Thursday, February 21, 2008

Dual Emersion?

I No, this is not a blog post on baptism or scuba diving. It is not about the childish prank of "dunking" in the backyard pool. It is a practice I recently experienced which, I think, is just a ludicrous and archaic as the above word images evoke. It is still happening in our schools at all levels, and I'm not talking about swimming class or water polo. I can see the surface reasons for it, but, submerged, it is an iceberg that is disceptive and has many hidden agendas and consequences for learning our first language, English.

This time I was at a Kindergarten, probably in the oldest building in the city. It was not an oversized room, just a standard classroom that had to house both A.M. and P.M. classes of 20 each. It had two teachers who were not there that day. One was designated the "bilingual" teacher (P.M group) and the other was probably also bilingual but had the "traditional" class in the morning. They didn't overlap in anyway. They came and went separately and the teachers were hardly expected to interact since they had different students. There were two Aides who were also bilingual (Hispanic). They were in charge of the "paperwork", homework packets, home-going announcements, paper correcting and clean-up. One Aide, the P.M. one, had to take over and actually "teach" the Spanish lesson for the day since that sub, even though she had a Hispanic sirname, didn't speak Spanish. All during the A.M. session she hid in the back of the room at the teacher's desk, reading a novel. She was uninvolved in the class dynamics. I was expected to do the same thing during the P.M. session.

Well, I couldn't. After I had my lunch, I couldn't help but listen in. Pretty soon I was sitting in the room in a soft, deep rocking chair, just "observing". Then I went to one of the three kidney-shaped helping tables where they are sent for their "centers" time. This was during the Spanish lesson teaching the the initial sound blend "ch" and all the Spanish words that the kids could think of that start with that sound. Finally, I raised my hand and verbally volunteered "chimichonga". The Aide had to explain it to the kids because most didn't know what one was having never gone to a traditional "Mexican Restaurant". At the end of the session, when they were all packed up with their backpack to be picked up and "signed out", I called out "Adios mi chaparitas!" The Aide smiled.

During the "Centers Time", the only time they were allowed off the "communal lecture carpet", (yep, that's right, Kindergarters and no "free play time") they were all supposed to do the same "seatwork" about Spanish decoding, circle, X-out, or cut out and paste various letters and pictures etc. The Math assignment was rather tricky for Kindergarteners. The other sub (a first-year teacher without a "hire" yet) and the Hispanic Aide couldn't figure it out, especially in the "Second Language" While the kids were out for an extended recess, I was able to figure it out and prepare the three tables for it. It involved, in Spanish, comparative measuring lengths of different colored swatches with segmented, plastic blocks and then graphing them on a "bar graph" with that same color. THIS IS NOT A BEGINNING MATH ASSIGNMENT YOU GIVE TO STUDENTS WHO ARE JUST STARTING TO FEEL CONFIDENT "COUNTING" FORWARDS, NOT BACKWARDS, IN ENGLISH, LET ALONE SPANISH. Few kids got it at my table and one or two were sent to me from the other tables by the Aide and the other Sub for further explanation EN ESPANOL. I had to ask for some key words but I finally got it done with a combination of English and Spanish and most seemed to understand and do it. Unfortunately, all our time was taken up with it and we had no time to "Sing" with the Spanish-speaking kids at the end. (a request from the other Sub after listening to me with the A.M. group) I have several songs in Spanish that I love to sing with kids.

What I also noticed was that the 90% Spanish-speaking Aide had to revert to speaking a rather forceful English whenever the kids were not getting it or not paying attention. It was like a "punishment" for not "listening or understanding" it seemed. They kids were directed and "talked at" for 95% of the time by one adult or another. I later learned that this Aide went to this old school as a kid herself twenty years ago. "Nothing has changed", she said. (nada se cambio?)

