Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Spotlight on Drama?

"There's no business like show business,
There's no business I know.
Everything about it is appealing..."
In the four middle schools at which I've recently subbed, only one has a "drama class" elective. Some have "Art", some have "Instrumental Music". None have all three. What a shame. These are the ages that kids are beginning to blossom in their personalities and can be the most "dramatic" and expressive "artistically and/or musically". Instead in most of these schools they are scheduled to the minute and shuffled around to seven 50 minute periods with only the briefest of breaks in between. They are required to be there at the "crack of dawn" almost, when, as adolescents, their "juices" might get flowing alittle later.

That first period class is anywhere from 7:50AM to 8:05AM has them staggering in almost "zombie-like". They sit strictly divided on the floor of the double-sized drama room very quietly. As the day progresses, the groups of 35 plus warm up to each other and sit (on the floor) intermixed. They then are much more interactive and even confrontational (dramatically). It then becomes a challenge, as a teacher, (sub drama coach) just to get and keep their continued attention for more than 5 minutes. Fortunately I have a few "tricks" from my former "drama-coaching" days. I love to use and comment on their dramatic individualities and personalities. i.e. answering to the the roll call with a different verbal/nonverbal response from the previous student. doing verbal dexterity exercises for their upcoming "voice-over" skits (with mic) having them "give notes" to their peers that are positive and responsible.

The regular drama teacher was not sick but "paniced" with an upcoming "tech rehearsal" that the "Drama Club" (after school) wasn't really ready for. They had had to miss a week of school due to storms/damage to the local schools. She is a great, well loved drama teacher and each year strives to put on two "musicals" (Fall and Spring) ("Annie Jr. & Tom Sawyer") She does a "business" and usually raises lots of money from it and before it. She involves lots of parents/volunteers and generates a ton of goodwill and PR for the school. However, yesterday I had to give her some time to "unload" to me about the lack of support from the school administration personnel. They won't even get her an in-tune piano, rented or bought. She raises the money and it has to go into the general fund. Athletics still takes presidence over all other extra curricular activities, then instrumental music. There is also an appalling lack of cooperation and team work among skill-related fellow teachers. i.e. music/art/ Lang. Arts They don't want their "classrooms messed up" or available "after hours".

First thing, over the all-school P.A. comes the Pledge of Allegiance, led by an "anonymous adult". Then comes the day's and week's announcements and promotions for "fund raisers" and contests etc. also done by an "anonymous adult". It all seems very hurried and business-like, not to "waste too much time" from first period. Where are the ASB student leaders and their enthusiasm? They could be coached on their "voice-over" mic skills by the drama teacher who, by the way, is teaching that very skill right now. Other Middle Schools in the area have that going at least. These formative years are so trying and hard for some kids socially and emotionally that it seems a no brainer to have them work on and practice these necessary skills with "room for goofing up" Screw the schedule! No wonder so many are hyper, up tight and increasingly hard to focus for more than 5 minutes. Reorganize the day to five or six periods that are slightly longer and allow time for more in depth, personality-developing activities and peer evaluation and coaching. They are more interested in that anyway. Scan-tron tests are quick and easy to grade, process and report on,(to the public) but what are they doing to our youth and our culture's future? RRR

Friday, October 26, 2007

Displaced Kinder

I was alittle excited yesterday because I was finally getting to go to an elementary school that I had missed so far. They had the jobs but always called too late to be do-able. This was an early call (5:AM) and it was a Kindergarten...piece of cake, right? Wrong. It was quite different and rather depressing and frustrating.

The buses arrive late at this outlying site and so school doesn't start until 9AM. I was supposed to be there at 8:20AM. I set out at 7:55AM and then realized, in my excitement, that I had forgotten my badge. You've got to have a badge nowdays to get on campus. Security is tight. So, having never worked there before, I wasn't quite sure of the best and fastest way to get there. I called them on my cell at 8:20 and said I was on my way, in the area and was I correct so far in my off ramps and streets. Yes, but it was very hard to hear. The parking lot was full so I had quite a walk to the office.

Here again the school was being "retro-fitted" and it was totally in the state of fenced-off construction, holes, dirt piles, noise, and kids and teachers routed around it all. My K room was the farthest away portable next to a big mound of filler dirt that a "bob-cat" (mini back hoe/scooper) was periodically moving throughout the day. We closed the door to no avail.

This was another AM/PM double K with two teachers. The AM teacher barely greeted me and not cordially, "Are you full or half-day?"


"Well, I'm going on a field trip this morning with mine and your's don't arrive until 11:40."

"No problem, how can I help you now?"

