Wednesday, April 30, 2008

On a happier note

I was going to combine the previous post with this one, but that's not fair to you, me, or my students. :)

Because for the last couple weeks, with our poetry unit, we've been having a good time. And I want to share it, because god knows there aren't always positive words to be shared.

The first day of the unit, we read Sick by Shel Silverstein. I read it to them first, so they could enjoy listening to the words, rhyme and rhythm. Then I passed out copies and they read along while I read it a second time. Next, they all read the poem aloud together. I pointed out some places where the author wanted us to stop or say something in a particular way, and reminded them that we shouldn't sound like dead robots when reading poetry. When I asked if they had ever done something like this, they all raised their hands, and I said, You have to sound like you mean it, or no one will believe you! So to help, I had the class stand up and act out all the 'symptoms' while reading the poem in unison. Then to finish, they took turns reading the poem to a neighbor.

The first poem they wrote was a 'copy-change' poem for This Is Just To Say by William Carlos Williams. I had a worksheet that cut out certain words for students to fill in with their own. The results were absolutely brilliant! I wish I had some examples to show, but they didn't bring them in after break like I asked them to. But I was extremely impressed and entertained with their work.

Earlier this week we worked with haiku. That's one of two poetic forms they've already heard of if not written, so I like to do those at the beginning. Plus they're so short. To scaffold the writing practice, I gave them partially written haiku (which I got from a website somewhere) and they had to write the missing lines. Then I handed out some pretty nature calendar photos and in groups they used the pictures for inspiration to write more haiku.

I challenged them to eliminate words like "beautiful" and "big" because they don't give us a vivid mental picture. I reminded them that using meaningless words like "the" and "and" wastes syllables. And their poems just got better! Again, I was really proud. Honestly, some of them I would have suspected of plagiarism if they weren't sitting in my classroom talking to one another. And I have to say, the level of accountable talk and classwork was at its highest in a long time.

Today I taught another form of poetry related to haiku. Once again I gave them a partial poem (Wind blows, thunder claps/Black clouds are evil leaders/An omen of death) and had them write a completion as groups. They were totally not fazed with the 'darkness' of the sample--in fact, I think their work was the best yet. There was plenty of time to have each group share. In the Roos, one table inserted some claps in the lines and line breaks of their poem and it startled all of us. It truly gave me chills and several students were like, You scared me! It was astounding; I was floored. I told them that I want to have them go perform their poem for some other classes. They were excited to hear that.

Oh! And I read them another great classic poem today. It still gives me a thrill each time I read it--the rhythm is so hypnotic and the tension builds so wonderfully--you could have heard a pin drop in my classroom. I actually read it twice, first stopping to have them infer and predict, but I didn't read to the end. I read it all the way through a second time and there was a moment until the impact of the ending hit them, and you could hear and see the surprise and confusion on their faces. I loved it.

I'm doing something new this year--using poetry for reading workshops as well as writing. We've read and discussed a few poems and it's actually lasted an entire period. I'm pushing them to think about what they read and notice techniques and imagery employed by authors. Not interpreting the work for the students, but just making them think. So far it's actually worked very well. There are several poems I'm looking forward to sharing with the students. Do you have any favorites or suggestions to share with us?

Oh, and one more thing! On Monday, a number of students didn't do their break homework, so I made them all stay for a lunch detention/homework makeup. There were like thirty kids in there, but most of them got the work done. And THEN! On Tuesday, the Herd had 100% homework! And the other two classes today had 100% (the Herd had just one, who clearly felt embarrassed)!

The last few days I've had them actually check each other's homework, counting syllables and such. That way they practice evaluating poetry and written work and see that they are accountable for the directions and assignments. Makes it a lot easier for me, too.

And I keep forgetting that apparently May is tomorrow. The year is quickly approaching the end. Phew.

Aw, shit.

I've had so much I wanted to write, but I guess I got lazy or busy. Sorry.

