Thursday, January 18, 2007


Life sometimes seems just a little different in a elementary school.... little things can, at times, be Amazing! Astonishing! Awe inspiring! and big things can be shrugged off, who cares, no big deal.

Take today for, in the middle of reading workshop, it started to snow. SNOW! You'd think this particular group of kids had never before witnessed snow. Now, granted, it's the first sign, HINT even, of snow this whole winter. All work came to a screeching halt. There were cheers! Frantic clapping of hands! Jumping up and down! Two boys even hugged- twice! Then, of course, inevitably, came the stories and the rumors and the old wives tales-- all having to do with getting a snow day. Turn your shirt backwards! And inside out! Sleep with your pj's backwards and inside out! Put a frozen spoon under your pillow! A plastic frozen spoon! Do a snow dance! Three times!

I was patient at first. Even clapped along with them. Allowed them to rush to the windows and gape for could I not really, with floor to ceiling window all along one wall, it's unavoidable. Even read them a section of a book we'd read before, My Mama Had a Dancing Heart by Libba Moore Gray, about doing a special snow dance....but twenty five minutes later and my patience wore out. There were assessments to be done and small groups to instruct and conferences to be completed. No more time for snow, back to work! Fortunately, it stopped snowing and life returned to a somewhat more peaceful pace. With frequent furtive glances out the windows of course. And a goodbye from a student that consisted of, "I hope I DON'T see you tomorrow....because we have a snow day!"

Sunday, January 14, 2007

You know....a tramp

C: Mrs. S. , what's a tramp?

Me: What? (Always a classic response!)

C: A tramp.

Me: Where did you hear that word? (Again, classic response, seeking more information.)

C: It's in my book A Wrinkle in Time.

Me: (Simultaneous thoughts: what in the world is a third grader doing reading that book? And, oh my god how do I explain to her mom that I had to come up with a definition for a tramp?!?) Can I see the book so I can see how the word is used please? (Still stalling, although at this point I'm thinking I know the answer to this question.)

C gets her book and brings it over, indicating the sentence to me. Something about a tramp stealing garbage from the library.

Me: (Phew!) Oh, a tramp! I launch into an explanation of the more benign meaning of the word and send her off so relieved to avoid a potentially difficult conversation that I completely forgot to talk to her about making good book choices.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The one where I rant about standardized tests

I can remember a day when I was having a....discussion? debate? argument? with some people. They were saying that schools should be treated as businesses. Teachers don't do well? Get rid of them. Kids not performing? Shift them around to teachers that would get them to perform. Whole schools not making the grade? Shut them down and bus those kids to a school where they would do better. But how will you judge all of this I asked? The response was simple: standardized tests.

The argument ended then and there. I was flabbergasted. Speechless in the face of this argument that made such absolute sense in their mind but completely blew mine. I contend that anyone who could make an argument like that has never stood in front of a class of eight year olds and administered a standardized test.

Today we finished day two of assessments that are designed to test intelligence but seem instead to cause panic, stress and anxiety. They are eight. Remember what you wanted when you were eight? I'll remind you: you wanted your mom to pack you a good lunch or you wanted pizza to be served at school. You wanted recess to last forever and math to end as quickly as possible. You wanted your best friend to like you best always. You wanted your teacher to know every detail of your life: what your dog's name was, how your aunt and uncle were getting divorced, what happened to your little brother at his karate tournament, how you had to leave school early for your swim meet. You wanted less homework and more television.

Instead I have to stand before them, with a big sign on my door that declares for all to see: Testing Do Not Disturb, and read from an official looking manual while they stare at a page covered with more bubbles than they can understand. I try to explain problems to them they've never seen but they are about to be given ten minutes to complete as many of them as they can. I have to tell them that no, they can't go to the bathroom/ sharpen their pencil/get a drink of water/ throw something in the garbage/get a tissue/read a book or do anything other than take the test. When they get stuck I have to ignore everything that made me want to be a teacher and not help them, watching their faces crumple and their shoulders sag just a little bit as I say the words "do the best you can". I have to answer ten thousand questions: some outlandish (why do we have to use #2 pencils?) and some serious (what happens if I don't do well, can I still go to college?). And I have to look at a sea of little faces that have a look of panic and anxiety on them and try to reassure them that the world will not end if they don't finish or if they don't do well, all the while praying, hoping, that no one will cry this time. Let me tell you: there is nothing, nothing fun about standardized tests.

And these aren't even the state mastery tests where if someone sneezes a state of emergency is declared and everything shuts down so that a team of experts can be called in to determine if the testing situation has been compromised and we have to (gasp!) call the state to determine if the test should continue or if it should be declared void.

You want to argue a case for standardized tests being used to determine my future and the future of the eight year olds I teach? Come visit my classroom......I'll show you what standardized testing does to children.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Monday, January 08, 2007


So I'm not normally one to make resolutions....frankly they seem a little silly to me. Not to say that we don't all have something--or more than one thing!-- to work on to better ourselves, but it just seems to me that any promise you make to yourself on New Year's is probably something that you either already should be working on, or should work on continuously. So, instead, I have a list of things I'd like to do and the kind of person I'd like to be in my life and that is my version of a New Year's resolution. Some people think this is hokey, others think it's a cop out, but it's (as a fifth grader said to me recently) the way I roll.

Well, this year, I decided to make a New Year's resolution. Ready for it?

I decided that I'm going to leave school earlier.

Can you hear the seas boiling and feel the wind from the pigs that are flying by?

This truly is momentous for me. OK, OK, keep in mind that when I say earlier, I mean 5:00 at the latest. 5:30 on days that I have a meeting that goes until 5. (I know, I know, it is sad that 5:00 is earlier for me, but hey, I'm working on it, aren't I?!? That should count for something!) So far, five days into our new year, everything seems to be conspiring against my New Year's resolution. I could launch into my litany of how busy a teacher's life is, and how much work it is to keep 23 third graders occupied and thanks to NCLB we have more and more pressure put on tests....but that would just bore you. Suffice it to say, I picked a poor time to walk away from the piles of work that never seem to go away. But, since it is a resolution, and since we are only five school days into our new year, I haven't given up hope yet.....