She proceeded to give me some "seat work prep" for the upcoming Halloween themed days. (mostly stapling and folding) She told me my aide would arrive at 10AM and could further help me prepare for mine. There was a typed "lesson plan" but it was rather sketchy and incomplete. Then we got a phone call from the actual teacher I was replacing and she tried to fill in some of the gaps. Her real reason for calling was to get the phone numbers of certain kid's moms who she was going to have to reschedule for conferencing or tutoring. I noticed the remains of a subbing summary from the previous Tuesday. Yesterday, Wednesday, she had been there to take her PM's on the same field trip to the "Pumpkin Patch". The aide later told me she hoped she wasn't having problems with her new home and the recent firestorms or with financial restructuring. Her voice did sound a bit stressed on the phone.

I was having problems finding all the materials for what she wanted done and the aide wasn't able to help much either. Her desk was a mess and so much of what was suggested again was "paper/crayon/pencil" heavy. The aide said to wait until the other teacher came back from the field trip and ask her. That made me feel a bit better and so I proceeded to set up some "alternate plans" of my own just in case...good thing...

The other teacher came back and was very cool, almost hostile toward me, the plans, what I did etc. I'm guessing she was miffed at the other teacher for "abandoning her" and was taking it out on me and "my kids". Her responses were brief if not curt and dismissive. She went to lunch and I was left to my own devises with the "aide" (bilingual) doing workbook prep in the back. So I forged on ahead and did the best I could to follow the plan and when in doubt...add my own...interests, specialties...biases etc. This would be music(Eng./Espanol) and math/lang. games. i.e. We counted the "days of school" (now 41) with pennies, not tiny paper clips on a distant wall. We sang and played the "Magic Penny Song and Game". They loved it but some had trouble counting their actual pennies past "one". Relating counting to actual things in sequence was still a challenge...forget knowing their left from their right.

I asked for help explaining the "centers" which were called for in the lesson plan and got no involvement or help from the other teacher who was busy on the computer and the phone calling non-cooperative hispanic parents. They were ignoring or refusing notes coming home because they weren't in Spanish too. The non-Spanish-speaking principal had refused (as illegal) this dual way of trying to get their participation in the school. This is usually not a problem at the K level.

The kids wanted things to be like they always were with their real teacher but they weren't and I wasn't getting any help to make them so from the teacher or the aide. ie. switching centers procedure, when and how. So, I forged ahead again...making sure they all had the "Magic Penny" game and a souvenir penny. Then I went to the math table and helped read the directions to those left there. The other teacher was three feet away and couldn't care less what they did.

I realized I was spoiled with my other K class and how well those AM/PM teachers worked together and helped each other for the good of their mutual kids.

Necessity being the "father" of invention...I came up with an "Rr" song for the letter of the day after the story in the big book (I couldn't find) and my own grandson's book on dogs, and a puppet show with "Tuggles" the Drug Fighting Bear. (yes, drug ed at this level) His message today especially to those who remembered to bring their "shades" (sunglasses) "Shade out drugs" "Stop and Think" This kids bearly (pun intended) knew what the lesson was about so we did some other "Stop and Think" activities i.e. crossing the street "Stop, Think, Look left, look right, look left again" and balloon ball...Stop and think before you throw it to your friend (the name you called out) They loved it all. The aide had long since left and the "uninvolved co-teacher" continued to ignore us. She did stop long enough to find the drug stickers in her desk drawer so I could pass them out at the end of the day, instead, as the plan suggested, in the middle.

I then walked six kids to their buses on the other side of the campus and she, reluctantly stayed with the remaining to be picked up at the door. The bus scene was chaos and the "principal" changed her tone of voice when she saw I was a sub, just observing, and was "without a clue" as to what to do. There was, overall a lack of joy or care with all the adults I observed dealing with the kids. Must've been the stress of the fires and air quality. This district kept open this whole disaster week, their neighbor district closed the whole week.

When I got back to the room the other teacher had already started her tutoring. "We wear many hats here," was her quote. One student hadn't been picked up and was near tears.

"Has your student left yet?" I checked, nope still there.

"Shall I take her up to the office to have them call?"

"No, I'll handle it."

"Is there anything else I can do for you in my time remaining?"

"No, I can handle it." (as a whole group of older students were dumped on her to watch)

Too bad for her, she didn't know, they used to be my specialty. RRR

Saturday, October 13, 2007

What was new again.