Anyway, here's a fun way to start off a post:

The week before break, my department visited our bookroom (which has been my domain for the last two years). There was a strange....parcel, shall we say, near the door. I knelt down, poked at the safe area of the paper surrounding it, and sure enough...


On the floor. In front of the door. In the OFF-LIMITS stairwell.

Holy shit. (HA!)

I calmly told the other teachers we would not be going into the room and pointed out the little gift. They were appropriately disgusted and shocked.

The custodians were told and removed the pile in the next couple days.

I thought it was over, being a new part of the bodily-fluids stories I've got for that nasty room (urine, mouse droppings, and condom wrappers). I returned to the book room today to get some things out and return others.

Things previously piled neatly were now knocked over and strewn about. The floor was now almost completely not clear, where previously it had been cluttered with piles and stacks but otherwise open. When I went to step down into the second room, I was stopped by a very strong stench of, you know it, more feces. Very strong.

A few minutes later I went to open the cabinet where I have some gloves and masks, but was stopped by the smell. Then I noticed the brown smears all over the doors and reeled back.

Good god, people. How is this possible? My brain just doesn't grasp the reality of this situation because it is so utterly unreal and ridiculous. I alerted the principal, giving a list of cleaning supplies needed. I didn't specify that I'd be willing to do anything about it, but jesus, something needs to be done. Maybe now people will listen to me about keeping the damn door securely locked. (The latch has been torn from the doorjamb, rendering the still-clasped padlock a joke)

Sigh. You probably thought the title was metaphorical, didn't you? Joke's on you. And the rest of us.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Yesterday morning I was really nervous. I had nearly 45 minutes to get ready in the classroom, and kids were in there doing their morning stuff, which made it even more stressful. And once again I had to remind myself that there shouldn't be a reason to be nervous teaching a lesson; I've done that for almost four years now.

Once the lesson began, and the kids immediately got to work, it felt better. We got some good energy going, there was a good amount of participation and attention, and they did well with the work. I was happy and relieved. Oh, and I actually ran out of time, which was a huge relief, as I'd been so afraid of not being able to fill up the entire (long) period.

After the first lesson there was a debrief, and I was given some feedback about improvement to the lesson. Then, after an interminable hour, it was time to do the lesson again with a different class.

Oh, boy.

It felt like an utter disaster. First, I forgot part of my opener, the part that really energized the first group. Dammit. The students' skill level was not at all the same as the first group; they struggled with the reasoning and I struggled with time again. I had changed some things and interactions, and most of it seemed to make things worse, not better. God. I felt pretty bad about it, and I hated the thought of ending on a bad note.

There was another debrief, with a different person, who hadn't seen the first lesson. So at least he wasn't as harsh as I was on myself because he didn't see the comparison. I probably should have been more positive, but I didn't care; I would much rather be honest. I wasn't afraid to say what went wrong and what I'd love to do with that group again. I think that at least was a good thing, that I was showing plenty of self-analysis and reflection.

Unfortunately, other than the time issue, the differences between the classes was more a result of the difference is prior skill level. If I'd known that, I would have switched the strategies I used, since the first group needed little modeling and just some guidance, whereas the second group needed a lot more structured modeling, guidance and review. Oh well.

Overall, it was a good experience. I loved being at the school; I felt like an anthropologist, observing and figuring out their structures and rules and things. Obviously it works; it's exciting to see the potential a school can have if they emphasize certain things and work hard and work together to accomplish school-wide goals, not just academically but also culturally.

When my day was finally over, I had to go pack. But I didn't want to go straight to the airport, so I hurried to Mount Bonnell, to view the Austin area from above. The sun was out, it was warm, it was green, it was lovely!

Then, of course, I scrambled down and back to my car and to the airport. Everything went smoothly on the flight and journey home, and then I stayed up until 1.30, just because I could, since it's spring break!