I guess the reasons are mainly economic. I'd say they are also the ease of running it that way. But is it REALLY DUAL EMERSION? I think not. The English speakers are not challenged or asked to speak or understand Spanish and the visa-versa. They are kept separate. Music and recitation (poetry) would be two ways to bring them together. In this way they would both "value" each other's language and customs. In this way the dominant language, English, could be emphasized and phased into with more respect and "romance". The suborinate language, Spanish coud be equally valued and sung about so they wouldn't forget it. Right now, poor kids, they are just more mixed up. Que Lastima! RRR

Friday, February 15, 2008


This next week my local school districts have taken the whole week off calling it "President's Week". This is new to me. This is not "Spring Break" or Easter Vacation Week but extra. They also take a week off at Thanksgiving now. I guess they add it all on at the end or beginning of the school year calendar. (when it is usually "beastly hot"...but now all rooms have A/C) Anyway, in preparation for this "Patriotic Week" this one school's 5th graders were being asked to memorize and perform, en masse, the Preamble to the Constitution of Our Country and "God Bless the U.S.A." (also known as "Proud to be an American") I subbed at one of these 5th Grade Classes this week and feel very qualified to "comment" on their "rehearsal" that I watched. I used to teach this level and do alot of Verse Choir and Choral Singing with them. By and large it is a lost and dying "performance art". (especially if "God" is mentioned.)

The first thing I wondered when I heard they were attempting to do it as a large group (at least 4 classes) is do they have an adequate "performance space"? Most schools don't now days. This school was trying to "pack" 90 to 120 kids of the 10-11 year old stature in a very small multi-purpose room by making them sit uncomfortably close to each other on the carpeted floor. There were protests and "behavior problems" of a on-going nature. Several had to be "moved" and resituated in a very strong disciplinary manner. i.e. spoiling the performance mood.

The next thing I questioned was whether or not they knew the meanings of the words and had they memorized all of them yet. This is absolutely necessary for a "top notch" performance. They should also be standing in "groups" not smashed together on the floor. Key words that should be memorized and understood for correct pronunciation and inflection are: Justice, domestic Tranquility, common defense, general welfare, Blessings of Liberty, Posterity, ordain and Constitution. Just the way the students were "herded" and "handled" both as a large group and as individuals left "much to be desired" and called into question if they had even gone over the purpose or meaning of the PREAMBLE. It was originally meant as an "Introduction" to the Constitution to tell the "Purpose" of it and the importance of it. Pre-Amble from the latin means "walk before" and this points up a school/class problem as I see it.

This school has a school-wide rule that all classes must walk places to and from the rooms in an orderly line on the lines of the black top if possible. Hands to yourself, straight etc. Well, I was "walking before" my subbed class from the Computer Lab to the Multipurpose Room when another 5th grade teacher stopped my line and verbally accosted and "abused" two of my students who were not quite lined up and "messing with a baseball cap" She was ready immediately to give one or both the dreaded "detention". They spoke for each other and finally the one, initiating the "extraneous actions", was "bannished" This kind of "treatment" continued throughout the rehearsal. Needless to say, this was a very "reluctant Posterity" who mostly were just trying to attain "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness". At the ripe old age of 10-11 there is alot of "pursuit of liberty and happiness". This school's teachers (and aides) are so afraid and paranoid about any lack of "control" and "its consequencies" that they come down very heavy most of the time on most of the kids. Lots of referrals and detentions and intermediate measures are evident. During one of my stays I had two different kids who had been sent from other classes to "cool off" and do their work in my class at a separate table off to the side. Lots of hostility and agression ensues, naturally in such a negative environment. Not many attempts or programs to "catch kids (groups and individuals) at being "good", "kind", or even "random acts of friendship". And we wonder why our upper grade institutions, H.S.'s and Colleges are having to "lock down". Just this last week we had reports of "shootings" in 4 differnt schools at the upper levels. i.e. today Northern Illinois University, an Oxnard Middle School also. Kids are stressed and nervous going to our "institutions" now days. And we have the gall to say and go to the "rest of the world" and try force "liberty" and "democracy". Why don't we take care of our own "Posterity" first here at Home..."the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave"? (if you have a hand gun) RRR

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Waiting for a Kidney

I've accepted 1/2 day assignments lately. I don't mind them. Less money, but less stress and responsibility. They are usually for 31/2 to 4 hours which includes a lunch period. Mostly they are in the P.M. and I can work in some music, drama, and P.E. which seem to be sorely missing from most curriculums lately.

