Saturday, September 27, 2008

Froggie Went A - Courtin'...

Poem by Jack Prelutsky
The frogs wore red suspenders
and the pigs wore purple vests,
as they sang to all the chickens
and the ducks upon their nests.
They croaked and oinked a serenade,
the ducks and chickens sighed,
then laid enormous spangled eggs,
and quacked and clucked with pride.
This is the first poem, title poem, in a anthology of poems from the Poetry Foundation and its "Children's Poet Laureate" - Jack Prelutsky. This past week, I found myself four out of the five days in a cute, little first grade class reading books like this to my charges. When I got there the lesson plans were all laid out for the whole week with all the extra procedures and instructions that, "I was allowed to make any supplemental additions to those lessons." So...I have a "bag of tricks" that all subs must have full of stuff I like to share. This was going to be a "fun" week, I thought...
Well, I came to the end of the day (which seemed long) and then realized that I hadn't "covered" all the math. It was still in the pile on the desk. "Oh oh, now I'm in trouble," I thought. I decided to come in early the next day and see how I could fit in the missed Math. I noticed that the regular teacher had already been there. The lights were left on and her purse was still there. I hurried to plan "my plan" and then she walked in. She was very concerned to say the least. I could skip other things, but not Math. Those lessons were numbered daily and it was "tight". I assured her that it was inadvertant and that I would redouble my efforts to "catch up". The objective for the day was to teach "sums up to 4, 5, & 6". I had done that with a very popular game that everyone watched called "Gopher It". In it, you collected cards of nuts, carrots and apples by digging them out of a central pile. In up to three consecutive, elective turns, you could not duplicate a draw or you would lose your turn and what you drew.(a bit of gambling) They loved it and were adding their little heads off. I thought that "covered" the objective of the day without using the overhead transparencies, fill-in sheets etc. Wrong. Well, the next day I did plan to use everything including the "manipulatives" two-sided/colored coins for counting. Now we had to review 4,5,6 and teach sum of 7,8.9. & 10, 11, 12.
We, the regular teacher and I, went back to the office to get the roll sheet and check about upcoming assignments. Evidently, I was now not need on the following Mon. and Tues. and that had to be changed in the computer by the secretary. On the way we passed by the Principal's Office (my favorite one) and the teacher, in passing, told the principal that "things were better" she had run into me when she went back to her classroom. "Wheeew!" Yep, she had "told" on me. Boy, the pressure must be tight to use the "prescribed materials" with no creative deviation by a "master teacher" who likes to teach with games and songs.
Later on, in the week, I was informed by my next-door-neighbor teacher that I was to "walk" my class all the way to the playground at recess and keep them in line and quiet...even when I was taking them to the "exciting awards assembly". She never introduced herself or followed up on her "correction" of me, a lowly sub, or my "unruly class". I must say that another teacher in the first grade team did remind me of the "Fund Raising Assembly" and the "Disaster Drill" (probably planned) just before they happened. I thanked her. Another "team teacher" told me to bring my class right from recess to the assembly. I had decided to calm them down for five minutes in the classroom since I had checked with the "fund raisers" and they had said the assembly would start, ten minutes after recess. Guess what, we were late. They started early. We, of course, came in too noisily. I, mistakenly, had told the kids to quietly sneak down the hall and into the assembly "like Ninjas". The boys took me literally and were doing "summersaults" Big no-no! Oh, well...The assembly was led by one of most positive, encouraging administrator/leaders I know. Too bad "her wonderful attitude and ways" don't rub off more on her team of first grade teachers.
Part of the problem might be that wherever I go now on that campus kids of all ages are calling out my "name" in a friendly greeting. Why? I've been volunteering there in the Kindergarten for four years. One of the teacher commented about my "popularity" as we walked to recess. She didn't know that I had been doing that for four years. What do I do?...and still do?
I bring songs and skits and games as supplements to all levels. I try to have fun and make their learning fun. They seem to remember that. Case in point:
The Frog Suspender Poem/book reminded me of a wonderful song that I used to sing and act out with my classes:
Froggie went a-courtin' & and he did ride
*A-huh, A-huh
Sword & pistol by his side
**A-huh, A-huh, A-huh
Well, he rode down to Miss Mousie's door*
Where he had often been before**
He took Miss Mousie on his knee*
Said, "Miss Mousie will you marry me?"**
"I'll have to ask my Uncle Rat,*
See what he will say to that.**
Without my Uncle Rat's consent*
I would not marry the President."**
Well, Uncle Rat laughed and shook his fat sides*
To think his niece would be a bride**
Well, Uncle Rat rode off to town*
To buy his niece a wedding gown**
Where will the wedding supper be?*
Way down yonder in a hollow tree**
What will the wedding supper be?*
A fried mosquito & a roasted flea**
(veggie = 2 green beans & a black-eyed pea)
First to come in were two little ants*
Fixin' around to have a dance**
Next to come in was a bumble bee*
Bouncin' a fiddle on his knee**
And next to come in was a big Tom Cat*
He swallowed the frog, the mouse and the rat**
And last to come in was a big ol' snake*
He chased the party into the lake**
Well, you can imagine how much fun this was for them, and me. We read the poem Thursday and sang the song with dramatic action on Friday.(I just had to wear my red suspenders that day) We had to do it twice...and could've done it again. When the snake finally slithers in...there is panic and screaming. I'm sure we'll get complaints about that. Oh well, probably won't be invited back to that class/team again.
The first time I heard that song was from my dad on his old, covered, front porch in Kentucky. It ignited such images in me, I never forgot his lesson and the fun of that song. This, I think, is the way we pass on our "culture" and the fun of learning, rhyming, chain of predation etc. Pretty hard to "test" for this kind of stuff...don't you think? RRR