This morning I tried to sleep in, I really did. But I couldn't. I've worked out and tidied a bit, and have been catching up on tv. Just the slow kind of day I've been looking forward to. And I'm sure I'll get outside into the sunshine soon. :)

Monday, April 21, 2008


Here I am in Austin!

Thank you so much for your well wishes and encouragement. :) I spent most of the day at the school today, and I'm feeling a lot better about the whole thing. I spoke with several teachers and the administrators, who said that my plans look good. So big 'phew' on that. :) The atmosphere of the school is amazing--everything is calm and quiet, there is no chaos to be found. No big disruptions or attitude, either. Lots of reinforcement of rules and expectations (of which there are MANY), but in a quiet manner. No yelling or snapping required. The staff are all young, very energetic, very intelligent, and really friendly. Six of them took me out to dinner on Sunday night and it was a ball.

I wandered around town on Sunday, visiting downtown (very sleepy on Sunday mornings!), a couple bookstores, and a botanical garden. I took lots of pictures, of course. :) This afternoon, I want to drive around some more (woo! rental car!) and see some of the outlying areas that are supposed to be nice. And hopefully I won't get too lost. :) Frighteningly, I haven't taken a single picture yet today; I better get working on that! After I polish up my lesson for tomorrow, of course.

I just realized that I'm leaving tomorrow too--in twenty-four hours I'll be at the airport. Funny, I feel like I'm just getting used to being here. It's very easy to navigate, the school is about ten minutes away from the house I'm staying at (yay couchsurfing!), the weather is warm but not too icky (and there's AC inside everywhere anyway), the people are nice, there are lots of flowers and plants and other nice things, and the town is 'green' too; did you know Whole Foods originated here?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

live from JFK!

Happy Spring Break, everyone! I am thrilled to have a full week off, to sleep in, to relax, and to travel a bit.

Right now I'm at the airport, headed to Austin, Texas to do a second interview/teaching at a charter school. I am very nervous and anxious about it. The expectations are high for all, and I'm not sure that I can live up to them at the moment.

I've been interviewing with charter schools since the February break. This week I received my second rejection, which makes this trip all the more stressful. What if I don't get an offer? I have told myself that no matter what, I will not stay at my current school. It's a big leap to go to other schools, but I've had my fill of this situation. I have no idea if I'll need to move, or even if I'll need to find a nonschool job, I just need something new.

So wish me luck. :)

I began poetry with my classes this week, and I think we're off to a good start. One of the first things I did was read Sick by Shel Silverstein (I cannot go to school today/said little Peggy Ann McKay/I have the measles and the mumps/a gash, a rash and purple bumps, etc). Then the whole class read it together a few times. I reminded them about pausing at commas and line breaks, as well as reading loudly, clearly, and expressively. Then, of course, they stood up and acted out all the aches and pains while reading the poem. Most of them definitely enjoyed that and hey, that's involving the kinesthetic learners! Go me.

So I'm on a borrowed laptop, and it feels very strange. I'm not cool enough to have a laptop, so I feel like a big old faker. I just exchanged sympathetic glances with a laptop neighbor, rolling our eyes at an overloud cell phone talker, intent on sharing with everyone that she's going to Phoenix with only $100 in her pocket, and she's all upset because her cash money in the bank is inexplicably unavailable.

I'm going to go grab a little more dinner before boarding begins. Have a wonderful weekend everyone, may it break much rest and relaxation!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Women's history--better late than never!

I thought for weeks about how to get my students to learn about women's history, especially the suffrage movement. All research projects we've done have been severely hampered by student laziness or plagiarism, and I was tired of that crap. I gathered some information, articles, timelines from various sources online, but still wasn't sure how exactly to bring it to my classroom. I was frustrated and running out of time.

One afternoon I was reading a Scholastic article about Susan B Anthony's 1872 criminal trial for voting in a national election. It included a lot of actual quotes and suddenly it hit me. I took that article and some other information and created a play!

