to the wonderful girls who are now A Legacy

I wrote this Wednesday, and I have kept coming back to it and editing it. I want so much for my words to be the right words. I think I’ve finally gotten there.

There has been much on my mind since I got the call Sunday night letting me know that the girls’ PE and cheerleading coach, Cookie Valentine, had died unexpectedly. I know that for so many around me that loss is far greater than it could ever be for me. More than anything else, my thoughts have been with the cheerleaders. I can’t even imagine how difficult this is for all of those girls who spent so much time learning from her. This post is for them.

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Mondays that need mulligans

Some days in the classroom are amazing and filled with light bulb moments. Most days in the classroom are largely mundane, filled with small frustrations and triumphs, tiny quellings, and modest encouragements. And then there are the days when your carefully laid plans crumble around you and grasp at the straws of survival as you are painfully reminded of your own fallibility and fragility.

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first time for everything

Well, we’ve begun a new school year in Room 208. Of course, two week in we got a raucous little holiday thanks to Isaac. I’m currently writing this on the dregs on my laptop battery and hoping they can take care of those tree-downed lines sooner than I expect they will. I’m also mentally castigating my father for leaving town to stay with his mother without setting up the generator first. So far it’s been an interesting year.

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i like simple things

Update: Well, circumstances (and bank balances) worked out such that I did turn in my signed contract. But with a view to the future. Now, I’ve got a goal and timeline, and off we go. Here’s to getting a job in London for the 2012-2013 school year. Anyone with connections–I’m so all about using those. hahaha

Have you ever found yourself in the throes of a decision you didn’t know how to make? Where one choice is simple and direct and the consequences are easy to see, and the other choice is more like jumping off a cliff and hoping there’s a nice deep body of water underneath? I’ve got one of those right now. At least, it feels that way. And I hate it. The thing is that since last summer, England has owned a large portion of my heart. A big enough one that I’ve been surreptitiously applying for secondary English teaching positions for the past few months. I haven’t gotten a job, though, and now I’m down to a week (a gracious week given my incredibly gracious principal) to make a life-altering decision. I’m still holding out for that call or email that says, “Hey, come on over–we have a position just for you!” If I don’t, then I’m a bit stuck. Without a job offer, I’m left with the simple, direct choice–turn in my signed contract, work at Victory for another year, look for a teaching position for the 2012-2013 school year while saving the monies–and the cliff-diving choice–go to England anyway on the small fundage I have, get a temp job(s) while looking for a teaching position over there hoping that I get something so that I can qualify for a visa before my six months of “tourism” is up. And the thing is, I just don’t know what to do. I guess when it comes down to it, I like safe choices. I like things I can count on. I like the security of knowing I have something to go to rather than going to find something. And I’m afraid that if I go, it won’t work out and I’ll be jobless in two countries and regretting every minute of it. Perhaps being impulsive and risk-taking is just another word for foolhardy. But on the other hand, I’m haunted by the thought that staying another year is cowardly, that something will happen and I’ll never get to England, that I’ll regret it. Maybe doing the responsible thing is just another way of saying boring and cowardly. I guess either way, I fear regretting the decision I’ve made. This whole thing would be so much simpler if I get a surprise job (!) in the next week.

At any rate, all that venting just shows my serious dislike of making decisions. At least ones like this where the outcome of my choices are a bit more permanent. Would it be completely irresponsible of me to base my decision on a Magic 8 ball?

if i were an artist…

Today, on “In the life of a 5th grader,” we look at how a 5th grader finishes this sentence: “If I were an artist…”

…I would take photographs. If I were a photographer I would take pictures of cities. It would be about cities and buildings in cities. I would choose that so I could explore cities.

…I would make sculptures. I like making sculptures. My art would be about the swamp. Also the Civil War. I choose that art because I like it, and it’s interesting.

…I would write music. It would be about candy. I would choose that kind of art because I like music and candy.

…I would choose music and photography. My art would be about everything you can think of!

…I would write music. My art would be about love. Love makes great music and art.

…I would make sculptures. I would make sculptures out of video games. I think sculptures are cool to look at so that’s why I would make sculptures.

…I would take photographs. It would be about animals. I would choose this art because animals are awesome.

…I would write music. I’ve written about 7 songs, but they stink. Love inspires me; it gives me peace of mind. Music is AWESOME.

…I would paint. I love to paint. My paintings would be about anything. Painting is about expressing yourself. And not just painting one thing. Everything.

…I would take pictures. My art will be about basketball. I can relate to basketball.

