Friday, December 26, 2008

Time to Reflect and Recharge

Before I became a teacher I thought that Christmas break was all about the students getting a break. Now I know that teachers need the time as much if not more than students do.

Friday the 19th was my last day in the classroom until January 6th. We have professional development off site January 5th. I will use this break to recharge, I am honestly bone tired, and I have not felt this way in the first semester before. Recharging is great but I will also use the time for serious reflection as I plan for the rest of the school year. My students and I have a lot of ground to cover before they take the AP World History exam in May.

Reflecting is so important to being a good teacher and I think most of us do not spend enough time reflecting in a deeper way. We reflect on how did a specific lesson go or how could I re-teach a given lesson that the students did not understand. That is all good and I know that is what most of my reflection looks like so starting with this vacation I am setting a new goal for myself as a teacher. Not only will I reflect on the actual lesson and how my students responded but I will also reflect on how my actions impacted not only my students but the school climate as a whole. Is what I am doing a positive influence not only for my classroom but for other classrooms as well?

The high school I am employed at is an inner-city, low-income school. Most of my students are on free and reduced lunch. Many of them only have consistency when they are at school. We are also considered low performing. Those are the labels we have been given. But those labels do not have to define us: they only define us if we allow them to define us. Our staff and students have been given the challenge to change our low performing status and I believe this is where the deeper reflection comes in.

One of the complaints I have is that our students come to us without critical thinking skills and their writing is formulated so that they will pass the writing portion of the required standardized test. I work with my students as I question them so that they learn to analyze and not just summarize. This takes me most of the year but as LCT I have been working with my ninth grade teachers encouraging them to challenge their students in this area. I believe once our students are successful with analysis they will become more comfortable with deeper thinking. This will translate into improved scores not only on the state standardized test but also higher AP scores. If our students can earn college credit in high school they might see college success as something that is in their future.

When we return in January my goal is to work cooperatively with the English teachers so that our students understand that there are multiple ways to write effectively. They have been programmed to ask “how long does it need to be?” I tell them there is no set length; you have to answer the question completely.

Something small that everyone can do to make the school climate better is to say “good morning” with a smile to co-workers; yes even to the co-worker that makes you crazy. I also try really hard to leave my problems in my car but when I cannot I am honest with my students. A good example of this is when I was driving to school and I received a call that a dear friend had passed away that morning. She lost her battle to breast cancer. I knew my students would see that I had been crying so it was easier to tell them the truth. If I had told them nothing they would have known I was lying.

I also think it is important to reflect on past successes; therefore I will share a story about one of my former students. I had this student in my AP World History class last year. She came to me having always received high 90s in both her history and English classes. My class of course would be different she made a 70 the first six weeks of the year. She wanted out of my class desperately because she wanted those high 90s again. I refused to let her out of the class and I pushed her and worked with her when something was not working I changed how I explained it until we found a way that worked for her. I encouraged her to work with a classmate that was making 90s. She continued to struggle through the first semester but she stuck with it and by the end of the year she was making 80s in my class. What was more important than that was I watched her self-confidence increase and when the time came to sign up for her junior year classes she stayed in the AP program.

So in the end what does reflection do for a teacher? For this teacher it shows me what I have done right, what I need to continue to do and what I need to work on.


December 26th is my grandmother's birthday so I wanted to take a minute and pay tribute to her memory with pictures and words.

Raymond and Jennie Phillips
This is a picture of my maternal grandparents. My grandfather died when I was little so I do not really remember him but my grandmother left an imprint on my heart and influenced my life.

August 11, 1984 the day I married Doohickie. My Grandmother is between us. She gave us a gift that I still have. She gave us a large album filled with recipes that I still use to this day. My grandmother could cook and you always knew there would be something good to eat in her kitchen. I loved her homemade donuts and her pickles. I have never been able to get mine to taste like hers.

I am not really putting the photos in a specific order anymore. The photos are really a way to pay tribute to this wonderful women. In the picture with my grandmother is her daughter, son-in-law and their two sons. She gave me my love of sewing and quilting. She also encouraged people when they were down or frustrated and to this day I still hear her voice and it usually comes when I need it most. I know it is her because no one else calls me "girly". My grandmother had grit but she was also as my father would put it a "true lady". She was not as Doohickie puts it "a priss" but she did not have a problem with my being one.

Like my sister this photo is one I really love. It is of my Mom, my Grandmother, my oldest son and me. It was taken when son number 1 was four months old.

This picture was taken at the same time and my sister is in this picture. I am not sure why my Mom did not stay in the picture.

The one type of picture I do not have but would love is one of my grandmother when she was younger. One thing she did as she got older was to travel with the senior citizens group. She took many bus trips and she had great stories to share and she never failed to tell us about the food. I know this picture does not show any of that. It is just one of the memories that I have of her. She also had a charm braclet that I imagine was very heavy. It had charms of grandchildren, and charms from places she had been. Her children may have had charms as well I do not remember it that clearly.