Here is a slightly longer version of what my students read; I added a couple paragraphs at the end. But the students were definitely into it and I was really excited!

As a preface, the day before this, I had read several excerpts to the students, about life and expectations in the 1700s and 1800s. So before we read this play, I asked them if they thought women liked being told that they were weak and stupid. Of course not! There were plenty of women who fought back against those ideas.

Here you go, I hope you enjoy and can maybe even use it with your own students sometime!

Susan and Elizabeth: Tireless Activists. (A Play, adapted from Scholastic.)
Narrator 1: In the 1840s, five women, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, decided they’d had enough discrimination because of their gender. They were tired of not having the same rights, respect and privileges as men.

Narrator 2: They held a Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls in 1848, to protest women’s inequality and to propose suffrage for women, which means the right and privilege to vote. The convention participants—300 men and women, including abolitionist Frederick Douglass—discussed and signed the Declaration of Sentiments.

Narrator 3: Elizabeth had written this document, modeled after the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal… The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her."

Narrator 4: “He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise. He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice. He has withheld from her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men - both natives and foreigners.”

Narrator 5: “He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead. He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earns. He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough education - all colleges being closed against her.”
Narrator 6: Born a Quaker in 1820, Susan B Anthony was raised to believe that girls and women were equally important to boys and men. She was an active abolitionist, which means that she wanted slavery to be abolished or ended.

Narrator 7: Susan met Elizabeth in the 1850s, and they began working together to gather support in the fight for equality. They formed a friendship and partnership, writing and giving speeches, forming groups and overseeing campaigns, and writing books.

Narrator 8: In 1869, the Wyoming Territory gave women full suffrage. Soon, other states around the country were discussing and voting about woman suffrage on the state level. Most failed.

Narrator 8: In 1872, Susan led a group of women in registering and voting in the national presidential election.

Susan: Ladies of National Woman Suffrage Association, we have been fighting for many years to win the right to vote. Black men won suffrage after the civil war, but women were left out. We must fight back and continue the struggle for equality! We need to prove that women deserve to vote. Aren’t we citizens just as men? The states can’t deny citizens their rights or privileges, so let’s go test the waters and make them see that women deserve equality and suffrage!


Police officer: Ladies, you are violating the law by voting. I must arrest all of you.

Narrator 1: Susan was put on trial a few months later.

District Attorney: Miss Anthony has violated the 14th Amendment. At the time of voting, she was a woman.


Selden (Susan’s lawyer): Your honor, gentlemen in the jury, the defense wishes to admit that Miss Susan B Anthony is indeed a woman.

More laughter.

DA: Your honor, Miss Anthony has violated the 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868. It states that states may not deny any male 21 and over the right to vote. Since she’s a woman, she broke the law.

Seldon: Your honor, this trial is ridiculous. If the voting had been done by her brother, it would have been honorable. But having been done by a woman, it is said to be a crime. I believe this is the first instance in which a woman has been accused in a criminal court merely because of her gender. Now I would like to call Miss Anthony to the stand to testify in her own defense.
Judge: No, I will not allow it!

Shock and upset from Susan, Seldon, and crowd.

Judge: The 14th Amendment gives no right to a woman to vote, and the voting of Miss Anthony was in violation of the law. Jury, you must find a verdict of guilty.

Seldon: Your honor, I must object. In a criminal court, the jury must independently decide the innocence or guilt of the defendant.

Judge: Mr Clerk, record a verdict of guilty!

Jeers and cries out from crowd. “What?!” “No fair!” “Unfair trial!”

Judge: I will now read Miss Anthony’s sentence for committing this crime. Has the prisoner anything to say why sentence should not be pronounced?

Susan, standing; loudly: Yes, your honor. I have many things to say. In your ordered verdict of guilty, you have trampled underfoot every vital principle of our government. My natural rights, my civil rights, my political rights, my judicial rights are all alike ignored!