Monday, September 22, 2008


Meet "Moxie-Crime Fighter"
Ferocious Feline
My Grand Kids' Guard Cat
I would venture to say that most of the students and teachers I work with have pets. They love them and care for them more than their "homework". They teach them "lessons" that are just as valuable and important as any school curriculum "rubrics". Probably the biggest one is one of my most important "R's" - RESPONSIBILITY - These cute, little creatures rely on us/them to "love" them and protect them. They provide "practice" for bigger responsibilities as they grow up and mature.
If you want to get "instant buy-in" on a school assignment, make it one about the student's pet(s). Most kids love to tell you all about their pet and will write pages about them. They will bring in pictures, make posters and volunteer to bring them to class for a visit. In my long career, I have found it very useful to agree to those visits, for an hour or so just to be able to get through to a "reluctant" or uninvolved learner. I've had snakes, guinea pigs, ferrets, and many dogs and cats make the visit. Then, of course, everyone in the class, not just the owner, has to write stories about them and their care and feeding. We have had "Pet Faires" where they all bring their animals on a certain day/hour. This stimulates lots of verbal interaction and can even produce many a "math lesson" about their life-spans and costs of care.
When I first started teaching there was this article in the newspaper about "Room 8" This was a cat that had adopted a class room of kids and was allowed to come and go all during the day/semester. No one knew where it really lived or where it went at night or during the summer vacation. It kept coming back each new year. It was an inspiration to those classes and the kids actually cared for each other more because of that cat.
When I "student taught" I had a master teacher who wanted to give me his snake to start my first classroom with. I was all jazzed to do it...except that I would have to keep it over the summer in my garage. My young wife, we were newly married, put her "foot down". No snakes. It was either her or the snake. I had to find some other "classroom pet" to start out with. We had hamsters, mice, rats, fish, but no permanent pythons. One of those early years a kid brought in his "pet snails". We observed them "scientifically" and tried different foods on them. Several boys dared each other to "eat" one as "escargot". I tried feeding them oatmeal and water to get rid of the green slime that continued to ooze out of them. In the end, no one was actually brave enough to sample one, not even the teacher.
As a family, we probably had more cats as pets than any other animal. We had had some sad experiences with dogs and fish/aquariums. Two or three times I had my whole class writing daily journals to my "literate" cat. I had found a rubber stamp of a paw all I had to do..."was leave out a bottle of ink...and my cat would dip his index claw in a spill and write little notes in their journals over the weekends and at night when his master, me, wasn't watching." Wow! Did that take off! Everyone wanted to write to my cat and find out all kinds of secret stuff about me. He would scold them, in writing (printing) about improper spelling and capitals and sentences etc. Many kids were eager to "suspend reality" to use their creative imagination and write to a/my pet. Sometimes their pet would write to mine. These were normally kids who had trouble writing less than a half page a day about their life, which I required weekly.
"Moxie" what a great name for a pet cat. (a cute kitten, right now) It means "courage in adversity". Boy, what I could do with a classroom. What does your pet's name mean? Why did you name them that? What is it's personality? What could it teach you? Do you have "moxie"? Does it have "spunk"? Will you need it to get through school? survive life? RRR

