Saturday, January 23, 2010

Creating a "more perfect" union - or at least classroom

Today I made it through the first nine hours of a 45 hour class on SEI training.  I am sitting through these classes, paying my own way through them, just in order to KEEP my job.  Not advance, not get paid more, not change careers or even try for a different position within the same comapny.  No, the way things are set up is that I am considered Highly Qualified to teach my students today, but as of April 3, if I do not finish this class, I will no longer be qualified to teach them and risk being pulled from the classroom.

As if this one series of classes, strewn with techniques and strategies that the instrucutor said point-blank are taken from SPECIAL EDCUATION teachings, will make me a better teacher on April 4th.

But I digress...  One of the topics that came up today is the need for us to create an environment within our schools and class rooms in which students who are learning english will feel safe enough to learn.  We discussed ways in which we can make that happen.  We discussed the notion of celebrating our similarities as well as embracing our differences.

It all sounded warm and fuzzy and you could feel the room collectively think "YES!!  We must find a way to make this happen!"

But there is a problem!  (Isn't there always a problem? If there were not a problem, what on earth would I have to spew about?)  As I pointed out today, in my classroom, as much as I curse it, I am really blessed to be able to do pretty much what I want to do in there with little to no interference.  My students are "the forgotten ones" and people are just so pleased they are not in THEIR rooms when they are with me, that they nearly don't care what I do with them. 

Perhaps I exagerate.  Maybe not..

But the point I made was this - while I have time and resources to do this in MY room, the vast majority of teachers in today's schools have NO TIME to create warm and fuzzy climates in their rooms.  There are standards, and performance objectives and standardized tests to worry about.  There are numbers and pages of data and meetings and threats to be sure your numbers stay up or go higher.  There are, in our 3rd grade math curriculum, for instance, 210 performance objectives that students are supposed to meet within a 180 day school year.  That is only MATH... add Language Arts, Science Social Studies, Art, Music, PE and the 12 school days wasted on TESTING all these objectives and you can quickly understand how students are not learning about the Famous People You Should Know, or understanding the differences or embracing similarities between and among them.  There is simply NO TIME.

So what is the answer?  Arizona ranks 45th out of 51 states (DC counts) in terms of education.  We in SUSD have adopted EveryDay Math as our Math program.  I think, personally, this is indicitive of the problem - EDM takes a "paint with a broad brush" approach to teaching math concepts.  Sure, my 1st grader was learning about permieter and area, and sure he was introduced to fractions and decimals, but what we should be asking is 'can he add?  does he know his math facts"?  The broad brush approach is fine if you want to produce "Jacks of all trades, masters of none" - but is that what we want?

  • Lower the performance objective count.
  • Reduce the number of benchmarks on which you measure failure (It should be success, but we know they are looking at failure, not success)
  • Ensure mastery of the POs you DO have before allowing the students to progress - in other words, make sure they know what they are doing first before you introduce something new.  Do NOT assume "They will get it eventually" because many of them DON"T!
  • Push all students to excel at their ability.
  • Assess students at their ability level.. do not assume a student who entered the states in September can take a high-stakes test in English in April, or, if you are functioning at a 2nd grade reading level in 6th grade because you have a learning disability, allow that child to test where he/she is functiong.  Putting a 6th grade reading test in front of them is like asking me to go back and re-read L'Etranger in French - I may recognize some words, but will miss the whole point of the novel.
  • And maybe, MAYBE, then you will have time to teach them how to be citizens of the world.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Insanity is heriditary; you get it from your kids.

This saying always made me laugh.  My mother had one of those little embroidered pillows with this saying on it that she kept in her bedroom. It was not until I had children of my own that I realized just how true those words are!

I ask myself frequently, why am I completely exhausted by the time I get to work.  I go through my morning step by step; Coffee? Check.. Shower? Check.  Dressed? Check.  Kids up? Check.  Matthew's lunch count? Check. Beds made? Check.  I  manage to somehow get it all done, but why am I always rushing around like a madman on speed?  I get up at 6am, we don't have to leave until 7:55, so surely two hours is plenty of time, right?

Here is why I can not make it out of the house either on time, or with my sanity in tact.  Two days ago, I walk down to the kitchen after getting myself ready for school/work to find the following: Christopher still eating his breakfast, Parker dressed and watching TV, Matthew in his underwear, eating. He needs to get dressed, and cover for his breakfast, and find his shoes, and locate his back pack, and gather up what ever homework has been strewed all over the family room, and Chris still needs shoes and a jacket.