…I would choose to paint and make beautiful scenery. My scenery would be by a beautiful ocean. And the grass would be tall, and the sand would be wonderful. Maybe throw in a couple of sailboats. I would choose the ocean because it inspires me to do anything!

…I would create paintings. I would make paintings of outer space with the stars, sun, and moon. I would choose that art because I could show people what outer space looks like. Also to show people important information about outer space.

…I would write songs. My art would be about things that happened in my life. I would choose that art because I love music. I like to dance and sing, so I like to write songs.

…I would paint. Not just paint, but I would paint scenery, flowers, and animal life. I would choose that kind of art because I feel that it would express my true feelings about specific people, places, things, and ideas. I also feel that it would show the world who I really am.

…I would sculpt. My art would be about mostly abstract. I chose this kind of art because it’s what I enjoy the most. And my name (Tyler) does mean builder.

…I would take photographs. My art would be about beauty. I want to take pictures of the beautiful, breathtaking sites I can see. I would choose that kind of art to bring beauty to the world.

…I would choose to paint. My art would be about animals. They would be all different animals. I would choose this art because I like to paint animals.

african-american heritage month. and don't you forget it. i mean it.

I know it’s halfway through the month, but I’ve been oddly absent from my blog lately. All the things I want to write about are unformed or too hot-button or my thoughts fizzle out before I can successfully conclude a post. Therefore, I offer you a simple post: an admonition to spend a little time honoring the incredible contributions African-Americans have made to our national history by learning something new. And don’t give me that excuse, “Well, I just don’t think one minority group get a whole month of focus, so I’m not going to give in to political correctness and observe it at all!” Frankly, I find that attitude snotty, self-righteous, and a bit prejudiced. You may feel an entire month’s focus is unwarranted; don’t let that keep you from discovering what decades of segregation and biased history curricula left out of the education system. As I told one student today, I figure a month’s focus on the achievements of African-Americans is but little we can do to make up for 200+ years of slavery and for 100 years of maltreatment and abuse. Take a few minutes to discover one new person, one previously unknown journey, one door of knowledge. Take a few minutes to recognize that no one today can truly empathize with the struggles of blacks before the Civil Rights Act. Take a few minutes to understand why it’s important to go that extra step, to make that extra bit of eye contact, to say “Sir” and “Ma’am.” It will be a worthwhile few minutes, I promise you.

Some resources (articles, photo galleries, and interactive media) you may enjoy:
The History Channel
The History Makers
The Census Bureau
The Smithsonian

an admonition to parents

I would just like to take a moment to encourage parents: if your child’s teacher(s) or pediatrician(s) has consistently suggested that you have your child tested for a learning or developmental disorder–do it, please. I understand that you may fear your child will now be “labeled” for the rest of their life. I understand that you fear what a positive diagnosis might involve. I understand that you want to avoid your child having an excuse to not give their all or do their best academically. But I understand some other things as well because I am a teacher.

Your child’s file will have a label not your child. Unless your child chooses to tell his classmates that he has ADD or Asperger’s or dyslexia or receives accommodations, they will likely never know. Certainly, if your child’s symptoms are evident, his classmates will know. Much of the time this is a helpful not hurtful thing, however. I have seen my own students be far less than kind to their classmates. I have never seen them taunt an autistic classmate. Ever. And the younger they are when their classmate is diagnosed, the more they work together with them, the more leeway they give that classmate. If you are still concerned, talk to the administrators and teachers; see what a diagnosis would mean. Many parents have an understandable fear of their child being in a “special ed” program. In many schools, a learning or behavioral disorder diagnosis means nothing more than certain in-class accommodations, some behavioral interventions, and special resources tutoring during inconspicuous times. Having an educational exceptionality doesn’t mean segregation.

You will be better equipped to handle your child’s struggles and symptoms if you know what you are dealing with and how best to deal with it. With a diagnosis, you have a guide. Without a diagnosis, you will be subject to the very same difficulties only with the guide, without the support of therapists, without the extra aid teachers can give. Having your child tested and diagnosed is far better than flying blindly through frustration after frustration because your child continues to struggle in school or behaviorally, and your best efforts aren’t working the way you’d hoped.

You are the one who sets the expectations for your child as ever. I have had numerous students who have learning struggles and who receive academic accommodations; I am aware of one whose parents allowed her to use that as an excuse for work that was below her abilities. You will teach your child how to view their struggle: as an excuse for not meeting their potential, or as a challenge to beat every time they do better than they expected.

