Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Open House, take 1

In an effort to reduce crowding both on campus and in the parking lot, my sons' school has several open house nights. Tonight was Parker's night. I left the boys with Steve *despite Parker's pleas to go with me* and drove to school. Parking was (surprisingly) easy. We all gathered in the cafeteria for a welcome message from the Principal, who promised to keep it short, knowing there were parents who had children at other schools also holding open house, and she wanted to be respectful of every one's time (bonus point #1).

She went over the general rules and regulations. Evidently, this year the emergency alert system will text your cell phone (if the office has it on file) if there is a problem. I'm thinking - that's pretty high-tech and rather cool! She also wants to hold an emergency response night to help train the parents in what we are to do in case of an emergency. I'm guessing all of us dashing to the school in total panic and chaos demanding our children and being completely unreasonable and irrational is NOT what she wants to see.

She talked about programs at the school, advised us of the difference between making a donation to the school and taking advantage of Arizona's Tax Credit for Education regulations. She mentioned the possibility of our school becoming an IB school. (International Baccalaureate - which would be WICKED COOL)

And then she said this: "I wanted to find a nice way to put this, but there is not a nice way to put it. Your children need to be in school, on time, every day." She went on to explain how tardiness teaches the children that it is OK to be late, taking kids on vacation during the middle of school teaches them school is not important since missing 2 weeks is commonplace. She was completely direct, pulled no punches and made no apologies. She reminded parents that school has very generous vacation times built into the school year, and she ran the point home that our attendance directly impacts both the funding we receive from the government and the state. Our attendance also impacts our Arizona Grading system - of which we are proudly an EXCELLING school.

"But the best AIMS scores in the state won't make up for poor attendance. We need you to get your children here, every day, on time, with no excuses."

This woman is now my personal hero.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A birthday celebration we won't soon forget...

My 'baby' turned 3 on Friday!! Insert all the times I have said how quickly time flies, and how I cannot believe how big he is getting, and how proud I am to be this kid's mom, and double it.

So imagine the sadness in my heart when Chris woke up just after midnight (on his birthday) with croup. Poor little munchkin - crying, scared, exhausted and sick is not the way to start a birthday! We canceled his little get-together with a friend he made at swim lessons so his b-day would be quite low-key. Good thing he really won't remember it.

Of course, the rest of the family will probably never forget it.

The Reader's Digest version is that we ended up with a family room/kitchen area that looked somewhat like a war-zone and a boy in the ER with stitches.

The longer story goes like this: we were playing 20 questions at the dinner table (our centerpiece was Charley, the fish. This information plays an important role in the story in a bit). Steve was "it" and we were going around the table asking questions (yes, I guess that IS how you play the game) Parker wanted to give questions to Matthew, and we were stopping him (he always answers for his little brother, even when Matthew knows the answer). Matthew was refusing to ask a question.

I know, reading it now it sounds so simple and silly - getting so upset over questions - but for Matthew and Steve, it was getting really heated. Matthew got up from the table and stood by Parker (who was in front of the fish bowl) and then he started to cry. Matthew hates to cry - he tries his best to hide his face or hide his entire body when he cries.

This time he was out in front of ALL of us, which I am sure made him feel even more trapped and ashamed. He made a move as if to put his head down on the table forehead first.

Except his motion was intercepted by the fish bowl, which gave way under the weight of Matthew's rather hard and heavy head. And, as physics would dictate, Matthew's head kept moving even after the initial impact.

The next few moments were a blur, but the general scene included a lot of broken glass and blood, screaming from Matthew, screaming and running around from Parker, a fish flopping on the floor, birds flying everywhere, and the icing on the cake was Christopher who was walking around, screaming and throwing up. If you looked up MAYHAM or BEDLAM in the dictionary - well - you'd find my house.

We got Matthew to the ER - the bleeding had stopped by the time we got there (I left with Steve covered in Christopher's explosions, Chris crying in the tub and the kitchen looking like a battle ground - in dealing with the ER, I know I got the better end of that bargain!) The nurse cleaned the cuts (3 of them, all somewhat big, but it could have been MUCH worse!) and removed a sneaky piece of glass. He got 4 stitches and a copious amount of human-grade super glue to hold his head together.

I am the mom of 3 very active boys. We have gone just over 9 years with out a bloodied-mess drive to the ER until yesterday. All in all, I think we have been doing OK.

Here's my little trouper, shortly after getting all stitched back together. Even bloodied and stitched, he can still manage to smile!!