This week I finally had the opportunity to work at this district's oldest school twice. Then I ended the week by working at its newest school. Comparisons and contrasts follow here.
First of all the setting for the oldest school was tree-lined and I mean big, old peppers. Beautiful. It is also on a divide city lane that is being widened. It was hard to park around the school what with all the drop off traffic and buses. First I was placed in a portable 1st grade. No problem except that the cooler weather had triggered the heater and it was too hot and humid in the room. I called for the custodian and we opened some windows until the district A/C men could be called. The other problem? was that this very neat and organized teacher had placed those plug-in room deodorizers all around the room and it was overwhelming at first...sort of a pine scent. Other than that, we had alot of fun with two switches AM and PM with other classes to make an effort at individualization. In the AM, I had two aides who came in and took small groups of 5 or 6 without a word to me about what or who. They seemed to know what they were doing. We did phonics analysis and primer reading together and I, for the first time, cracked out my "penlight" for highlighting the syllables, blends and sounds. It helped to focus these easily distractible 6 year olds. We also reinforced with mucho Espanol. I taught the rhymes I remembered for "la semana" etc.
This group also seemed very well adjusted to the program and knew/corrected me when I strayed creatively. They did like our song we made up, sang and memorized about the school. This is my signature move now at all the elementaries I attend/sub. This one was done to the tune of the "B-I-N-G-O" song with the name of the school spelled out. They loved it with the hand claps. We even had a scheduled P.E. i.e. run around the track for 10 mins. (I walked with them, "but teacher, you stay back there and watch us..." that would be no fun) Then the rest of the time on the new, jungle jim. I was impressed with this teacher's organization and use of chant for learning.
The next half day I was in the old wing of this old school. This was a much bigger room with a higher ceiling. This was a third grade and much more capable. I was warned about certain boy students but had no trouble and used their energy. One was a continuously sketching artist and gave me several drawings. This teacher, a L.A. mentor in the district, was very open to me doing my music and things and she had scheduled the weekly "music teacher" to come in for 40 mins. and work with their "flut-a-phones", actually small "recorders" in plastic bags. I was jazzed because I always bring mine in my uke case. Not to fast there...she, the "music teacher," had planned a "test" w/o names to see what they had retained about the "notation" of music. They hadn't learned the finger positions for more than 4 notes on the instruments and she was checking their comprehension/memory of "Every Good Boy Does Fine and F A C E" the lines and spaces of the treble cleft. She also wanted to know if they knew the whole note and the half note in writing, not in practice. She was very serious and emitted "no joy" in the process. She told me she had over 200 students in the district like this and went from class to class as a former "orchestra teacher" The kids were so disappointed they didn't get to play their tooters so after she left, we did. I played BINGO for them and they realized they hadn't learned those fingers yet. The music teacher was not open to any of my suggestions, which were few and in the form of questions. So my wish/dream that more music be taught in the schools again, was somehow tarnished and diminished with the introduction of her and her methods. Too bad.
Then, I finally got an invitation to the newest school (elementary) in the district, just opened this year. The floor plan was almost an exact copy of three other newer school in the district. However, this school had a big grass field on a lower level that the kids were actually allowed to use, even during recess. This first grade teacher was also testing and only needed me for half day. She lived in the area where the school was and was very enthusiastic about the school, the area etc. Her kids were darling and so helpful with the routines. They loved to tattle on each other and we worked on that, as ususal. What was new, unique and very educational about this teacher's regular routine was that so much of her early phonics and phonetics drill and trainings was not only chanted but "danced to" and "cheered to" The kids were really into it and taught me alot. The girls were better at it and took the lead. They also enjoyed helping me make up a new "School Song" for them to the tune of "This Land is Your Land". It just fit syllable-wise. This room, obviously had all the "modern conveniences" and computers, electronics etc. and yet she was going back to "kinesthetic learning modalities" Kudoes to her. I'd like to see more of this with this aged child. Muscle memory is so much a part of what we retain...even in Language Arts. RRR

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Retro-Unfit Learning?

I had quite an active week subbing this last week. I worked 4 out of 5 days and the free day, Monday, I volunteered at my favorite Kindergarten class. By week's end I was really tired and it showed as I tried to manage a "Lang. Arts/Social Studies" post at a local Intermediate School. They were two groups of 30+ sixth graders in a school that responds to them like adolescent "Jr. Hi'ers" (so they act like it) and they are not using their "academic skills" at the 4th-5th grade level. It was very depressing to see what passes for "education" there nowdays.

I had avoided going to this school once before by declining a 1/2 class while the other half was on a field trip. Guess which half was staying behind. I'm not seeking those kind of challenges anymore. This was a Friday assignment and usually the kids are even higher on that day. Fortunately I got there early and talked with the teacher. He was making "lesson plans" on stickies. It wasn't going to be hard: the final weekly spelling test, a quiz on a chapter already read? and a drawing/labeling of ship from the story. Then we'd have some "fun free time"...yeah, right! There is always a few at this level that do their best to do as little as possible and annoy (one of the spelling words) everyone around them including me. They do this by arguing and contradicting almost everything that is suggested. "Do I have to do that?" (I just want to do the minimum) They say this in so many ways but first of all with their body language. It was as though they were performing an expected "role" for each other. Then there were attempted "kick me signs" and the throwing of trash bits and snatching books from each other. Oh, it is a challenge to just stay somewhat "civil" in combating all this so the majority can get their work done and actually be instructed on how to do it better.

