  This is a story she told during her retirement dinner at the end of last year and brought down the house.  Seriously, I'm talking people gasping for air laughing.  I have never been more proud.  (Also, remind me to tell you guys sometime about this dinner.  Epic celebration of an amazing educator.  Epic.)

Evidently, back in the day (and my mother had taught for many days), people watched 16 millimeter films.  I know I myself watched them as a wee lass sitting in a classroom in a galaxy far far away, but you have to forgive me because I was not paying attention to the particulars of said-filmstrip, I was probably peeing in my pants excited about getting to watch a movie.  So there's that.  Anyhow, according to my mother, filmstrips came in these gigantic canisters, which, occasionally made them a bit daunting to preview.  (Insert ominous music here...because you know that everyone's first year of teaching is PRIME for some hilarious stories of disaster.)

Cut to my mother in one of her first years of teaching.  For many years, she taught with the same Super Colleague who is like a member of our family.  Together, they decided to show Nanook of the North, one of the first documentaries ever filmed.  Figuring that it was a silent movie shot in 1921 (and came in a massive film canister), my mother and her colleague decided NOT to preview the movie. I mean, what could go wrong with Nanook and his clan?

They dim the lights.  Nanook and his family race across the ice in a dogsled.  So far, so good.  Nanook and his family stop for the night and make an igloo.  Fantastic.  Nanook and his family arrange furs to stay warm for the night.  Great!  The kids settle down to sleep while Mrs. Nanook straightens up the igloo. My mother and her colleague high-five their teaching fabulousness!  Mr. Nanook takes off his shirt and gets between the furs.  Huh.  Okay...  Mrs. Nanook heads for the furs.  Hmmmmm....  She reaches for the bottom of her top.  Wait, what?  She wouldn't.  Would she?  Annnnnnddddd...BAM!  This is the part where a room full of 9 year olds learn that women living on the tundra in the 1920s do not believe in wearing foundational garments.  Yes, friends, we're topless.

Like shots from a cannon, my mother and her Super Colleague were out of their seats.  My mother blocked the screen while her colleague silenced a room full of preadolescent hysteria with one single Teacher Look and the following words:

I don't to hear one sound out of any of you.  That woman...could be...your mother!

And with that, my mother's super colleague launched into a brilliant, impromptu speech about cultural sensitivity. Crisis averted.

So, cheers to that, eh?  I hope you had a fabulous week, that you have an even better weekend and that you can find some places to laugh in your classrooms next week.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Remember When Reading Was Fun?

In chapter 2 of The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, Donalyn Miller writes,

"Providing students with the opportunity to choose their own books to read empowers and encourages them.  It strengthens their self-confidence, rewards their interests, and promotes a positive attitude toward reading by valuing the reader and giving him or her a level of control.  Readers without power to make their own choices are unmotivated."

I mean, let's just pour out some of our drink in honor of Ms. Miller right now, shall we?  Because this is the point in my nerdy reading where I shouted, "Hell, yeah!" and may have scribbled several furious notes in the margin.  I know.  I am such a dork.

For me, the most salient parts of this chapter focused on the joy of reading and the need to be positive when talking or thinking about the readers in our classrooms.  I LOVED her emphasis on allowing children to choose their own books and her focus on igniting the joy of reading and sharing books.  That is her first goal.  Matching books to readers remains essential, but first comes instilling the love, the joy of reading.  How many students are discouraged as readers because they are told that must only read books at a certain level and only at that level?  Is that truly choice?  Yes, it is key to make sure our students are working with books that will provide them with success while challenging them in appropriate ways, but we must remember that leveling is  a TOOL not a RULE.  Lately, I wonder if, like most things that start out as a good idea in schools, we have abused and over-used this tool.  

Another moment that caused me to pause and reflect on my own practice was Ms. Miller's recognition of three types of readers or reading trends: the developing readers, the dormant readers and the underground readers.  I loved this in comparison to referring to students as "a level F" (if you speak Fountas & Pinnell) or "a 16" (if you speak DRA).  I'm sure that within each of these categories of readers there exist a variety of levels and groupings, but I think her shift to grouping children by their reading behaviors and framing them in a positive fashion is key.  Too often, we reduce reading instruction to a list of skills kids must possess to move level to level because of the test, the data, the SPREADSHEETS!  However, there is so much more to growing a reader than marching through a list of skills - like encouraging certain behaviors and developing an identity as a reader.  I think Ms. Miller has hit the nail on the head that is sometimes hidden under mountains of prescriptive bullshit.