We have FOUR minutes until we need to leave the house. FOUR.  The boys were all up at 7am.  We are inches away from YOUMUSTBEREADYTOLEAVETHEHOUSENOW time, and only 1/3 of my children has the necessary tasks complete.

This is why I am crazy.  This is why I am considered a "bad witch" by the time I get to school.  It is heriditary.  I get it from THEM!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Concessions to "the list"

After debate and dialogue, I have added six athletes to "the list", which is now 205 people long.  All of you who mentioned Jackie Robinson were right, there is no way that I could, in good conscious toward civil rights as well as the integrity of baseball, leave out Jackie Robinson. 

He is joined by Arthur Ashe, Billy Jean King, Lou Gehrig, "Shoeless" Joe Jackson and Babe Ruth. 

As always, open for suggestions for this grouping.  So far, my students seem to have bought into it and are anxiously looking up their people.  The first "reports" will be presented on Friday.  I will keep you posted!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Shocked and appalled, once again

Last week I decided to change things up a bit in my classroom.  I am sick and tired of hearing kids call each other Racist or Bigot, and then hurl racial slurs themselves.  They have no idea what some of those terms mean to folks older, and when you get down to it, they are not even using the terms correctly in the first place, which bothers me greatly, too.

So we spent a week on Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement.  That was when I noticed something that was shocking and truly bothersome.  The students all knew who MLK was, most had heard of Rosa Parks, but none knew Malcom X, or Mother Theresa, they all know Michael Jackson and Michael Jordon, but could not say why they knew Benjamin Franklin.  They had heard of Thomas Jefferson, but not Thomas Hooker, or Thomas Paine.

I thought we had a little work to do... so I devised a plan, one that I hope to use, going forward, with all my classes.  If you are a teacher and you like this idea, please feel free to steal it and make it your own!  What I am doing is this:  I am building a list.  The list is by no means comprehensive in nature, and I hope it never stops growing.  Every week, each student will pick 1 person from that list, and answer 5 questions about that person: When did they live, Where are they from, What did they do, Why should we care, and What impact did their actions have on society.  They each will give a 2 minute presentation on their Famous Person.  My goal is two fold.. they will meet those all important Content Standards in research, historical figures, and speaking in public, and hopefully have a greater sense of the world.  Perhaps my goals are lofty, too lofty for a group of middle school special ed kids, but hopefully not.

I asked some of my students for help compiling the list.  It started out with about 80 names and now has over 180!!  I am going to attempt to post the list here, and if you can think of folks we have left off, please let me know! (Note, please, very few entertainers, musicians made the list for a reason.  Absolutely no athletes.)

