Friday, January 29, 2010

The Curiosity of the Fifth Grader

One of my student teaching rotations was in Fifth Grade. Before doing it, I thought that it would be fun to work with older kids. I'd done many observation hours in Middle School classrooms and I was excited to work with kids who could read novels and study Science and Social Studies in depth.

It turned out that I hated it. Whether it was because it was my second rotation and I was just over the whole student teaching thing, or the master teacher's tendency to yell, or the fact that the kids were all working two years below grade level, I don't know, but it was a bad experience.

I try to avoid this grade level when subbing, but when I haven't worked in several days, I feel the need to take whatever comes up. Yesterday, I took a Fifth Grade class. Surprisingly, they really weren't too bad. For the most part, they were cooperative. The three 5th classes all mixed for Math and ELA, and the Math group was a nightmare. I've never had a lesson fail so miserably, and it was due to three kids in particular. Happily, I only had those three for that hour.

But, overall, their inquisitiveness killed me!

Are you married?
Do you have kids?
Why aren't you married?
What grades have you taught?
What schools have you subbed at?
Why are you a substitute?
What is your favorite grade?
Do you speak Spanish?
Do you speak French?
Do you speak Chinese?
How old are you?

And my favorite:
My mom's hair is that color, too. Her's isn't real. Is yours real?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Watch ME!!!

Still working in the Pre-K room.

We've had some nasty rain and wind this week, and even tornado warnings. Many of the kids in my current class are walked to school by parents, so attendance has been low this week, I suspect in part to the weather, and also to the cold I picked up while in the classroom. I doubt I'm the only person the germs decided to befriend.

Yesterday, the teacher in the adjoining room (also Pre-K) had both aides out. One had to run her son to a doctor's appointment and her other aide was out sick, so she asked if I could come and be in the room for a while. The group in that room was very different from the kids I'd been working with next door.

When I walked in, the kids were all at free play. There were pinto beans in the sensory table and just as many on the carpet as in the table. I asked the kids to round up all the beans on the floor and put them back in the table. Most complied, but one looked at me and kept dumping them out of the table and on to the floor. When I got more firm with my command to keep the beans in the table, she walked away and sat next to a woman cutting construction paper at a table. These classes ask parents to volunteer time in the classroom, so I assumed this was Mom. Mom ignored her and ignored the fact that I'd asked her child to do something. So, I let it go.

After my initial run-in with her, another parent came in with a box of toys for the classroom. The teacher took what she wanted, and left the toys that were too young in the box in the corner to get rid of later. Sensory Table Girl went over and plucked one out of the box. Teacher told her to put the baby toy away and she ran over to her mother and played with it next to her. Again, Mom did nothing. Teacher took the toy away and put it back in the box. When her back was turned, Sensory Table Girl went and got the toy again.

I really wonder at this type of young child. We know behaviors can change and shy kids can come out of their shells. Can children who are so defiant at such a young age get that under control and become good students? Or are these the same kids who continually get in trouble throughout their school careers?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Dos Languages

I've spent my entire life living in Arizona and Southern California. As such, it is unacceptable that I only speak English, especially considering that the majority of the population of the city in which I live is of Mexican descent. There's no excuse. I'm at a horrible disadvantage and it's downright embarrassing at times.

For the last week and a half, I've been working at a school in my own neighborhood. Not the school closest to me, but one about three miles away. I've worked on the Elementary side of this school before, and while it is made up primarily of Hispanic children, there is somewhat of a racial mix. My current assignment is in the State Preschool. The children attending are all of Mexican descent and all speak Spanish in the home. Some of their parents only speak Spanish, and all written information from the school is sent home in both languages.

The interesting thing about this age group is that some of them don't really differentiate between the two languages. When I ask them about the items in the play kitchen, they identify eggs as "huevos" and grapes as "grapes." Red is "rojo" but yellow is "yellow." They all seem to understand commands in English, but it's not unusual for the kids to come up to me and tell me a story or ask me something in Spanish. Most of the time I can just smile and say "yes" and all is well, but sometimes I have to send the poor kids over to the aide to tell her what they want, because I can't help them. Yet, I have managed to find a few kids who understand that there are, in fact, two languages being spoken and that I'm useless when it comes to Spanish. I've found my own little four-year-old translators who help me out while looking at me as if I'm the stupidest person they've ever met.

I think that if I were to spend an extended amount of time in this classroom, I'd really pick up some useful phrases --at least useful for kids. It's definitely a challenge, but it's also fun to learn so much from such tiny little people.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Storyteller

If, by chance, you are ever in a museum or store featuring art of the Southwest Native American people, you may come across a Storyteller.

These pieces are relatively contemporary and first credited to an artist descended from the Pueblo people of New Mexico. The standard figure is a woman with an open mouth, telling a story to multiple children who sit on her as she tells her tales.
The statues evoke a very warm feeling of the comfort and importance of telling stories to young children.