Gram celebrating a birthday.

My mom with my sister's daughter and Gram. I'm not really sure when this picture was taken. What I do know is that my Grandmother loved her great-grandchildren and she was always happy to see them.

My grandmother with most of her children. As usual someone was cutting up. It was probably one of the brothers because both of their faces are hiding.

This is at one of the many gatherings that occured and continue to occur with extended family. My grandmother was the oldest sibling and even here she reigns supreme. Her brothers, sister-in-laws, daugher and great-neice gather round.

I believe this was my grandmother's 80th birthday party. My aunt, brother and cousin are in the picture as well. She touched so many lives and we lost her a few short years later to breast cancer. So on this day I took a few minutes to remember a women that brought great joy to many lives. Gram had a knack for making everyone feel special and important. There are so many more stories I could share and who knows as I find more pictures I may post them and share more stories but for now I will close with this final thought. Happy Birthday Gram you are still loved and missed.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Memories

I started with Halloween and then I wrote about Thanksgiving so now it is time for Christmas memories. Some may not be direct Christmas some might just be winter memories. What is really odd or maybe it is not; most of my memories are about other people.

Two of my favorite memories of Christmas past are from my childhood and they both involve my sister. I am almost 6 years older than my sister and when we were young we shared a bedroom. Sharing a bedroom had its ups and downs but on Christmas Eve we had a ritual. My sister was one of those kids that could not sleep so she would ask if she could sleep in my bed and of course I told her “no just close your eyes and sleep in our own bed”. Then the game would start. She would try to sneak out of bed and try to climb into my bed. Part of the reason I did not want to share my bed with her is because she was a wiggle worm and she also took the covers but after awhile I would give in and let her sleep in my bed because I figured some sleep was better than no sleep. She would also wake me up in the morning to let me know that Santa had arrived. My second memory comes from a time when she wanted lots of gifts under the tree so I obliged her by wrapping up each of her presents separately so that she would have lots of presents under the tree. I reminded her of this several years ago when she asked for a sewing basket for Christmas. I not only wrapped the basket I also separately wrapped each of the notions that I had placed in the basket. Even though I was not home that Christmas as I was wrapping her gift and talking to her on the phone after she opened it I felt closer to home.

Gram and Uncle Herb would often come down to visit us Christmas Day and I would often receive the type of gift I still love to get; a book. I love to read and Christmas would not be Christmas without a new book to read on Christmas day.

I remember the year I thought I knew what I was getting for Christmas. We lived in the country so our mailbox was across the road from the Wigner place and as we were driving home my Mom stopped to get the mail and there hanging from our mailbox flag was a Dawn Stage. It was the number one gift on my wish list I was so excited and then my Mom busted my bubble. My mother said “This is not yours I’m going to call the other Penny Candy relatives I’m sure they ordered it for their daughter.” I was crushed my parents did not love me enough to get me the one thing I wanted and sure enough when my mother made the phone call the gift had been delivered to the wrong house and my Dad took it to the relatives. What I did not know at the time was my Dad delivered it to his work shop and hid it where I would not find it so when I opened my Dawn Stage on Christmas morning from Santa I was thrilled to pieces. I later overheard my Mom telling a friend of hers how my Christmas gift was almost ruined because the catalog company did not wrap the package in brown paper. After all what company in the 70s did not wrap their boxes in brown paper.

Fast forward to the 1980s and it is the first year Doohickie and I were married we traveled to Arizona from California to visit family that lived there. Doohickie surprised me with a sewing machine. Most people might think what an awful gift it is like giving a vacuum cleaner as a Mother’s Day gift. I wanted a sewing machine but had not asked for one because we did not have a lot of money. I still have that sewing machine and I use it from time to time when my hands are having a good day. A few years later I was so sick with morning sickness all day long that I had not done any shopping and we could not travel to Arizona so I was very depressed thinking that we would not have a Christmas. My wonderful husband surprised me with presents under the tree he had gotten out of work early and done all of the shopping without saying a word to me so Santa truly visited my house that year.

Our oldest child has never been a morning person to the point that we had to wake him up on Christmas morning. He was four years old and still asleep at 10:30 in the morning. Watching both boys try to guess which type of Hess truck Grandma and Grandpa sent them each year was always fun. They both loved getting Legos and once presents were opened they started to build their new creations. Or the year our oldest received a “grownup” camera and his reaction was “Sweet Monkeys”.