Judge: The court orders the prisoner to sit down! It will not allow another word! The sentence of the court is that you pay a fine of $100 and the costs of prosecution.

Susan: May it please your honor, I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty! And I shall earnestly and persistently continue to urge all women that resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.

Narrator 9: After this unfair trial, more Americans began to respect Susan and the other suffragettes. Susan and Elizabeth continued writing, touring, and speaking about equality and women’s suffrage. They presented Congress with a Woman Suffrage Amendment, but the legislators rudely interrupted and laughed.

Narrator 10: Elizabeth helped women win rights to own property and divorce abusive husbands. She drafted and submitted a constitutional amendment for woman suffrage in 1878. She died in 1902 after a long and successful career.

Narrator 11: In 1906, after more than six decades of tireless work, Susan gave her last speech.
Susan: I am here for a little time only, and then my place will be filled. The fight must not cease! You must see that it does not stop! Failure is impossible.

Narrator 12: Susan B Anthony died two days later. The fight did not stop with her death, however. Alice Paul helped form the National Woman’s Party in 1913. She organized parades and picketing of the White House. Her militant tactics got the suffragettes arrested and thrown in jail, where the women went on hunger strikes.

Narrator 13: Fourteen states gave women the right to vote between 1896 and 1918. New Zealand was the first nation to grant suffrage, in 1893. By 1918, women in Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Germany, Russia, Austria and Poland could vote.

Narrator 14: In 1919, the US Congress finally passed the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote. In 1920, the bill was ratified. Susan and Elizabeth’s dream had finally came true, seventy-two years after the first public proposal of woman suffrage.

Carrie Chapman Catt: To get the word ‘male’ out of the Constitution cost the women of the country fifty-two years of pauseless campaign,... During that time they were forced to conduct fifty-six campaigns of referenda to male voters; 480 campaigns to get Legislatures to submit suffrage amendments to voters; 47 campaigns to get State constitutional conventions to write woman suffrage into state constitutions; 277 campaigns to get State party conventions to include woman suffrage planks in party platforms, and 19 campaigns with 19 successive Congresses.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Eff You?

Yesterday, first period, upon completing a great reading lesson using a story in the--gasp!--anthology, I said, Okay, we'll finish this up tomorrow!

"We won't be here!" they all piped up.

"And why not?" I demanded.

"We're going on a field trip!" they cried.

I just shook my head. "When I was I going to be told about this?" I muttered to myself.

Fast forward to 10.00am. I had just given the students a fun crossword to practice different word forms.

Announcement: "Pardon this announcement. Grade teachers, please be advised that there will be an assembly starting at 10.10. Please bring your classes down at that time."

"Okay, guys, so I guess you've only got ten minutes to work on it, do what you can..."

Seriously, what the f%$#? If anyone has a question about the level of respect given to teachers today, or lack thereof, direct them here.

This kind of thing is just plain old rude. The administration clearly has zero respect for anyone else in the building--not teachers, not students, either. I feel like they're saying to me, "Eff you. We don't care about you or the fact that you're actually doing your job. Do whatever random shit we throw at you, because actually teaching and setting good examples for the children is at the end of the priority list."

It is absolutely ridiculous and it is EXACTLY why I'm leaving my school and the NYC public school system. Eff you right back, I say. I don't have to take this nonsense!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

old lady, part 2

At precisely 6.32 this morning (two minutes after my alarm went off), I suddenly realized that I forgot the school meeting yesterday afternoon. Whoops.

This afternoon, while parking, I noticed some recycling bags that held a couple stacks of 1990s National Geographics. I was, still am actually, disturbed and sad and tried to decide if I should rescue them. I was already carrying two heavy tote bags so I couldn't have lifted them right then, but part of me still wants to go back down there and 'steal' them away. By which I mean put them in my car to bring to school.