My current sub job is in a pre-kindergarten classroom for a teacher serving jury duty. In order to increase print awareness and train not only the students, but the parents about the vital practice of reading to their children, parents come in once a week at the beginning of class and read books to their children in the classroom. It is wonderful to see a room full of parents sitting everywhere reading to their children! I asked the teacher in the neighboring room about this and she said every year when they start this practice they find many parents are surprised at the request and completely unaware of their responsibility to introduce print into their children's lives. Asking them to point out words on signs and cereal boxes to their kids is alien to them, and this once-a-week exercise may be the only time many of these children get this type of one-on-one storytime with Mom or Dad.

On Friday, when this was going on, I saw one student wandering aimlessly. Assuming that he'd been dropped off and no parent could stay, I told him to pick out a book and I'd read it to him. So, we sat down on the carpet to read the book.

As I sat with my legs crossed and the book open on the floor in front of me, this little boy leaned against my leg, looking at the book. Then, another child came and took up the same position on my other side, with his arm on my other leg. Then I felt a tiny hand on my shoulder and another little body leaning against my back, and then yet another child came and sat with us to hear about Curious George.

And so, I became a Storyteller statue.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


What happened to school lunches?

When I was a kid, every day would involve the ordeal of moving through the school lunch line where scary cafeteria ladies would slap quantities of unknown substances onto divided ugly green plastic trays while simultaneously ordering us to move the line along. The menu would say things like "creamed corn" or "Salisbury steak," but truthfully, it was a mystery. After attempting to nourish ourselves, we would dump the tray's remaining contents into the trash and hand it over to someone armed with a high-powered water nozzle. The assumption was that the tray would reappear the next day for "different" epicurean delights.

Now, I'll admit, this was back in the dark ages. We didn't have the internet, no telephones in our pockets and when we wanted to be sure not to miss a television show, we'd have to put something called a videotape into a machine and program it to record our program. In fact, in the early 1980's, we were so bereft of technology that taking a photograph involved a substance called "film" that had to be "processed!"

But oh, how times have changed! The day of the green plastic tray is gone, replaced by a disposable styrofoam tray which is tossed in the trash after it's purpose is served. Many of the schools in which I work don't even seem to have a working kitchen. One has what can best be described as a large closet in front of which a table is set up at lunchtime. On this table "lunch" is handed out. What passes for school lunch these days is a far cry from the over-cooked green beans of my youth. Cafeteria ladies these days simply hand over plastic sealed cups of fruit, a slice of pizza right out of the Domino's box, or chicken in the Panda Express container. Recently I had the pleasure of opening microwave-heated cellophane bean burritos and peeling tangerines for twenty-four Pre-Kindergarten kids. And if you didn't think the dignity of the school lunch could sink even lower, in some places the cardboard carton of milk has been replaced by a bag 'o milk which is punctured by a straw for consumption.

It is phenomenal to me that in a time where medical professionals are screaming about the increasing weight of children and their lack of physical activity, we are not even attempting to serve them a balanced meal. In very influential years when kids are pummelled with brand-name advertisers everywhere they look outside of the classroom, we outsource their nutrition to fast-food chains.

Am I alone in my observations on this? Am I witnessing some bizarre political cost-cutting measure only in my state or is this common in all areas? Are school lunches (which in some neighborhoods may be the most nutritious meal children receive all day) really the place to make these sacrifices? I can't imagine that American voters, who seem to be under the impression that all teachers are lazy and incompetent would approve of this if they knew it applied to their child. And how can we educate to the importance of good nutrition when we clearly do not model the approved strategies?

Thursday, January 7, 2010


I love to watch men play with little kids. It's just different than watching women interact with children. Women will supervise, but seldom actually get into the pretend world that the kids create. Men jump in full force.

Yesterday, I worked in a preschool classroom equipped with a male aide. He was a really young guy, probably barely twenty years old, and the kids really seemed to like him, despite the fact that most of them didn't speak English. I was watching him on the playground, where the kids were riding tricycles around on a painted track. They would do the circle, and get to him and stop. He would bend down and perform pit-crew services on their "vehicles," gassing them up and moving them on. Then the next kid and the next and so on. They loved it!

Sometimes men get a bad rap from us women-folk for acting like children. But sometimes, acting like a child turns out to be the very best form of communication!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Life On Stage

One of my favorite things in life is attending live theater. I love Broadway musicals with a passion, and often wish I lived on the other side of the country so I could attend the theater regularly. When I was in high school and college, I thought I wanted a career in the arts. Sadly, lack of talent was one major obstacle. And after a good attempt at auditioning and performing in front of people, I also found out that I really didn't like all of those eyes on me.

Fast forward almost 20 years and I'm on stage all day long with an audience watching every move I make, noticing the clothes I wear, and hearing every word I say. Just when you think they're not listening, say a word that can be mistaken for a "bad word" and you'll find out that they actually do hear you.

After three weeks off, (I was sick just before the holiday break) I worked for half a day today in a third grade class where I've subbed twice before. I was surprised at how exhausted I was after only three hours with the kids. Speaking the entire time, standing the entire time, watching everything...I forgot how draining it is. After spending three weeks sleeping 10 hours a night and not being responsible for anything other than feeding myself, I'm knackered!

Life on stage is hard work!