Our youngest child was thrilled the year he walked into the living room to see a drum set ready and waiting for him. He also went through a dinosaur phase and he loved getting dinosaurs in his stocking and under the tree. He received some that “hatched” and he kept those for a very long time. Our youngest child is sick this year so he did not get to play the drums at the Christmas Eve service last night and he opened his gifts this morning with just a bit of a smile on his face. He has spent most of the day sleeping on the couch.

A tradition that we have started as a family that I hope our sons will keep as they move into their own lives is the ornament tradition. Every year each boy picks out a new ornament that is theirs. Most of the time we pick them up while we are vacationing but some years we do not travel so they are chosen from a local store. The boys will sometimes put their names on them before it goes on the tree. Our tree does not have a theme, a color and there is no rhyme or reason. What it does have is memories. Almost every ornament was given to us, made by one of us or was chosen for a reason.

Christmas comes but once a year but the memories created in one day last a lifetime. Merry Christmas one and all.

Monday, December 1, 2008

If I Were the Secretary Of Education

So if Barak Obama called me Monday morning and asked me to be his Secretary of Education of course I would say yes. I would be on the next flight to Chicago to meet my new boss so we could brainstorm how to improve the public education system here in the United States.

The first thing I would do with the arrival of January 20, 2009 is throw out NCLB and start over. So now that I am starting over what would school look like. First I would assemble teachers, principals, and parents to meet with me and my staff for input.

I will not pretend to have the best ideas for elementary or middle school but I do have some that I think would be beneficial and then the experts would fill in the rest. Half-day preschool would be available for everyone starting at the age of four and your income would not figure into the equation. If you wanted your children to attend a private preschool they could but the expense would be yours. Kindergarten would be full day and all elementary classes would be limited in size to fifteen students. I would also suggest the restructuring of schools. Elementary would run from Pre-K through fourth grade. Fifth and sixth grade would be in a separate building as an intermediate school. Seventh and eighth would be middle school. Ninth grade could either be a separate campus, part of the middle school or in a separate wing of a high school building. Grading and testing needs to change for elementary and middle school while at the same time students need to reach academic success. Testing and grading for students from pre-k to eighth grade would then be turned over to people with experience in those grades. I envision a portfolio being utilized in some way.

High Schools would see a radical change under my direction. There would be a two tiered graduation system put into place. Not everyone would be forced into the college track mode. If a student was not interested in the college prep route or has disabilities that keeps them from progressing down that road they would still take academic course but they would also have the opportunity to receive vocational training in a variety of areas so that upon graduation from high school they would be prepared for work in a given area. This would look different from the vocational training of the 1980s because industry has changed and more doors would be open because of that. Of course there would be the standard cosmetology, auto mechanics and licensed vocation/practical nurse. But computer technician, CATIA design, hazardous waste handler, travel agent, auto detailing, restaurant management are just a few that would be made available. The disabled students could be placed in life skills classes if that is what there IEP determines is necessary. The academic classes that they take would have end-of-course-exams to be used as a gage to determine that they had mastered the subject. The vocational training would have licensing or exams at the end of the program as well and with those two things combined the student will have earned a high school diploma.

For those students that are college bound the rigor would be extensive with AP, IB and duel credit classes offered at every high school. These exams along with the ACT and SAT would be what are used to determine that a student is entitled to a high school diploma.

Classroom sizes would be small, no more than twenty-five students in a class. Science labs would be smaller. The school year would be extended to two hundred days in an academic year.

I would take a radical approach with parent involvement; instead of punishing the parents/guardians that have children that do not what they are supposed to I would instead reward the parents/guardians that have their children do what they are supposed to. This could be in the form of a tax credit or tax rebate it could also be in the form of monetary aid if the child decides to go to college. The parents/guardians could elect which option they would like to take.

High School staff would be assigned 10 children each that they would mentor and advise throughout their high school careers. This model allows for a relationship to develop between an adult and a student so that the adult can give advice about classes, work options, college options and any other advice that the student might need. The counselor’s job would be to counsel with regards to more serious issues.

A few things that I would not allow or I would regulate. Vouchers would not exist if someone wants their child to attend a private school they foot the bill themselves completely. Home schooling and charter schools would be closely monitored and if students were not making progress from year to year steps would be taken to shut down the charter school and the home schooled student would have to return to public school.

President-elect Obama is sure to pick someone with more experience than I have as his S of E but I can dream. If you have any educational dreams you would like to share please feel free to do so.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

College Tours

We toured a college today; Baylor to be exact. Both boys had attended Baylor’s Summer Music Camps but we had never toured the campus before. Our oldest son did not want to look at Baylor; he had his mind set on going out of state. So today we toured the campus for the first time and met with one of the music professors. This tour was hard for me; at first I could not figure out why it was bothering me and then I realized it is because this has always been a summer thing that they did while they were in high school. This tour really made be realize that my baby is going to be in college in the fall. It also made me a little sad because our oldest son is still trying to find his way. Most of his friends will graduate from college this spring and even though he has not taken classes in awhile it also hit me today that he is in limbo.