Adolf Hitler       Al Gore     Albert Einstein     Alexander Graham Bell      Alexander the Great 
Alfred Nobel       Amelia Earheart         Andrew Carnegie     Andy Warhol       Anne Frank   
Annie Oakley       Annie Sullivan         Anwar Sadat    Aristotle     Attila the Hun    Ayatollah Khomeini    Barry Goldwater     Ben Franklin    Ben Verene    Benito Mussilini    Betsy Ross   Bill Gates   
Bing Crosby    Bishop Desmond Tutu    Bob Hope     Bobby Kennedy    Booker "T" Washington    Buddah    Buffalo Soldiers    Buzz Aldrin    Carl Jung    Ceasar Chavez    Charles Darwin
Charles Manson    Christa MacAuliffe    Chuck Yeager    Cleopatra    Confucius   Dali Lama  
 Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleyev       Dr. Ruth Simmons      Duke Ellington   E. B White    Easy Company"    Ed Sullivan    Edgar Cayce    Eleanor Roosevelt    Eli Whitney    Elizabeth Blackwell  
 Elizabeth Cady Stanton    Emmet Till    Eunice Kennedy Shriver    Fidel Castro    Florence Nightingale    Frank Sinatra    Frank Zamboni    Fredrick Douglass    Galileo    Genghis Khan   
George Washington Carver      Georgia O'Keeffe    Geronimo    Ghandi   Gloria Steinem    Golda Meir   Hannibal      Harriet Beecher Stowe     Harry Belefonte    Harry Houdini    Hellen Keller
Henry Ford    Herbert Hoover    Hideki Tojo     Hiro Hito     Hmong     Idi Amin    Imelda Marcos
Indira Ghandi    J. Edgar Hoover    J. Robert Oppenheimer    Jack the Ripper   Jacqueline Kennedy
James Earl Ray    Jane Addams    Jim Crow     Joan of Arc     Johan Sebastian Bach
John D Rockefeller    John F. Kennedy   John Hancock    John Muir    John Wilkes Booth
Johnny "Appleseed"Chapman    Johnny Carson    Jonas Salk      Joseph Stalin   Julius Ceasar
Karl Marx    Laura Ingalls Wilder      Lee Harvey Olswold    Leonardo DiVinci
Lief Erickson    Louis Armstrong      Louis Farrakhan     Louissa May Alcott
Ludvig Von Beethoven     Madame Curie    Malcom X    Mao Tse Tung    Marc Antony
Marco Polo     Margaret Thatcher      Marie Antoinette      Mark Twain      Martin Luther
Martin Luther King, JR    Mary Queen of Scots     Mary Todd Lincoln    Medgar Evers
Million Man March"      Moses      Mother Theresa      Napoleon Boneparte     Neil Armstrong
Nelson Mandela      Nero Ceasar Agustus      Noah Porter      Noah Webster      Orville & Wilbur Wright
Oskar Schindler     Pablo Picasso     Pancho Villa     Patrick Henry     Patty Hearst    Paul Revere
Percy Shelley    Pierre-August Renoir    Plato    Pol Pot      Princess Diana Spencer
Queen Elizabeth I      Queen Victoria     Raymond Albert Kroc      Richard Nixon
Robert E Lee      Ruth Bader Ginsburg      Sacajewea      Saddam Huessein      Sally Hemmings
Sally Kristen Ride    Salvador Dali      Samuel Adams      Samuel de Champlain
Sandra Day O'Connor      Shirley Chisolm      Sigmund Freud      Sir Alexander Flemming
Sir Issac Newton     Sirhan Sirhan    Sojourner Truth    Sonia Sotomayor    Spartacus
Steve Jobs    Susan B. Anthony    Ted Bundy    The Brother's Grimm    The Reverend Moon
Theodore Roosevelt    Thomas Edison     Thomas Hooker    Thomas Paine    Thurgood Marshall
Toni Morrison   Tony Blair   Tuskagee Airmen   Typhoid Mary   Uylesses S. Grant
Vincent Van Goh   Vladimir Lenin    W. E. B. DuBois     Walter Cronkite
William Faulkner      Winston Churchill     Woodward & Bernstien

Friday, January 15, 2010

Is it too much to ask?

Is it too much to ask that the Realtor show up when they make the appointment?  (And we knock ourselves out cleaning the house?)

Is it too much to ask that they call when they can't make it?  Or if their client changes their mind?

Is it too much to ask that my children do what I've asked them to do, every day, repeatedly, without me having to yell?

Is it too much to ask that my two older children brush their teeth without needing to be reminded every single day?

Is it too much to ask that there be a time frame of more than a few hours between the "zits" and "wrinkles" phase of life, or that they at least not happen simultaneously?

Is it too much to ask of my sons' feet that they at least wait a month before outgrowing their brand new shoes?

I suppose the answer to all of these questions is "yes"....

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Back at it, after this brief intermission

I caved in yesterday to the bug that caught me last weekend, and I stayed home today.  I could have probably gone into school, I could have muddled through the day, sniffling, coughing and sneezing myself through my classes.  I decided, instead, to try to get ahead of this thing by staying home rather than try to play catch-up by pushing myself into work.  I am glad I cut myself some slack, because I think a day off, without children, without commitments, was exactly what I needed.

It's been a rough two nights, with my head feeling as if it might blow up from the pressure, and my throat so raw it hurt to breathe.  I was happy to take it easy, lounge around in my sweats for the morning.  Yeah, if you know me well, you know that last part only lasted until about 8:45 this morning!!  I spent most of they day cleaning, scrubbing, vacuuming, and mopping.  I also did a huge load of laundry.  I wrote a bit and took a nap.  Even went to pick the boys up from school and had dinner in the oven in time to eat at 5:45. 

If only I could do this every day.....

Steve is away at a conference this week, and its been really hard on the boys having him gone.  Who am I kidding, it is hard on me too... I have the utmost respect for single parents, because it is NOT an easy gig!  While things do seem to go more smoothly when Steve is away (We stick to schedules like glue, and I become the Master Sargent of the Jensen house!) it is hard to be all things to everyone.

One thing I was able to do today that brought me joy was to write.  I think I added about 2000 words to my story, and am now at a crossroad with my characters.  It will be interesting to see how things end up, because even though I think I am the one in charge of the story, I find that when I start writing, my characters seem to have minds of their own, pesky little buggers that they are!

Sounds a little like raising kids, doesn't it?