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Fund Raisers?

Money makes the world go 'round,

The world go 'round,

The world go 'round...

Yes, it's that time of year again in our Public Schools. Don't you just love it. Sad to say, selling and collecting things for money is now, even more so,a vital part of the curriculum. From Kindergarten all the way to High school, students and their parents and relative/friends are "expected" to help raise funds for all those "extra curricular activities" that would be missing if the schools just relied on the taxes. "Now, kids, here's how you sell, sell, sell!" This is not the "hard sell", this is the "guilt sell".

When I first started teaching...back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, selling stuff to help the school's budget was unheard of. Kids might be caught selling other "stuff" to each other, but, back then, it was rarely a "hard sell" if you know what I mean. Candy, gum, cinnamon sticks that burned your mouth, this was the merchandize. There was no "quality control" back then and my folks warned me not to buy or taste..."because you never knew where those sticks had been" (images of toothpicks dipped in dog dirt on the way to school before the sale). One of my sons used to sell "Jolly Ranchers" (sour candies wrapped up) to his friends between classes in Jr. Hi. Part of the thrill of it was "not getting caught". He then branched out to "widgets", as he called them. He found old bicycle chains, took them apart, cleaned and polished them and then linked back together in groups of three or four to make a "handy plaything". They sold, big time. Now, he's a "bench jeweler" and still makes good money. When I ran the student store as a 6th grade math project for the school, we got the "idea" to make money for our field trips by creating and selling (at that store during recess, before and after school) "Philberts". These little hazel nuts looked cute with little eyeballs and feathers, felt feet etc. They came with printed "care instructions". They loved to "sit on the corner of your desk and watch you work". You were cautioned never to put two, together in a "darkened desk"...They sold like hotcakes until the principal and several teachers "banned" them. We went on our field trip though.

Back then we had "Paper Drives" on a school-wide basis. Rooms competed against each other for the "grand prize" of a "movie" or an extra recess. It was at one of those cursed "paper drives" that my wife, in unloading our contribution of papers in the parking lot, lost her engagement diamond. It must've been picked up by the tread of the tires of the next car in line. Magazine sales were big at Jr. Hi. They probably still are. Discounts on magazine you could never ever get through...all for that good "cause" of "band uniforms" or extra orchestra instruments.

Yesterday, while I was subbing in a first grade, I had them coloring illustrations for their "free writing" (stories). During that "free time" I was instructed to "yank out the center of all the sales booklets going home" It was 4 pages on how to sell magazines. I guess the principal didn't want these K-4th selling magazines yet. There were "wonderful" and fairly cheap items of all kinds for sale and "glorious prizes" increasing in "value" for the more you sold...took orders and collected the checks/or cash. The assembly announcing all this was "very motivating" with lots of "audience response" (yelling) called for and gotten. Hover craft, heliocopters, electric cars (remote control and hands-on) were all there on display for motivation...if you just sold 15 or more items. Then the "whole school" would be eligible for an "X-Treme Party" with massive inflatibles on the field (not just bounce-houses) Well, there went the rest of the I didn't let them see the booklets. They were stuffed in their backpacks to go home.