Finally, I am bananas over Ms. Miller's list of conditions for learning which include immersion, demonstrations, expectations, responsibility (on the part of the student), employment (as in authentic practice), approximations (as in acknowledgement of success), response, and engagement.  Sometimes we get so caught up in the skills and move, move moving to COVER THE CONTENT QUICK, that we forget about the importance of setting the tone of our environment.  While I'm sure most of you out there know that creating an optimal environment for student learning is at the top of your list of things to do in September, I also know that most of you are not in control of your scope and sequence or your classroom time.  So there's that. 

What did YOU think while reading chapter two?  Any take aways?  Highlighted passages?  Moments of reflection?  Ideas you brought into your own practice?  Sharing is caring, my lovelies. 

Until Chapter 3...be nerdy!


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Nerd Out: The Book Whisperer Chapter 1

You guys.  Before we begin, I need to thank you for your continued support and understanding.  I am truly overwhelmed by your caring that comes through so vibrantly even over the Interwebs.  You are amazing.  I can't tell you how much better I feel after getting re-engaged with the world.  Thank you so much for giving me a reason to stop crying to Coldplay songs.  (Seriously, I was about to hire a tuba player to follow me around and occasionally play Debbie Downer music as I go about my day.)  While I know it's okay to be sad, I think it's time to strap on my high heels and move forward.  Always forward.


Last night I devoured the first Chapter of The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child.  Mr. Mimi has definitely confirmed his lingering suspicion that I am a total nerd, as I fist pumped, vigorously nodded, furiously underlined and may have even shouted, "Now you're TALKING!" as I read.  I like to think of reading as a full-body experience.  

What a fabulous segue into discussing this first chapter - it's like I planned it or something!  Mrs. Mimi is BACK! 

Because I am a Super Dork Thoughtful Reader I also read the Introduction.  Where's my gold star? In the introduction, we learn that in 2000, the National Reading Panel did not include independent reading on it's list of recommendations for improving reading instruction because they were unable to find a positive relationship between large amounts of independent reading and improvements in reading achievement.

Um, what?  Does this make sense to anyone?  I want to ask one of them to repeat this statement out loud to see if they can hear how crazy it sounds.  To me, it's like the time I was afraid that mice would eat the pair of high heels I had left behind on my classroom carpet in the middle of the night.  Mr. Mimi made me repeat, "I'm afraid the mice will eat my shoes" until even I could hear the underlying crazy.  (Note: The shoes were fine. Crisis averted.)

Back to Chapter 1...

Chapter 1 sets the stage for this book, giving us an idea of where Donalyn Miller has been as an educator and what her philosophical grounding is as she tackles developing a love of reading in her students.  Ms. Miller (who I think we can officially send a cape because she is clearly kicking ass in her classroom and is a Super Colleague), is very candid about her experience, showing extensive evidence of reflecting on her failures in an effort to improve her practice.  Right away, I want to hug her for this.  

On page 13, Ms. Miller discusses the influence of her past experiences in school on her own practice in the classroom and how, oftentimes, these experiences factor more readily into our instructional choices despite contrary information we may have received in our preparation or professional development.  Specifically, she references the teaching of the whole class novel (kill me now!) and how despite detailed and thoughtful planning, this idea flopped in her own classroom.  She also reflects on how she despised this instruction herself when she was in the student's position. 

To me, some essential take aways from this first chapter include the importance of the past, critical reflection and student voice.  

If I may put on my Dr. Mimi hat for a moment...some of the findings of my dissertation serve to underscore the notion that our experiences in school greatly influence our decisions in the classroom.  (Y'all, I can sound fancy too.)  Bottom line, it isn't just a waste of time to think back to our own experiences.  Let's discuss for a moment...here are a few questions for you to swish around your fabulous noggins:
  • What influences from your past experiences as a student do you see evidenced in your teaching today?  Are those choices working for children?
  • What would your (insert appropriate age here) self want as a leaner?  (Hint: You lose major points if you say "more gym," "more lunch," or "more recess" although I think there is more there than meets the eye.)
  • What do your students want?  (This implies that you've actually asked them directly.)
What were your favorite moments from Chapter 1?  What lessons did you take away?  

PS - I've created a group page over on Facey Face for us to use to discuss our reading more collaboratively.  (Also, it's another opportunity for you to "LIKE" me, which feeds my inner Me-Monster.)  Here's the link.   

Who's Peeking?