Monday, April 07, 2008

old lady

I fell asleep at 9.45 on Friday night.

And at 10.30 on Saturday night.

Then around 10pm on Sunday night.


Sunday, April 06, 2008


Two weeks ago, we focused on sequence in reading. One day I had the students unscramble a story and put it in order. They did quite well with that, which was a relief. Another day I read to them from a picture book, Remember the Ladies. They had to take notes on some names and dates, and then I asked them to answer some sequence questions. (Multi-tasking galore in this one! I was really proud!)

On yet another day, I read them another chapter of an interesting book we'd started the week before. I put some events from the book on sentence strips and put them on the board. I gave them a few minutes to organize them in their notebooks. Then I called up six students to take one sentence each, and they put themselves in order. I let the class rearrange the people and their events until all were correct.
Several students left before we finished this activity, for services. A couple minutes later, I got a phone call from one of those teachers. "I have [so] and [so]. They said they wanted to come back to class because you were doing something fun?" I said, surprised, "Oh, well, we finished that one but right now we're doing some magazine work. But sure, they can come back to class if you're okay with it."

We finished up our media unit last week. To combine a group project with a jigsaw review, I had the students create a commercial: I collected a couple random household items (a film canister, a chipclip, a keychain), and let them draw one as well as one of the ad techniques we'd learned. They had to use these things to create a commercial. I gave them a half class period to prepare, and first period, when I let them go, I heard one girl exclaim, "This is gonna be fun!"

The next day they performed the ads, which I recorded with my camera on a tripod. The review part--they were supposed to definite several of the terms, and many of the ads didn't actually use the correct technique--didn't go so well. But they seemed to have a good time, especially when I plugged in the camera to the computer (more than thirty students cannot crowd around a single computer, but at least I'm "using technology"!) and let them watch the movies of themselves. I told them to look at how they did, because we'll be doing more performances later in the year. They laughed and cringed at themselves on camera.

While I will never, ever claim to be a perfect teacher, or even necessarily an exemplary teacher, days and comments like these sure make me feel good about my class. Now if only I could figure out how to work the next two weeks--incorporating some kind of research, reading, writing and of course learning about women's history, plus maybe beginning poetry?--I'd be golden.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

joke's on you

The Grey Bunnies came into my classroom yesterday after lunch, and they kept glancing at me and giggling. I gave the Look, and they'd look away, still giggling. The whole class kept looking at me! It rather unnerved me, and not just because I'd had to sleep. I thought that maybe something was on my face, or my outfit was ripped, or they noticed I was particularly ugly that day (no sleep! didn't care!). I stayed steely and went to collect the homework.

The first table just looked at me with empty desks. They just shrugged when I said, "No homework?"

I was unnerved by the still-looking-and-giggling, so I stood to the side, glaring and harrumphing at them.

A girl raised her hand. "I don't think anyone did their homework today." Barely repressed giggles.

"Oh really? Maybe we need a test then! Snarl!" glare glare.

"Miss! It's just a joke! April Fool's!"

"Haha," I said, unamused, stalking to my desk. I glared at them some more. But then I couldn't help a small smile unfolding on my face, and the class erupted in whoops and cries. "Ooh, we got you, Miss!" They were quite proud of themselves. I said dryly, "The real joke would have been *everyone* doing their homework!"

After a minute or so of their hysterics, I told them to quiet down and get to work. And they did.

Last period, the Herd walked in and sat down. They kept their desks were completely empty and they were looking at me expectantly.

I walked across the room and tried not to laugh. "Won't work on me, guys! Get to work!"

They groaned and I did laugh. "[Grey Bunnies] already did it, they ruined it for you!" They went, "Aw, man!" and laughed ruefully, and got to work.

As shitty as the day was for me yesterday, it really wasn't too bad. These kids are goofballs but for the most part are sweet and innocent enough. And somehow, I've earned their respect and they work for me (well, with prodding, often, but still). Thank god.