We have also toured TCU (Texas Christian University) and Texas Wesleyan University both of which are here in Fort Worth. The youngest has also been trying to decide which state schools to look at. We have eliminated a lot of them for various reasons: distance, not the right type of program, their reputation is not stellar with regards to music, to cut throat at the undergrad level, classes are taught to heavily by grad students are just a few. So he has decided to look at University of Texas at San Antonio and Sam Houston. He also knows that the community college here in Fort Worth is always an option for his first two years. He is so trusting and also at times very innocent still so I do worry about him going away but we will both adjust if that is what he decides to do.

As a parent I can say this whole process is very difficult. The application process, deciding which schools to look at and then financial aid are all so much more intense than they used to be. The financial aid issue is something I am a bit concerned with because of the economy. Giving is down at most schools and their endowment funds may also be off depending on how they were invested.

All of his applications will be complete by the middle of December and then we do the hurry up and wait game with one added step the audition process that each college requires. The best thing about all of this is how far this wonderful young man has come. When he was young we were not sure if he would even go to college. Would his speech and language skills catch up? Would he learn to adjust to and accept change? Would he learn to make friends? He has done all of these things and so much more. He is a kind, loving and giving young man with a future in front of him. So as his parents we will support and guide and pray that all of us make wise choices.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Thanksgiving Memories

Thanksgiving is almost here. It is my favorite holiday and has been for a very long time. When I lived at home I remember Gram and Uncle Herb would often come for Thanksgiving dinner at our house. Gram of course always brought the “pink stuff.” Yes Mom I know you and Aunt Liz gave it a name in the newest cookbook but I do not remember what the name is so to me it will always be the “pink stuff.”

Some years it was cold enough to go ice skating on the pond. I enjoyed skating and up until about 5 years ago we would go skating at the Tandy Center here in Fort Worth. The closed the rink down and I started having Fibromyalgia problems so I stopped skating.

I do remember some years that the uncles would come over right around Thanksgiving to go hunting with Dad. I don’t really remember if the aunts and cousins came or not. For some reason I vaguely remember that some years we would go to friend’s homes later in the afternoon or evening for dessert but that could have been for Christmas. We do that as well some years so maybe we didn’t do it when I was at home. Mom will set me straight I am sure.

Paul and I have had many Thanksgivings together and some of them really stand out. Our first Thanksgiving of married life was in California we did not know anyone so we were going to have a quaint Thanksgiving with just the two of us. I prepared the turkey, stuffing, vegetables and dessert. I was so proud of myself; then Paul carved the bird and guess what I had left in the turkey? The plastic bag with the giblets and other stuff I do not think I even knew that stuff was in there. We laughed and ate the turkey and we still joke about it when we prepare a turkey.

The Thanksgiving of 1986 was memorable because Paul and I traveled to Buffalo for his parent’s anniversary and I was so sick at the time that it hurt to breath and I was not keeping food down. When we arrived back in Los Angeles I went to the doctor and yes I had bronchitis but I was also pregnant and Andrew arrived in July of 1987. Three years later Colin would also make me sick near the holidays and arrive in 1990.

One event that usually happens to us right around Thanksgiving is that a major appliance dies on us. One year it was our dishwasher. The funniest was when Paul opened the oven door to check on the turkey and the door came off the oven completely. It was not funny at the time but later it was. We have also had a refrigerator stop working and so did our dryer and a microwave. Last year was the first year since I can remember that something did not break on us. The one good thing about a meltdown for Thanksgiving is the Black Friday sales that make replacement a-little-bit easier on the pocketbook.

My favorite Thanksgivings are those that we have company for. I love to cook for people and have everyone be they friends, family or both around the table for a good meal and good conversation. This year we will actually go to a friends house because the floors in our front room are being redone so having company over is not really an option. I will miss cooking for people but at least we will be with each other and friends that have come to be like family to us.

May all that read this have a restful and abundant Thanksgiving and feel free to share your favorite Thanksgiving memory.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

AP Awards

Tonight I went to an awards ceremony. At this ceremony the school district I work for honored their AP Scholars and for the first time ever they also honored a select group of AP Teachers. The Academic Coordinator from each high school was allowed to nominate no more than two AP Teachers for this award and they had to justify why the nominated teachers should win the award. This year myself and another history teacher were nominated and selected to receive this award. History rocks at our school!!! Seriously we do rock we are the best department in the building. I was one of 18 teachers to receive this award tonight. I was very honored to say the least since last year was my first year teaching AP World History. So now I am officially an AP Scholar Teacher.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Halloween Memories

As Halloween draws near I can not help but remember some of my favorite holidays. Some are from when I was a child and of course the rest are from when my children were little.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday but Halloween and Christmas rank right up there as well especially when the boys were little. I loved to see the excitement they had for each of these holidays. They were the bright spot to the very cold winters that made me crazy.