Of course the condition of the room and the teacher's desks didn't help. They were a "big give away" as to what kind of room it was when I walked in. First of all, I unlocked and walked in the "back" door...which was a "no-no". "We don't use that door." Desks were blocking it in straight rows. The front "captain's" desk and big cushy leather chair were the teacher's mess...and I mean mess. Paper and debris all over it and not in real stacks either. Some piles were being corrected? and had a rock paper weight on it, on top of an overhead projector, on top of a chair. A box of colorer pencils were on the floor for the "art work" later. There was a thick layer of dust on the big TV and DVD player on a big viewing cart nearby. There were some faded posters around the walls of a motivational? nature and two bulletin boards in the back with "student work" (writings) from the recent past. The back desk was occupied with a new computer from which the teacher could access emails to 50% of the parents to warn them of grades coming home soon and assignments not turned in. He was unsuccessfully trying to see if he had had any responses from the 30 email he had sent the previous night. He didn't really apologize for the state of the room but simply said that they were, "overdue for a retro-fit" as many of the the old buildings were in this district. There was a small A/C unit in one of the windows. I had worked last week at a school that was going through the process (retro-fit)primarily for earthquake prep with fenced-off buildings, noise, const. mess and all classes in portables around the edge of the campus. He was looking forward to this and wasn't planning to do much until it happened.

This had to effect the student's? attitude toward learning and the importance of it and how it prepared them for the future job market. But when you are 12+ and "cool" you aren't looking that far ahead. You are asking if you can go to lunch early. Many didn't come with a pencil and just sat there proclaiming it. I guess they thought I was going to bring them one...wrong! Like they were doing me a favor to even try to do the assignment. So...once again...I had to get "grumpy" as I like to call it and raises my voice. I had worn my "Grumpy Dwarf Hat" just for this reminder. I told them it was to remind me not to get...G r u m p y. But good luck with that. What I did do was challenge the "civil members" of the two core classes that if they could think of the 7 names of the dwarves, I'd give them a "good report" big deal! Only one even tried at the end of the period. She got them all except "Dopey and Bashful".

The basic words for the weekly spelling test were on the "ou" "au" "oi" dipthongs. Is this 6th grade? We tried some "bee activity" by having each sequentially spell out a word one letter per person at a time. We almost went through the whole class before getting one right. They were just not used to paying attention to one thing that long. (the length of a spelled out word) Sad, I know. It is just not a "value" for them right why are we trying to do it? The story from their reading/SS book was about an old "square-rigger" ship and a girl trying to survive as a crew member on it...again, not much interest. Drawing a ship with labels did appeal to some, especially the boys. One girl stole a better sketch from my desk and was copying it...I let her, but said, "Next time, ask when you take something from the teacher's desk."

They perked up a bit when I offered to play my CD of Ben Harper, former English student of mine. They hadn't really heard of him. They liked the album cover picture of his group, "The Innocent Criminals" One class even got to use the 20 Q's globe and that fascinated many. It was able to guess their subjects (nouns) "A Pit Bull" and "A Motocross(motorcycle)" In lines going to and from the room, they are so busy dis-ing each other that they have to be stopped and yelled at (whistled at) by the yard proctors dressed in bright green vests. They are used to getting tough, and talking that way too.

What are they really learning from all this regimentation and institutionalization at such an early age? Might is right? Threat is supreme? Class behavior is to push the limit and do as little as possible under duress? Is there a better way to "retro-fit" these future citizens of our illustrious society? I think there is, but we don't have the money or the means to do it. They respond to individual attention and electronic/computer learning. We need to make more of this kind of learning of Lang. Arts (English) and Math, non-social for them and non-performing for others. The majority would respond and are, even now, trying to respond. But it is ruined by the few who want to have the negative attention which may be all they are used to from home. It is a sad, blue, dismal, unfit future I'm afraid. I loaned the teacher a copy of my "Readers' Theater" plays of the the ancient Greeks and Romans i.e. "Prometheus Bound" etc. and he was interested too. Maybe these "actor/acter-outers" could get into these ancient themes, their "choruses" and learn from a previous civilization what happens to "iconoclasts" "rebels" and "sociopaths" that we still seem to have with us. Can we learn from History? RRR