But the biggest issue, the one that inspires this post today: if you avoid testing and diagnosis, you are robbing–yes, I said robbing–your child of the aid and treatment he needs to get the step up to grade level acquisition and success. Delaying testing merely means that your child will be older and less able to respond to therapy and coaching. For instance, for many learning and behavioral disorders, 5th grade is hitting the upper age limit on therapy. This means that if you wait until your child is finally hitting a wall in upper elementary, you’ve already missed the time period when therapy and coaching is most effective, and you’re quickly approaching an age when it will be nearly ineffective. And trust me when I say, this is no help to your child. No help at all. Delaying diagnosis means your child will struggle and be below grade level in every grade. By middle school, this will start to be very frustrating for him. And by high school, unless he is able to self-construct coping mechanisms, it will be defeating. The earlier the diagnosis, the more able intervention is to put your child on a path of success. For some children, it’s enough to eliminate any hindrance to grade level or above grade level accomplishment. For all of them, it equips them with the tools they need early on so that when they reach upper levels and difficult subjects, they already know how to approach them. They already are prepared.

Watching a student continue to struggle, continue to slip behind, merely because his parents failed to heed admonitions to have him evaluated is not fun. It is frustrating. It is difficult. You do everything you can, but without well-developed tools and skill patterns, it is very difficult to help a student in that position by 5th grade. As a teacher, I fear for this type of student when they reach middle school and high school. Not only will they be coping with more and more difficult work, they’ll still be struggling to acquire and integrate the skills they need to accommodate for whatever struggle they’re facing. Please, parents, do not hinder your child because you fear labels or opinions or complications or excuses. Do not let your fears and anxieties get in the way of what will best equip your child for the future. Don’t put yourself or your child in a position to regret that fear. The outcome isn’t what you hope. Heed admonitions–if it’s clear that evaluation is recommended, have your child evaluated early. You will only be helping them to discover the best ways to prepare for success.

if I were a superhero in a secret lair…

I asked my kids what super power they would choose if they were a superhero, and what they would want to accomplish with that power. They gave me some really interesting answers. Also, some had trouble limiting themselves to one power. haha

*If I could be a superhero, the power I would choose would be to turn invisible.

*If I was a superhero, I would want lots of powers. I would like to be able to fly, have a force field, and have invisibility. I would go by the name Super Leighton. One thing I would like to accomplish would be to kill all the villains.

*I would choose the power of making money. My name would be “Richest Man on Earth.” I would like to accomplish getting 1 million every time I say “money.”

*I would want to have invisibility. I would go by Invisible Person because I wouldn’t want anyone to know who I was. My life as a superhero would be awesome because nobody would see me. There is nothing I would really want to accomplish. I would just like to be invisible.

*My power would be to rewind and fast-forward time. My name is Remote Guy. It would be awesome. If I got a bad grade, I could reverse time to redo it, or I could fast-forward to Saturday. I would want to accomplish better grades with my super hero power.

*If I were a superhero, I would choose the power to shapeshift. I would be the name Bob. My life would be crazy because I would constantly have to save people, but I could also shapeshift into a normal person. One thing I would try to accomplish is to shapeshift into a monkey and climb like a monkey.

*I would choose flying. I would go by the name Superkid. My life would be awesome because everyone would love me. I would try to accomplish ruling the world!!!!!!!

*If I were a superhero, my power would be super stealth. I would go by the name Phantom of the Peace. The life of a superhero would be pretty hard with real life and crime fighting. If there was one thing I could accomplish, it would be squeezing in time.

*If I was a superhero, I would be part of a superfamily. My super powers would be able to see what’s happening in a different place. So me and my family would be sitting on the couch, and then I would say that the bank is being robbed on the corner of Flannery Road and Parnel Drive. We would save the day and call ourselves “Justice Force.”

*If I could be a superhero, I would have the power of telepathy. My name to go by would be Brain Man. People would have bad thoughts to destroy the city, and I would run behind them and catch them. If bad criminals were breaking the law, I would catch them and turn them over to law officials. I would help law officials any time they needed help. I would try to clean up the streets in cities.

*I would have multiple powers. I could do anything I wanted. I would go by Super Kid. My life would be great! Saving the world one step at a time. I would try to save the world before dinner and make some superfriends along the way.

*If I was a superhero, a power I would have would be that I’d be able to fly. My life as a superhero would be cool. I would try accomplishing being the best superhero ever. I’d hope I’d save the world from evil space monkeys.

*My power would be to turn invisible. My name would be “Super Pink Awesome Cute Power Girl.” My life would be fighting crimes and saving the world. I would try to accomplish being invisible for 48 hours (2 days).

*My power is strength. I’ll be called Alexander the Great. I’d use my power to help people and hurt criminals. I’ll help with the war.