Growing up in the middle of cow country there were not a lot of house to trick-or-treat at. My parents were not the type that would drive to a neighborhood so we could trick-or-treat so Halloween did not do a whole lot for me as a kid. Although I do remember the princess/Miss America dress in blue that I had one year and I am sure I dressed up for the Halloween parties at school but I really do not remember any of them. I do remember going to the firehouse one time for their Halloween party and I attempted to bob for apples. Yeah, that was a big hit. For those of you that know me well you know how much I hate the water and getting my face wet in a swimming sort of way. I do remember with great fondness the many Halloweens that we have shared since Paul and I have been married. Once Andrew and then Colin were old enough to wear costumes I made them a variety of costumes and had a lot of fun doing so. Part of the fun was watching them decide what they wanted to be. Once that was complete we would wander in the fabric store finding just the right fabrics and notions for the costumes. No Velcro or glue costumes for my boys. I made the costumes for two reason actually, first I knew how to sew and second they played in the costumes until they outgrew them.

For several years we went to Halloween parties at church as a family and we all dressed up. We were a mouse, cat and elephant when Andrew was two. When Andrew was 3 he discovered Peter Pan so he was Peter Pan, Paul was Captain Hook, I was Wendy and Colin was a Lost Boy (baby). Andrew loved this costume so much he used it two years in a row.

The Halloween that we all still laugh about was in 1994. Andrew and Colin both wanted to be dinosaurs that had morphed from something else. It was a show but I do not remember what show it was. Anyway Andrew was the red dinosaur and Colin was the white dinosaur. The costumes were made out of flannel and they had stuffed head pieced and tails. I had a pretty bad head-cold that year so I stayed home and passed out candy while Paul took the two boys trick-or-treating. They walked the neighborhood with several other Dads with kids in tow. They were at least 4 or 5 blocks from home and Colin was getting tired; the costume was heavier than I realized. So Paul decided to carry Colin for a little bit and then it started to sprinkle. With that Paul and the boys headed for home. Believe me they had enough candy by this time but to make matters worse it started to pour. Of course we did not have cell phones so Paul could not call me to come and pick them up. Paul and Andrew were both pretty tired when they got home. Andrew was walking with the heavy tail dragging behind him and it was even heavier because it was soaked. Paul had to carry a soaking wet child in a heavy dinosaur costume at least three blocks before they arrived back home. Once they arrived home the boys took a warm bath and got ready for bed.

I have wonderful holidays for Thanksgiving and Christmas as well and another time I will share those.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Typical Day For Me

I have had people say to me teachers have it easy they only work from 8:30 – 3:30. They have the summers off. I won’t even talk about the summer issue here but I’ll take a few minutes to walk you through my day.

I am up at 5:15 in the morning unless I sleep in until 5:45. I am out the door by 7 at the latest. This puts me in the building at 7:30 unless traffic is bad. Then the real day starts.

I check my box for mail and sign in. I get stopped by the principal’s secretary so that I can be filled in on any LCT updates that came up after I left the building the day before. The Dean of Instruction calls my name as I’m leaving the office so we walk down the hall together strategizing the day. The Data Analyst and at least one Assistant Principal and another LCT usually join the conversation by the time we have reached the stairwell. After I unlock my door and we finish the conversation I meet with my Department Head for a morning check in. This is all within the first 30 minutes of my day. Some mornings my principal calls me into her office before I even have the chance to sign in and if that is the case I know I’m in for a really long and busy day. This usually happens twice a week. But it has been known to happen as many as four times a week.

Email needs to be checked; most mornings I have a meeting and if I do not I have teachers and or students stopping in for advice, help, or an ear. At 8:30 the bell rings and first period starts.

First period is my planning period so I grade papers, call parents, make copies or fill out forms so that the copy lady can make my copies for me. This 50 minutes flies by and before I know it the bell rings and with the start of 2nd period I switch into LCT mode.

For those of you that do not know LCT stands for Lead Content Teacher. This means that I am the Social Studies expert on our campus. I love my job but this is the part of my job that completely stresses me out some days. There is always something that needs to be done with this part of the job. During 2nd period I usually do one of six things: visit a social studies classroom to observe/help for the full period; do learning walks in multiple classrooms; plan with one of the American History teachers or the World History teachers; meet with the Advanced Academic Coordinator or meet with the Social Studies Director from downtown and if I am behind I get paperwork caught up.

