Archive for October, 2010

Trying

Here it is the end of October and we have survived parent teacher conferences, our first class party, several bouts of the flu, and the first two full months of school. We are now heading into November, the holiday’s and up- coming elections.

I have had dozens of flyers sent to my home this month asking me to vote for one candidate or the other. It is annoying to pull the handful of colorful, bright, professionally photographed and printed flyers from my box each day. It is annoying because I can’t help but wonder how much they cost, and who is paying for that cost?

As the politicians battle on, our life in first grade progressively continues. We are moving from shy individuals to a confident community of learners. We have become accustomed to our routine and find comfort in knowing what is coming next. When something new is presented these children are always up for the challenge, and willing to try again if not accomplished the first time.

 This year’s group is quite different from last years in that they are able to remember what we will be doing, and what is coming up. Last years’ students often had trouble knowing what day of the week it was until we had calendar time, and what we’d doing or where they would be going on a typical day. They would often give up or want things done for them when they could not grasp something from the beginning. They did not want venture forth or try new things.

 I can’t help but wonder how much of that had to do with their home life, the type of life they led once they left my classroom, and the consistency of their parents to be actively involved in their day to day routine and school life.

I am a firm believer in a home/school connection and send home “family involvement” projects every six to nine weeks; besides their nightly reading. The family involvement projects are usually theme based and are suppose to be a time for parent and child to spend together collaborating on a project. Our first project is our “writer’s notebooks.” They are asked to decorate and make them uniquely theirs; they then work together to write about their family inside the notebook. This year every child had one to share. I was thrilled. It said a lot.

 Our second project is always a paper scarecrow that they “dress up” and write a life story for. This year all but one family completed the project. This past year only half of my students had one completed, and many of those were done by the child themselves, not with a parent or adult. But that did not stop me from sending projects home, nor did it not stop me from buying the supplies myself to send home so that hopefully it would be completed. Or from letting a child complete it during recess with items from our room. It did not stop me from wanting them to complete their projects. It did not stop me from helping them feel successful. It did not stop me from trying.

As I read the articles about “Waiting for Superman” and listen to it on the news, or as I listen to our politicians tell us to vote NO for a state question on our ballot this next month that will bring our state’s average of $ per student closer to the national average (we now rank 49th) I can’t help but think of that class from last year. These are the children that need a “superman” not the ones that have the family involvement. These are the children that need the assurance that their school will be there to guide them, to give them structure and routine, to teach them to be a better citizen, better student, and better person. These are the children that need their teachers and schools to show them that there is another way, a better way to live, not just how to read and write. They need us to show them the benefits of trying, of striving for more.   

I don’t know what the right answer is for SQ744 that Oklahoman’s will be voting on next week. I don’t know where the state will find the money. I don’t know who the “superman” will be to save our schools. If politicians spent one day in a classroom, or if they had to come to school with the stories many children carry with them every day from their home-life I hope that they’d want to find the money. I hope that they would want to try. Maybe 744 will make them try.

I can’t help but feel that if our schools had the money that was put into the postage, signs, and flyers that have been mailed from these politicians; we probably wouldn’t have a need for a “superman.”  If the schools were given the money that has been spent on airtime on TV and radios we could have many new text books, desks, chairs, etc.

 We owe it to the children to try. Try to find the money, try to fix the problems in our schools, try to reach as many children as we can, and not just the ones that are blessed enough to have a family to support them, but the ones who don’t know what you can accomplish when you strive for more, want more, need more and aren’t afraid to try.

Time

Time travels and the days flutter by. Change and growth has come to first grade, and yet I try to slow it for just a little while, just time enough to catch my breath and wonder at the transformation happening before me.

It is October already. October has blown in with a chilly wind and sunny days. The leaves have a slight tinge of copper and gold and are falling onto my patio; jacketing my flower pots as if to protect them from what looms ahead. They are troublesome and in the way when I step outside, and make me sneeze. And yet at the same time they are fun to watch, and beneficial for my flowers through the cold winter days ahead. I wish for spring to come early, and then see the beauty of the  colors, and stop to take it in.

Some days in first grade I feel just like the leaves. I’m trying to cover all I need to; scattering myself here and there, all the while feeling that time with this class, these kids, is slipping away from me. My kids have already grown and changed so much. They are quickly becoming readers, writers, scientists, and creative, thoughtful thinkers. I watch in awe.

This year began in a flurry of activity and new challenges. Now as we settle in (as often in life) I see that the things I imagined to be a hindrance are the things I enjoy, and I wish for more of it.  For instance we started the school year with two less planning hours as years before. But now thanks to a parent volunteer we have had one day returned to us. She is taking our kids one hour each Tuesday and teaching music. She does a much better job than I do, but still I can almost feel the edges of resentment lurking in at the loss of this time with my kids. I had become accustomed to my “extra” time and had welcomed it. The parent of course is much better at teaching music, and I am grateful.

This week I will be asking my parents’ permission to show the HBO movie Temple Grandin to my class. We will watch it over three days, and use it as a discussion springboard for “wondering” and thinking outside of the box, in reading, writing and life. It is an extraordinary movie of a woman born in the late forties with autism. We will watch it over three days because it may be too much for them to grasp in one sitting. I do not want to show it because her autism, but because her way of looking at everyday things. I want them to see how the movie portrays her critical thinking skills, her innovation, and ability to persevere even in adversity, and hopefully show that they can too.

This is a true story and a movie that all teachers should see to inspire and remind us; that not all children think the same, react the same, or learn the same way. And that it only takes one parent, one friend, one relative, or one teacher to make a difference in a child’s life.

Today Ms. Grandin is a professor at Colorado State University. She has changed the way many farmers and ranchers think about cattle, the way many large stockyards and slaughter houses think about their business, and the way Dr.’s, families, and people think about children with autism.

On some level her story has changed the way I think about myself, my students, and teaching. We can challenge ourselves and others to do better, be more. We all complain and resent, and yet we love praise and should give praise. We should feel grateful and show gratitude daily. We are all teachers and learners, but we often do it in our own way, and own time. We should acknowledge these differences and embrace them.

I try to actively remember every day that like time and seasons, we all evolve. We all have a story, and can learn from our past as we reach for the future. We are the leaves. At times we are scattered and blowing, circling and covering. We can be a nuisance and in the way, but still be protective, and helpful. We can’t slow time, but we can live in the moment, and at times we may silently yearn for the next season to blow in; but not just yet.