This time I was asked to be there at 10:30 A.M. This is almost an hour early. I'd still have to work until 3P.M. and receive the same half pay. "Oh well," I said. "What the heck? Do I have anything better to do?" What I walked in on was just a bit unnerving...not shocking, but questionable. It was a "throw-back" to the old fashioned teaching and classroom. The teacher sat in one place mostly the whole time and the students were in two groups of ten at diagonals to her desk. She went off to the side for a brief time to have a line up of kids (ten) come up and recite the ten different rows (answers) of the 100 multiplication facts. These were just the ones who had completed all 100 in 7 minutes. This reminded me of my old habit of having my classes (mostly 5th and 6th) strive (goal set) to do the same amount in 3-4 minutes with less than 3 mistakes. These were third graders.
There was much bragging and "one-ups-manship" among these students and it was clearly irritating the teacher.

She spoke without much force but "lit-into" any and all who were "talking among themselves" or "not paying close attention" She had me wait off to the side and not circulate and help as I usually did. One student kept raising her hand for help and the teacher didn't seem to see her or come over to her. So...I did. I was rejected. She wanted "her teacher's attention". I had my usual penlight and pointed out a misspelled word she had copied off the chart done by an aide off to the side.(she did nothing else but the chart) The teacher went on to warn me of two of her "worst boys" placed upfront...while they listened. They had to keep a partially filled out "referral slip" on their desktop as a "reminder" of potential and future "detention" they had coming. Several other like slips were magneted on the white board along with lists of kids names with missing assignments or late homework etc. There was a place for "table points" (good points for groups"catch them being good") and it was mostly empty. Remember, this is third grade.

Soon she called me over to her "command seat" at the middle front and told me to take over..."I have to go to my doctor's appointment now." It was just about 5 minutes before lunch and line-up. On their way out she explained that she was waiting for a kidney and had nightly dialysis at home. She was rather matter-of-fact about it. She showed me the teacher's books she had stacked up ready for the afternoon's assignments. She had also written it on the board in smaller print, at the top, going from left to right, not up and down as usual. I asked her if I could slip in some music and class singing if we had problem. How about P.E.? Oh, none today but they were allowed to have a "nutritious snack" when they came back in from lunch recess while they "free read" (AR) rather than mid-afternoon with a "wiggle break". OK. She also warned me about the "one girl" (who had raised her hand, unrequited) She was not allowed near the teacher's desk because "things had gone missing" recently..."sticky fingers" suspected...I later found her with a hand-full of colorful plastic rulers off in the corner shelves. I asked her what she was doing with them? She needed them. As it turned out the back of the P.M. Math assignment called EXCEL there were three problems of "measurement by cm's" I capitalized on that in a positive way and let her pass out rulers to all the kids and help them measure their lines. I later wrote a positive note to the teacher on how she was trying to help.

We "somehow" had time for a few fun songs, even about Math ("Inch Worm") and a game of "Silent Ball" at the end. They just love this game...sit on top of your desk and toss a balloon-ball around to get each other "out". Our "sticky-fingered" girl was in her glory. She was a different personality during P.E. like this...very with it and athletic...a kinesthetic learner. The kids wanted to know if I would come back tomorrow for somemore fun...I can see why. I had to warn or scold no one during my time there.

The teachers in the staff room at lunch time said she had been waiting for a kidney "a long time"...there were no other comments. RRR

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Amate Illuminati

This last week, I only subbed in my usual Art Class. I was busy during the most active days, Tues. and Wednesday and had several calls, but I turned them down. I needed the R and R. The two days in the Art Class turned out to be quite strenuous anyway.