3rd, 4th and 6th period find me teaching AP World History to 10th graders. I love this part of my job it is truly my favorite part of the day and yes I know I am spoiled because I have the best kids in the building. I have great students that I challenge, support, push and love. They go from being whiny unsure students to focused and confident students. I like knowing that I have gotten them ready to move on to other AP classes and started them on their way to a successful college career if that is what they choose.

5th and 7th period are also LCT periods. If it is a Tuesday the LCTs have a meeting with the principal. The other days I repeat period 2. I do get a 30 minute duty free lunch but there are times that I work during lunch as well.

The bell rings at 3:35 to end the day with the students and technically I can walk out of the building at 3:45. That only happens if I have a 4pm doctor’s appointment. Usually I am at work until at least 5 and many times until 6pm. I use this time for meetings, tutoring students, planning and grading projects that are really to big to bring home. I also take care of paperwork, entering grades into the computer, more emails, phone calls to parents and just about anything else that needs to be handled. Once I go home I typically have another two hours of work to complete.

Twice a month I am off campus for LCT meetings and I also conduct professional development training both on and off the campus. This means I have to plan for there being a substitute in my classroom; the part of the job I really do not like doing.

Oh yes and the last thing I am involved in is showing my students I care by attending their afterschool activities. That means football games, band competitions, volleyball games, basketball games, softball, baseball, choir and orchestra concerts and that is just the activities that I can remember.
I love my job, my school and my students. I would not give it up for all the tea in China but I sometimes get frustrated when people think teachers make too much because of all their free time. I sure would like to know what free time they are talking about. One plus side to all of the time I put in; my students recognize that I do not have a lot of free time because of all I do for them and they thank me for it so in the end it is all worth it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My thoughts on Teaching and Education Within the Arguments Of The Campaign

This will most likely be my one and only politically leaning post so if you do not want to read my thoughts on the political process with regards to education this is your fair warning to close it down now and not read it. But if you want to read and leave a comment please feel free to do so.

After watching the third and final debate between Senator Obama and Senator McCain I thought I would put my thoughts out there. First of all I do not think either of the candidates have a workable plan for education and therefore the person they choose to become their Secretary of Education will really impact the state of educational system for a long time.

I am a teacher and as most of you know I became a professional teacher in 2005 at the age of 43. With that being said I believe I was a teacher long before that point and time. I also believe that most good teachers are innate teachers. That does not mean someone cannot learn to become a good teacher; I just think that it takes them more time to do so and some do not ever become good teachers.

One of my pet peeves that people discuss when they talk about education is how far behind the United States is with regards to math and science when compared to other countries. Let’s look at that for just a moment. Countries like Germany, Japan, South Korea and the list goes on do not educate all of their students to the extent that the United States does. Most students in those countries are identified and tracked by the time they reach intermediate to middle school age. What this means is that if those students are not “university material” they are trained for occupations. There is nothing wrong with this but those students are not taking the types of high school/college prep class that the students in the United States are. This country believes that everyone is entitled to a free public education and I agree with that. I also believe that we have turned our backs on vocational training in high schools for those students that want that track. The policy wonks have decided that everyone should be “college ready”. That affects our rankings so people need to compare apples to apples not apples to cantaloupe.

I will not go into all of my disagreements with NCLB (No Child Left Behind) I will just say I do not believe that there is a baby in that bath water so they need to throw it all down the drain and refill the bath tub with clean water.

One comment that Senator McCain made that I had a major issue with was when he said that when people leave the military they should be allowed to become teachers without having to pass any tests. Excuse me? So some person that joined the armed services right out of high school serves his 4 to 6 years that he signed up for, and has only been trained to drive a tank, can come back to the states and walk into the classroom and teach? So is my degree and all of the other degrees worth nothing? He has got to be kidding! Does that mean that once I have my Masters of Military History degree I can go and be a general in the United States Army?

I also take issue with Senator Obama saying that only math and science teachers should get paid more money to teach. Does he believe that those students suddenly become easier to teach if it is not a math or science class? I hate to tell him if they struggle in math and science they are most likely struggling in all of their core academic classes.

The other issue I have with Senator Obama and Senator McCain is that they want to hold parents accountable, that they have to be part of the solution. Believe me when I say every teacher in America thinks that parents have to be part of the solution. My problem is that neither of them has said how they would do that. We haul parents into to court on a regular basis in the district I work for because of truancy or other issues with their children and more often than not the behavior of the child does not change. So until they give me concrete examples of how parents would be part of the solution they are both blowing smoke as far as I am concerned.

The education system did not “break” in a year it will take longer than a year and quick fixes to truly fix the problem. In the end it will take educators that are still in the trenches to help fix the problems not policy wonks that are so far removed from the classroom that they have no clue what is like today. Until we are asked real effective and lasting change will not happen.