*I would have laser eyes, night vision, being invisible, super strength, and fly. My name would be Ultra Guy. I would try to go around the universe and fly over planets.

*The one power that I would like to have is probably to move things with my mind. My life would be fun. I could move things and nobody would know. I could be invincible. Everybody would like me (I guess).

*If I was a superhero, I would have the power of telekinesis. My name would “Super Kid.” My life as a superhero would be cool cause I could get stuff instead of having to get up and get it. I would try to accomplish getting a satellite dish out of space.

And on a slightly different note, which pet would you pick–Monkey, Snake, or Goat?

*I would pick a monkey. I would choose a monkey because they’re awesome. My parents would probably NOT let me keep it. I would need to have LOTS of bananas and some toys to entertain it.

*I would like a snake as a pet because I would keep it in my glass cage. I would want a snake because it would not leave droppings anywhere. I think my parents would not let me have a snake. I would get a snake sitter to take care of it.

*I would choose the snake. I would choose it because they are cool (and I could freak the girls out with it)! My mom would say, “NO!,” and my dad would say, “YES!” I would need a glass box, grass, sticks, and leaves for the house, and lots of gerbils to feed it (it would be a python).

*I would choose a monkey because they like bananas. Goats smell, and snakes would bit everything, but you can teach a monkey a lot of tricks. I’m not sure what my parents would say. That is hard to predict. To care for it, I would need lots of bananas and fruit. And by the way, I would want an Orange Tameran.

*I would want to have a goat. I would choose that one because he is fuzzy and soft and he looks sweet. I think my parents would say “put him outside!” I would probably need lots of grass and lots of water.

*I would have a monkey. I would choose a monkey because they’re fun to play with and fun to have around. I think my parents would say, “A monkey? Are you serious? A monkey?!” I would need lots of bananas, fruits, and milk to take care of her. Her name would be Serena. The name Serena is so exotic.

*I would want the monkey because the goat would eat my pants, and the snake would eat my parents! Plus, monkeys would eat pesky bugs if they could catch them. To care for my pet monkey, I would need a brush, a comb, a bunch of bananas, a cage, a monkey leash, and a sweater in case she got cold. My parents would wonder why I have a pet monkey.

*I would want a snake. I would want a snake because I can teach it all different tricks. My parents would say Noooooooooooooooo. I would need to have a lot of animals for it to eat.

*I would rather have a monkey. My parents would say keep it in its cage. I would need a cage, bananas,
and something for the monkey to hang on.

*I would have the monkey. I would choose the monkey because we could train it like a human. But I think my parents would say they would rather me get the goat. To take of it I’ll need a cage or extra room, fruits, potty training supplies, diapers, and hair trimmers. If it’s a girl, I’ll need a bow.

*I would rather have a snake because a monkey or a goat can hurt you worse sometimes, and snakes are more interesting. I think my mom would say no. My dad would probably say yes if I take good care of it. To take care of a snake, I would need a five foot long, three foot wide, and four foot tall glass cage with many mice in another cage as the food source. I would also need two heat lamps with spare bulbs and many decorations in his cage.

*I would rather have a monkey. I choose him because monkeys are cute. My parents would totally disagree. I would dye the monkey blue. I would need to care for him by brushing its hair and giving him baths. I would have to train him. I think it would be fun.

*I would have a goat. I would like a goat cause my dad really wants one. He said we could make a goat farm and make cheese. I would need food, space, and water.

*I would have a snake because they are cool. I would get him a jungleish cage. My mom would say, “Get that thingy out of her NOW!!!!!!” But my dad would say, “Awesome!” I want a snake because they are awesome.

*I would have a pet monkey. I chose a monkey because it won’t chew my furniture up like a goat does, or bite and kill me like a snake does. My parents would probably say no, but if I was spoiled then yes. I would go tot he vet to get it shots. I would have to search from store to store to find monkey food. I would have to work extra to buy my monkey a bed and other stuff. That’s the kid of pet I would have out of a monkey, snake, or a goat.

*I would have a snake for my pet. The reason I picked a snake is because I can use it to scare my enemies and my brother.

another peek into the 5th grade mind

Well, here is another installment of 5th grade insight. I’ve been going through a “would you like to be” phase these days. Also, I don’t have anything more substantial to talk about at the moment, though I have some thoughts currently growing through their fetal state. I suppose we’ll see where they go.

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politics in a 5th grade classroom

A bit of an impromptu blog today based on something that happened in class that I’ve been mulling over all afternoon: how to handle real-world political discussion with 5th graders. It’s a tricky situation, and one for which I admit being woefully unprepared. It happened in Language class this morning.

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