The weather was quite cold and windy so the middle school aged kids were quite "squirrelly" (if that is a word) By Friday, they were "at each other, physically and socially" and it took constant vigilance and quick interventions. Last period Friday was the most challenging and took most of my depleted patience. On top of that, the district policy to cover classes without subs with "sub's preps" rubs me the wrong way. I was forced once again to cover a Pre-Algebra Class of 34 who didn't know what they were doing, mostly and had an incomplete lesson plan with missing parts. Lots of raised hands for "help" and we were running to them and bringing them other work so they wouldn't get up out of their seats and "socialize enroute". I was further frustrated because I was supposed to "clean up" the paints etc. for the next classes during art class prep time. We have "T.A.'s" (teacher assistants, students) but they don't really do that much in the cleaning department and there just isn't time during the period, even with a 10 minute clean up time. We were working with indelible watercolors in three periods and "cloggy poster paints" in two periods. They dry quickly in the pallettes and/or get washed out into the sink and clog it up.

The assignments were brilliant and very exacting for this age level. (mostly unappreciated by them also) "Amate" (Amatl) Paper is from the Pre-Colombian Mexican era. It is fibrous paper hand-made and dipped in brown ink. On this, or with this media the artist-student was suppossed to decorate it with simple, but beautifully colorful objects of "amor" i.e. birds, flowers, or skulls, snakes alligators. This is only done with about 5 basic colors. The rest are mixed. The wider, thicker brushes and too much water left much to be desired in most cases. Many of the majority of Hispanic Students were into it and doing their best. Several of the "perfectionist" girls were reluctant to start painting and quite disappointed with their results. Mostly they were more "into each other" and the usual "posing" and "primping". I made the mistake of allowing ipod listening "as long as it didn't distract and interfere with the art work". Good luck on that. They were engrossed in all their "tunes" and "raps" and were sharing earphones.

The other challenging assigment had to do with the ancient, medieval decoration and illustration of texts. i.e. Monks in Monasteries and those ornate capital letters. They were to use only their own initials and fill up the page with ornamentations and intricate decorations around them and within them. They were to do it on onion skin with watercolors. They checked out 3 "special watercolor brushes" at a time. It was very exacting and tedious work and these students, believe me, were not monks or nuns in the convents and abbeys. They could embellish the lines with black "sharpie" and "gold paint" They got carried away with this. Several thought they were done "early" and wanted to go on to the next project "rubric" I tried to challenge them to put some "secret codes" into their illustrati like the Da Vinci Code (a la Albino Monks) No luck, on takers. Most didn't know what I was talking about. So the next assignment was to decorate a gourd or make an "Ukranian Egg" Wow! First they were to pick a dried gourd from a double closet or decide to design and draw a pattern on an "Egg Template" Most chose the gourd. Then they were to sand it. Up until the last two periods we couldn't find the sandpaper. Then we realized it wasn't paper but a box of "crusty sponges". Kids argued and joked about the gourds. Good luck on that rubric.

One class was trying to "tie up a small boy" in a "knot". I told them about the "Gordian Knot" and "Alexander"...some interest. One class was so good, I offered popcorn on Friday if it continued. One of the "less popular kids" brought in a bin of microwavable popcorn before school on Fri. and I added my "Orville Reddenbacher" and they were happy for about the last 10 minutes shaing "paper towels of popcorn". I had to remind them to thank the kid they usually "scapegoat" and pick-on. (big at this age) One of the best "T A's" almost blew the whole thing by trying to get in a fight with I kid bigger than him. I had to threaten the big "R" (referral). Another girl got the same for "persistant refusal"...she wouldn't stop talking to her "friends, combing her hair and facing the back of the room. Yearbook digital cameras, usually borrowed, didn't get did. Oh yes, there is still a yearbook class, mostly on computer now. Most kids were playing games on the computers or making posters for the upcoming basketball game with the "arch rival" middle school. You can probably see why I'll probably be reluctant to return. There isn't much "teaching or rubrics" being done at this level, even in the best of times. RRR