Trains, Legos and Other Boy Toys

Colin decided to rearrange his room and make it more adult. He also wanted his electronic keyboard and computer in the room so he can compose so we cleaned up his living space. Granted they haven’t moved the computer in there yet but I’m sure they will in the next few days. With Paul traveling it keeps getting pushed back. This event leads me to today’s thoughts.

As Colin cleaned up we had to decide where to put the trains, Legos and Duplos along with the many other boy thing Colin had collected over the years. Some of the items were very easy to get rid of. They either went in the trash or were donated to our church for the annual garage sale. It wasn’t really hard to decide what to do with the Thomas tracks and trains or the Legos and Duplos; we boxed them up and put them in the spare room. All of this cleaning and reorganizing took me down memory lane. It just seems so strange to me that my children are now 21 and 18. I am not sure where the time went but I do know that it went away faster than I ever imagined that it would.

Andrew was given his first set of Duplo blocks when he was 3 years old. He loved the blocks right away and he was very happy to have my help in learning how to follow the directions and build the blocks. Then he got his first set of Legos and all of that changed. All of the sudden Mom went from being a great builder of Duplos to a very incompetent builder of Legos and the refrain I heard more times than I can count was: “Mommy, girls don’t build right I’ll do it myself or I’ll wait for Daddy to come home from work and he can help me.” Of course my ego was crushed and to top it all off Legos were the start of Mom does not know everything. Colin very quickly learned this refrain from Andrew and I was barely allowed to help with the Duplos. Colin preferred Andrew’s or Daddy’s help Mom came in 3rd at best. If our golden retriever Mollie had shown any ability with Legos she would have ranked higher on the chain than I did.

We had Lego boats that really floated in the tub, more airplane styles than you can count, at least 5 different castles, more car and truck types than you can count, Star Wars came out of our ears and we just generally kept the Lego Company in business. We should have purchased stock actually I’m not sure that they sell stock in Lego. It was money well spent and our boys had many happy hours playing with them. Hopefully someday they will have children to pass these Legos down to.

The one down side to all of those Legos, they were everywhere. I can not even begin to tell how many times I vacuumed up a Lego piece or worse yet stepped on one. Those little suckers hurt and they seem to multiple like rabbits when you are not looking. Honestly when I think about all the Legos Andrew and Colin had I do not really remember either of these things unless I think about it for a long time. I truly remember the fun they had building and playing with Legos. When Colin put them away he officially closed a chapter in his life that has made me sigh. It is just one more thing that makes me acknowledge that he is a young adult and no longer a little boy. It is a good change but a sad one at the same time.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

It's the little things

I know it is a pretty obvious statement but it is the little things that make life wonderful and very interesting.

Today my students asked me what I do when I get home from work. They were shocked to find out that Paul cooks most nights and that I do not clean the house or do the dishes. I do the laundry and I feed the animals but I do not scoop the litter box. After all Paul wanted the cat he can clean the box. I cleaned Figaro’s box the whole time he was alive. But in talking with my students about my daily life it made me realize how lucky I am that I have a husband that likes to cook and he doesn’t complain about the cleaning. After all he is the one that wanted to cancel the maid service that we had. The boys also help out around they house so it gives me time to do school related work; which at times seems to be never ending.

Another little thing that makes my day is the towel warmer that is in my bathroom. It makes my towel nice and warm to wrap up in after I get out of the shower. I really love it in the winter time.

Notes from my students that they leave on my desk or at the bottom of the assignment also make my day. Of course some make me laugh while others make me cry. They will give me their reasons as to why they did poorly on a test, did not complete their homework and just little things about themselves or about what they think about me or my class. Most hate my class but at least like or love me. They hate my class because it is so hard for them. For the first time they are really truly being held to a very high standard and I keep their feet to the fire until the middle of May and then a let up a little bit after the AP exam is over.

Phone calls from family and friends that I do not get to see very often bring a smile to my face because it lets me know that they are thinking of me and that they miss me as much as I miss them.

My sons still give me a hug and a kiss each night before I go to bed; it used to be that they gave me a kiss before they went to bed. Now I turn into a pumpkin if I am up much past 10 pm and they are up well past 10 so as I say good night to them and head to my bed they give me the hug and a kiss.

Colin has to create a Senior Scrapbook for English class this year and he is letting me help with the design of the book. Working on a creative project with him is always enjoyable.

Listening to Colin sing and play the piano as I drift off to sleep is a wonderful gift that I will truly miss when he moves out of the house. He has a rich deep comforting voice especially when he sings hymns that I remember from my childhood.

My fibromyalgia is under control again and because of that I can face each day with less pain and more energy. That is so important in my profession especially at my school. My students have so much instability that they worry when a teacher is ill or just not themselves for a day. They want to be sure that I will be there. That is why I warn them if I am going to have a sub they do not like walking into a room with a sub they did not know about. Even when they do know about it I get things like “Ms. Please don’t leave us again we did not like that sub.” Of course when questioned about what was wrong with the sub it comes down to I wasn’t there.