Now it is back to the grindstone and work.  Three more days is all I have to muster through, just three.  This weekend we will complete the reclaimation project and put Christmas completely away for another 11 months.  Maybe by next week I will feel as if I have found my grove again.  Here's to hoping!

Sunday, January 03, 2010


I am not ready to go back to work tomorrow.  Not one little bit, not in the least.  We have started the reclaimation project, and all that is left are the outside lights and the tree itself. (Note to self, those cardboard boxes with the dividers a 12-pack of beer come in work great to hold ornaments.  Need an excuse to go crazy buying beer??)  We've cut into and eaten Matthew's cake, and there are Legos strewn about all over the house.  The wrapping has been recycled, the boxes broken down, the Thank You notes written.

Christmas is over.

I am sitting in my living room, looking at my rather anemic tree, listening to the boys (there are 5 of them outside, 3 of mine and two neighbors) playing their own game with a soccer ball that they are lofting at each other like a football.  Even Christopher has gotten into the game.    There are laughs and yells (the good kind) and cheers bouncing back and forth between the houses.  It is good.

And it is over.  I felt as if I was spinning my wheels to get ready for Christmas, then we spent such a truly wonderful holiday together, and then we whisked ourselves away to Disney where we spun a bit more... then home and more spinning to get things cleaned and put away.  I feel as though I have not stopped spinning.  Even though, for the last two days, I have physically done very little, I am exhausted and feel as if I have not rested.  Have I spent enough time enjoying what is going on around me?  Have I really taken it in?  How on earth will I manage to get my sorry, tired tush out of bed before 6am tomorrow?

In all liklihood, this is our last Christmas in this house.  I am generally OK with that, but when I really think about it, what it means is there sits out there, somewhere in the future, the unknown of change.  Change can be, and will be good, but change is change, and that means not knowing.  Will the boys find other boys with whom they can play and make up their own games?  Most likely, but it is not guaranteed.  But then, is anything?

I guess I am really more contemplative and meloncholy than sad.  It has been a really nice two weeks.  I just could really use just one more....

Saturday, January 02, 2010


Also known as a Non-Scale Victory!!

I have lost about 21 pounds since the start of 2009, and while I have a way to go before I get to my Happy Weight, and even though the scale has not BUDGED in nearly a month, I do have a small victory to share...

New Jeans!

Levi's (have not worn them since I was in college, and even then, they didn't fit me all that well)

Photographic Proof:

Still a bit snug around my ample thighs, but I'm pleased nonetheless!!

Friday, January 01, 2010

Another year older, but are we wiser?

They say that with age comes wisdom.  I am now officially "in my 40s", at the ripe old age of 41, and wonder when, if ever, that wisdom will show itself.  Really... I'm waiting anxiously.  I could use some of that stuff!!!

While Wisdom may be ellusive, boldness seems to be arriving right on schedule.  I went out into the madding crowd yesterday with Christopher in tow to buy 3 things.  I needed some new jeans, some 'unmentionables' and I wanted to get a cake for today... my birthday.  We went to Kierland Commons, a local shopping area with very upper end shops, and plenty of snotty customers gracing said shops... but they have all the stores I needed in one place, and I was too exhausted to drive all over town.

Parking was more horrific than it was before Christmas, what with all the last minute "get this stuff out of here before we have to count it for Inventory!" sales going on.  I circled no fewer than 4 times before I spotted someone getting into their car.  I put on my blinker, and I waited.  Patiently, I might add....

As the car was pulling out, an older couple began crossing the street in front of me, so I was forced to wait.  While I was waiting, with my blinker on, and these old folks crossing the street in front of me, a woman in a Lexus SUV dashed around my left side, narrowly missing the older couple, and STOLE MY PARKING SPOT!

I was incensed.  I called her all sorts of wicked names, including names I detest.  I was bold enough to pull up along side her, and sat there, waititng like a lion.  She finally realized there was another person in her world, and rolled down her window.  I told her "I was waiting for that spot!  I had my blinker on and everything.. I was waiting for the two old people you nearly hit to cross the street!"

Her reply??  As she was deftly applying makeup to her finely Collagen-ed lips, and checking her coiffed hair, was "Oh, welll..."

I hate North Scottsdale for a multitude of reasons.  This lady, and I use the term euphomistically, embodies nearly every single reason!

I left her a note on her car.  I refrained from using the word which I detest, but so clearly sums up my feelings toward this self-important piece of work... but I did call her a self absorbed b*tch and hoped that the next time she was so rude and careless about laws like PEDESTRIANS HAVING THE RIGHT OF WAY, there would be a cop there to throw her rich,  entitled ass in jail!