Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Inauguration- A First Grade Reinactment

Originally, I was really bummed that my school was going to make ZERO attempt to show the inauguration to our children. All I heard was that we have space issues with the other two schools in the building, our internet is not stable enough, and something about a DOE TV channel that I'd never even heard of. Anyway, I couldn't help but feel that my students were being completely shorted of one of the most important moments of history, possibly in their lifetime. I wanted them to have that feeling that I had when my mother called me frantically to watch the TV with her as the Berlin wall was being torn down live. She told me that I probably wouldn't understand it now, but I would realize its importance later. She instructed me never to forget the images I was seeing, and I never did. There is something about seeing it in the moment and experiencing a real moment in time that I wanted my first graders to be a part of. If I could have done it all over, I would have arranged a field trip for that day to watch the inauguration at the University close to our school or another viewing place, but by Tuesday morning, I realized it was too late for that.

I surveyed my options. I could sneak a small TV into my class and set it with rabbit ears, but that would require taking a taxi to school which would be quite a bit of money. Plus, I figured with all that talk of the DOE channel, I probably wasn't allowed to show regular TV to the kids. Option 2 was the radio. I have a radio tape deck in the classroom. I decided that this was my best option. The kids would simply have to practice using their envisioning skills to be a part of the moment. I cut out a big picture of Barack Obama, a picture of the Lincoln Bible, and posted them next to the radio.

All morning, I talked to my class about how important the inauguration of Barack Obama was and several kids had brought newspapers that we also looked at. We talked about what it meant to take the oath of office and what it would sound like. We practiced some of the language, "I do solemnly swear.." and talked about how it was okay not to understand everything but to hear the voices and feel the moment.

After a morning of regular work amidst talk of the inauguration, I took the kids down to lunch. They didn't know they were'nt going to hear it live, but I knew I would have to tape it for them since they would be at recess during the exact time.

When we came back up from recess, the kids were really excited. They sat quietly on the rug and I called for 2 volunteers. One would be the justice holding a homework notebook (our stand-in for the bible), and the other student would be Joe Biden. The child playing Joe Biden had to put one hand on the book and one hand in the air. I played the swearing in of the vice president. When the children heard the announcer say "All rise," they stood up. They were silent as they listened to Joe Biden taking the oath of office.

We then listened to the orchestra piece that was played. The children sat quietly pretending to play violins, cellos, pianos, and clarinets. When it was finished, I called for two more volunteers. One for Justice Roberts, and the other for Barack Obama. I could see visible excitement in their faces as they watched their classmates acting out the oath of office. Again, one child held the homework notebook (that we labeled "Lincoln bible") and the other one put one hand on it and one in the air. We listened as Barack Obama became the next president and the children followed the crowd on the radio chanting "Obama, Obama, Obama," when it was over. I played them a couple of minutes of Obama's speech so they could hear his voice, but faded the volume and turned off the radio when I knew I they were probably lost in the moment.

It turned out to be a meaningful experience for me and the children. I'll never forget where I was that day (with my kids in my classroom). They promised me they would never forget it either.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Illiteracy, still

This past week went pretty well despite the fact that most of my students probably spent their entire vacation with NO STIMULATION at all. As usual, the kids were very out of it and had to be re-introduced to classroom structures. I spent almost 10 minutes one day trying to get my guided reading group to sit in a circle on the rug. They couldn't figure it out on their own (despite the fact that we have been following this SAME structure for 2 MONTHS!) They were back-to-back, in a line, just really awkward with their bodies. Even after I drew a circle on the floor with my finger and showed them, one of them went back to his reading spot (I wanted to scream and pull out all of my hair), but instead, I calmly asked another child to go retrieve him and then I stood them out and pointed to where each one should sit. Okay. Deep breath. I did the guided reading lesson and it went okay.

Administrators don't realize all that we have to do to get our students to read. This year, I have been focusing on reading so much more than in years past because of the needs of my students. With Promotion In Doubt parent-teacher conferences coming up in February, I decided to start the DYO assessments for all 19 out of 26 kids that were PID in October. So far, I have been able to assess 3 kids during extended day. All I can say is that I AM SO DEPRESSED about it. I have worked with these kids in guided reading and strategy groups consistently for 2 months. I have worked with them doing a phonics intervention program during extended day (which takes a LOT of planning), and I have been doing shared reading at least 4 times a day. So far, NONE of the kids have gone up. Two kids stayed at LEVEL B!!!! and one kid (I have to fight back the tears for this one) who reached level C in October, went back down to B. He couldn't recognize the word "In." He kepts saying "A-y-n, A-y-n" and rambled off sounds that made no sense when he was reading. "Are you kidding me?" is all I could think. We have been doing so many comprehension strategies and so little decoding that I can't believe a child in my class would think this kind of "reading" would be okay. We have also been highlighting, writing, and wearing our sight words for months. What is going on with this kid? I just can't fathom how this has happened.

After talking about it with a colleague, I decided to ask the literacy coach to come in during my reading workshop to observe what the kids are doing, and to observe my guided reading lesson. I really want to know what else I can do. I'm hoping that having her come in will also expose the upper levels of school administration to the real issues that are happening in our classrooms. Administration comes to my room and they see me teach and are satisfied. I get complimented for my structures and teaching, but it's not enough. My students need real intervention. Just because a teacher is competent doesn't mean that the children don't need more.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Taking Care Of Business

It always amazes me when I am on vacation how much I actually needed time off. I get so used to the fast pace of the school year that I forget about important things like my certification, my taxes, my student loans, etc. It's not that I neglect to do my duties of keeping up with all of it, but I don't have time to really think about these things and make sure I am doing things properly. For example, everyone at my school got audited in November for our 2006-2007 taxes, don't ask me why, but we all (or almost all of us) owed about $178.00 to the state for our pension. I wrote the check and sent it off without even researching what was going on. Over the vacation, I actually made time to talk to an accountant and find out what was going on.

In terms of my certification, I am working under an initial certificate (which doesn't expire for 2 more years) but I am eligible for my permanent one, it's just a matter of getting the paperwork done and paying online. I have also taken the required courses to get the ESL extension on my license, but I wasn't organized enough to actually apply. Over the break, I registered for the CST-ESOL exam which is the final thing that I need to get the inital ESOL license. I plan to apply for my permanent certificate and the ESL extension together during the April break.

Students loans. I make on-time payments on my student loan each month, but I hadn't figured out if I was eligible for loan forgiveness. When I first got my master's, I was already working at my school and taking graduate classes part-time. I did some research the summer after I graduated, but found that I wasn't eligible for any of the loan forgiveness programs offered by the DOE. What I never realized was that I WAS eligible for FEDERAL loan forgiveness programs. After doing some more research this past week, I found this website (it took a lot of searching!) And after reviewing it and finding that my school qualifies as "low-income," I think that I may in fact be able to get some loans forgiven if I stay at my school for a 5th year. (which I was planning to do anyway). I had to make 2 phone calls to request the proper forms, and as soon as they arrive, I will apply.

Long story short, teachers have a lot on their plate and a lot of personal and professional business to take care of. It is almost impossible to do all of these things while working at school. I would have never been able to make those phone calls or speak to an accountant during the day without a lot of stress. I am so thankful for the time off. I feel so refreshed and ready to start my week tomorrow.