Last but not least my husband of 24 years still loves me for better or worse and I feel the same way about him. As I crawl into bed he is by my side and for that I am truly greatful; for even though it at times seems like a little thing it is a wonderful thing.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Real Time Post

I had an exciting day at work for me. First we had open house this evening so I did not come home after work I just stayed at school and got some work done and while I was doing that Christmas came early to my classroom. The tech guys came and installed a promethean board in my classroom. They are really cool interactive boards; gone are the days of chalk or white boards. If you would like to see what they can do a Google search and there are all types of demonstrations to watch. I am so excited because I went to the training and early August and have just been impatiently waiting to get one of these in my classroom. The second exciting event ties directly to open house. Last year we had 75 parents come to open house; we have 1,500 students enrolled at our school. Pretty depressing when you stop and think aobut how few people came to learn about where their child attends school. This year we had 600 parents. I was so happy because when the parents take an interest that is when we start to see changes occur. Good things are happening at my school and I’m really thrilled to be a part of it.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Syracuse State Fair

People tell me that I should blog and I’ve said I just do not know what to blog about. To me I just lead a normal and at times a slightly boring life that people would not want to read about and the people that might care I send a once a week email to and they can read it or not. Then I though what if I wrote in retro time; I have some great memories and as I’ve been listening to on the computer some of those memories have been flooding back.

For those of you that do not know about it is really cool you put in a song or an artist and from there the computer just starts playing different music that you might like based on your first selection. If a song you really do not like starts to play you can give it a thumbs down and if you really like it you can give it thumbs up.

Anyway I put the Osmond Brothers into the computer a couple of nights ago and soon I was having flashes of memories while I was writing lesson plans. My sister knows this story well and if she has slightly different memories she can add her memories as well.

I believe it was the summer of 1975 possibly 1976 and the Osmond Brothers were going to be at the State Fair in Syracuse, New York and like most teenage girls in the 1970s I love the Osmond Brothers especially Donny. My friend Debby had informed me of the concert and we desperately tried to get her Mother to agree to take us. After all Debby had family there we thought it would be a sure thing but it was not. So we tried a different approach. We asked my parents and to be honest I am not sure what transpired but I am sure my Aunt Dorothy had a hand in it. My parents agreed to let me go to Syracuse with my younger sister and I would get to see the Osmond concert. We tried to convince Debby’s Mom that Debby needed to come also but Debby did not get to go.

So my sister and I got on a Greyhound bus and headed to Syracuse. There were two seats left on the bus when we got there but they were not next to each other. There was no way I was going to let my little sister sit by herself near strangers; so we shared a seat and when it got tight feeling she sat on my lap. If the lady in the seat next to us had not been so large we most likely would not have felt so tight in our shared seat but we arrived safely in Syracuse and spent the night with Aunt Dorothy and Uncle John.

The next day was the day of the fair. Aunt Dorothy took us to the fair while Uncle John went to work and he met us at the fair in the evening. It rained most of the day at the fair but we did not care we were at the fair and I was going to see the Donny Osmond in real life. That evening Aunt Dorothy and I headed to our seats while Uncle John took my sister to the midway for some fun.

I remember that I loved the concert but what I remember with even more fondness was what happened after the concert. Once the concert was over we met up with Uncle John and my sister. We were both exhausted as we headed to the parking lot and then we hit a snag; my Aunt Dorothy could not remember where she had parked her car so we wandered around for what seemed like forever. My Uncle John had of course remembered where he had parked but in my Aunt Dorothy’s defense we had been there all day my Uncle John had only been there for a few hours. They finally decided that Uncle John should take us home. He took us home and put us in bed. I had been so excited I did not fall asleep right away so I heard my Aunt Dorothy come home. She asked my Uncle John if he had given us a bath or shower before we went to bed. He told her he had not because it was late and we were exhausted. This did not surprise me because my Aunt Dorothy is very clean. She said “John but my clean white sheets will be all dirty because you did that.” His comment and for this I loved my Uncle John “Dorothy they are only sheets you can wash them when the girls get up. They are girls that had a busy happy day and sleep with pleasant dreams was more important than white sheets.”

I know we spent a day or two more with Aunt Dorothy and Uncle John before they put us back on a Greyhound bus for home and this time we each had our own seat next to each other.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

My first post!

So who's Penny Candy? Well, if my mom had her way, she would have named me Penelope Candace, or Penny Candy for short. She did not, but I decided to use that for my blog name.

By the way this blog was set up by my husband, Doohickie, so that I can comment on other people's blogs without being anonymous.