Oh, and amazingly enough, Charlie the fish - he survived the attack. As of today he is in a much more forehead-friendly bowl.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Why we can't keep good teachers in the classroom

This rant has very little to do with the abysmal pay most teachers receive, nor does it delve into things like class size/teaching load. Nope - those are all truly valid reasons for leaving the teaching profession but they have been covered adnausium by many more proficient at this sort of thing than I am.

This rant is a means to help those of you NOT in the current modern classroom understand just how difficult it is for those of us called to this profession to DO OUR JOBS. This is a rant about how government, in an attempt to improve our public education system, have in fact made it worse with all their rules and regulations. This is a rant that will, I hope, prove the fact that we need educators running education, not businessmen or bureaucrats.

I teach in one of the highest scoring schools in Scottsdale. According to all the media and government guidelines, this would translate to my school being one of the best schools in Scottsdale, and yet - somehow it just misses that distinction in all the areas that matter to teachers. Yes, our scores are good. Yes, we do a bang-up job of teaching to the test. Everyone goes away happy and content thinking that this is all we need to do.

What our numbers do not show, however, is the utter chaos with which our school is run, or how simply awful the regulations are that govern who is in charge of the classroom. My case-in-point: We have a wonderful, even beloved, teacher we shall call Sally. Sally has been teaching for 16 years. She has been teaching math at the middle school level for all of those 16 years. She has even taught Algebra 1 at the middle school level, not just once but for many years.

What you need to teach Math in the middle school level is: A teaching certificate and the designation of being a Highly Qualified Teacher, or HQT. In order to obtain HQT status, you either needed to take a certain number of college credit hours (regardless of how many years ago you took those classes) or you need to sit for a test. The test you need to take in middle school is, (this is so clever - how did they come up with the name) the Middle School Math Proficiency Test. Algebra is on this test. Sally passed this test.

Now - if you want to teach High School math, at any level, you need to take the High School Math Proficiency Test, which tests you in all subject you could teach in high school up to and including calculus. Just a reminder for those of you keeping score at home, Sally does NOT teach high school, nor does she ever want to teach high school.

Ok - With me so far??

So, my school wants to offer High School credit to students in Algebra 1. Note - they WANT to offer this. It is not required we offer this to students. Sally has taught this class before. But, there's a problem. Sally is not certified to teach in a high school. Even though she is NOT teaching IN a high school, she is required to take the calculus test in order to teach ONE Algebra class for a select few students that we do NOT have to offer for high school credit. So, for 20% of her caseload, she needs to take this test.

Well, guess what - she does not pass the test. By the slightest of margins, she did not pass. By the "spirit" of the law, she could be allowed to teach the class with the assurance she would take the test again.

Does that happen? Well, if it did I would not have much to rant about, now would I?

Nope - not only does she have the Algebra class taken away - She has ALL her math classes taken away - 80% of which she is perfectly qualified to teach.

So - what do they have her teaching this year? Not math... try Language Arts.

A subject she has NEVER taught in her life.

Yeah - that's HIGHLY QUALIFIED for you... and that's what is best for kids.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Weekend Update with your host...

Hey... days are flying by with dizzying speed and the road to hell is paved with good intentions - I've meant to update for the last 3 days and something has stopped me each time.

Let's see- we settled back into the routine of being home pretty well. Piles and piles of laundry threatened to overtake the house or bury our youngest, but I think I've managed to beat it back into submission. We continued with swim team and swimming lessons and then Parker had his final championship meet on Saturday. (Matthew decided to not participate, which was fine). So, it is of course, hot and muggy as all get out when we go to the meet at 8am. Also, as an "of course", the only thing I remembered to bring to drink was hot coffee. See - this is what happens when my brain is forced to work before its daily dose of caffeine has kicked in...

There was lots of milling around and waiting, but in all this event ran far more smoothly than the others have (because it was run by the Scottsdale Aquatic Club and this is all they do!) Another change for us was that Parker was not just racing against the kids in the pool with him - like a 'real' even, there were heats and each swim was timed. We didn't know this going in, so his first swim was not his best, but he still got 6th out of 21 swimmers in his age group.

His next two swims, however, were much better! He took first overall in Breaststroke (not his best stroke) and 3rd overall in Butterfly (a stroke I can't even DO, let alone compete in!!) We were all hot, sticky and sweaty but tremendously proud of him!

After that, it was off to the bookstore for the highly awaited BREAKING DAWN book. I finished it, all 756 pages, over the weekend.

So now up for us this week is last minute tying up of loose ends before school begins next week. I was So ready 3 weeks ago for school to start - and now - well, not so much!! Isn't that always how things go??