So now, we are not only teaching kids how to take more and more types of tests so we raise our pre-to-post scores and get more funding, we are also leading them into the world of "super sales" and using all the "extrinsic motivations" of that world. I would guess that the upper grades could have lessons on "bookkeeping" and adding up all the sales figures. They could plan and plot how to sell the most expensive items for greater profits and quicker numbers for rewards. Most of these kids don't have parents who work in offices. If they did, they could send the broschures with them and "big sales" would return, especiallly if their parent(s) were "bosses". This is the way it is done now days. Early training as little "capitalists". Don't you just love it? RRR

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Importance of Self Disclosure

In our profession, as in many, a key factor is openess. If you want the students you work with to try their hardest and commit to their learning, your teaching and improvement, you must allow them to feel unthreatened, and free to "make mistakes" and learn from them. One of the best ways to do this is to "model" it yourself as a teacher and guide. In that initial example of self disclosure you let them know that they will not be ridiculed or deprecated in front of their peers. It is also very valuable to let them know about "you" and what makes you happy, your interests. I try to do this even as a "sub" coming into a class so I look more approachable and less intimidating. It especially works for the younger ones. When I goof, in front of them, I readily admit it and show no embarassment. I admit to my short-coming up front and assure them that I expect them to have some and do the same. A non-threatening environment is the best for learning and making new friends which is also a big part of school.

This past week I was pleasantly surprised to witness this going on at my favorite school with my favorite administrator. Yes, even principals could follow this advice: "Open yourself up more to your teachers and students. Be approachable and accepting of suggestions." This time I peeked in the office and had to wait to be acknowledged because a little 1st grader was sharing his little "bio-assignment" with the principal. This, I found out, is often done at this school. Reward and recognize a student(s) when they do something good by sending them to the principal. Usually it used to be only for something bad...and a tsk, tsk. Catch them doing something good and reward it, not extinguish it. I was told that this principal had recently told each class about her/himself in a sort of bio and how they got to be principal. Then they were encouraged to write back about themselves. Can you think of the positive presidence this sets for the future with this child?

Later that day I was in a class at another school. It was the first time I had volunteered there. I was visited by both the principal and vice principal, shall we say, "observed". With the former, there was no interaction with the students, the resident teacher or me...just checking to see if "I was following the lesson plan". With the latter, much more open and approachable. I was introduced as I was with my small group of "Math Game Players" and I actually shook hands. This is a big new school with at least 5 teachers per grade level.

When I was into my own career and actually studied for being "an administrator". The emphasis then was more on "school manager" not "educational leader or inspiror". What are the qualities of a good leader or motivator? For teachers as well as students? From my point of view, after a few years of observation and working for/under more than a dozen principals, I vote for the "more open and self-disclosing" leader. There can to some relaxed joking and teasing but mostly what you want and expect is "Earnestness" Truth in valid interactions and the absence of "threats" or negative consequences.

I was in my first classroom subbing yesterday. I couldn't help but notice in this 5th grade class, the absence of any of the above. There were at least three systems in place for dealing with discipline and disruptive behaviors: names on the board, warnings, clothes pins pinned in colored areas on a chart from green to yellow to red to black...all with increasingly negative consequences. There was a binder with pages of names, times and incidents already inscribed. On the positive side, there were "group points" for paying attentions and participating...but they were all confused and arguing about which group was which numerically. I even read them the seating chart with the group numbers. No wonder kids starting at these levels are increasingly turned off to the "class experience" of learning. I tried to add a bit of positive fun/games and play to a lesson plan which had none. We played "20 Questions" to reinforce "nouns" and we did some choral, dramatic reading with them after P.E. It was amazing how many didn't want to "risk" getting into character in front of their peers...even at this young age, 10+. This was at a "Middle School" where they are grouped with olders and rotate classes. Lots of "socialization" going on in between classes. Now that's when there is "self disclosure" to each other but I'm afraid it is more "role disclosure" and posing for each other. It might be better to leave these 5th's with their younger "home neighborhood schools" where they can be more themselves without such social pressure and intimidation. What do you think? RRR