Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

wpid-20150302_104239-1.jpgWe celebrated Dr. Seuss’s birthday on March 2 in the O.K. Corral.  Kids were invited to wear their pajamas and bring a blanket, pillow, and a favorite stuffed animal, along with their favorite books, Dr. Seuss or otherwise.  We spent the day enjoying some of Dr. Seuss’s best-loved books starting with The Cat in the Hat, of course. The kids made Cat in the Hat hats to wear for the day.

wpid-20150302_104149-1.jpgWe followed that up with Green Eggs and Ham and the Sleep Book.  Rather than reading The Lorax, I found the original cartoon on YouTube and showed it to the kids.  I think they received the environmental message.  “That’s sad,” was the comment when the brown barbaloots and the swomee swans had to leave.

Between read alouds, we spread out our blankets and pillows all around the room, buddying up for some quiet reading time.  I suppose it was not really a Pinterest-worthy celebration.  But anytime you share great literature with kids, it’s a good day.

Beware The Ides Of March

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I did this today before leaving for the weekend. Holy cow! How is it March already?!

Monday is our 120th day of school. Zero the Hero stopped visiting after Day 100. On Monday we begin one of my favorite things, The Countdown. You can see the little sticky pad I put up with the number 60 showing. We’ll peel off one of those bad boys every day until we reach 0. By the way, when we reach 10 the numbers are red. Sort of like Def-Con 1.

Monday is also Dr. Seuss’s birthday. We’re celebrating with a pajama party in the O.K. Corral. We’ll spend the day enjoying our favorite Dr. Seuss books. I plan to post photos next week.

Happy weekend to all Instructional Warriors!

Out Of The Mouths Of Babes

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Writing a blog is a privilege. It’s an outlet by which one can freely express oneself, explore various topics, and pass along information to one’s followers. And as with any privilege there comes responsibility.

It is with that in mind that I share with you something I learned yesterday from one of my first graders. I was working with my intervention group at my reading table and we were making words in the -ack family. The last word we made was track. My little friend’s eyes lit up. That’s a moment for which all of us Instructional Warriors live.

Then she said this: “Oh, track! If you steal a cell phone, you have to take out the card or else they can track you.”

And so, dear readers, I leave you with this bit of wisdom as you approach the weekend. Don’t say I never gave you nothing.

Great News For The OK Corral

Happy New Year to one and all!  We begin 2015 with great news for the OK Corral.  Early in the fall, when Enthusiastic Intern began taking on more of the teaching load, giving me a little thumb-twiddling time, I decided to be constructive so I created a project on Donors Choose.

Donors Choose is a wonderful organization that matches up teachers in need with generous people who would like to give to a worthwhile cause.  A teacher creates an account and then writes a proposal for a project to be funded.  Donors Choose partners with various online retailers and the teacher selects items for the project.  Once it’s approved by the powers that be, the project is displayed for the charitably-minded to peruse and to choose, hopefully, to give a donation to the cause.  There is even an option for donors to give on a regular basis and specify the types of projects they’re interested in funding.

While EI spun her magic, I created a project that would replenish our sadly dilapidated classroom library.  Let me me frank: first graders are hard on books.  And the more they love certain books, the more destroyed those books become.  I have refilled my Junie B. Jones basket several times and I think we currently have part of one book left.

Like a kid in a candy store, I scanned the virtual aisles of Amazon, a Donors Choose partner, in search of the best deals in quality children’s literature.  I ended up with a shopping cart of about $400 worth of books.  In short order my project was approved.  Now, I just needed to sit back and wait.  And, of course, post the project on Facebook and try to shame my friends into donating.

wpid-20150101_121700.jpgI received news yesterday that my project was fully funded.  I have a total of four donors, including my girl Miz O’Postrophe, to whom I am most sincerely grateful.  The next step is that the books will be sent to us in the very near future.  I will need to send home releases for parents to sign because part of the ‘Thank You Package’ I’m required to complete involves photos of the actual students using the actual fruits of the project.

Obviously, we’re still on our winter break until next week.  I can’t wait to tell the kids the good news.

Just as my project was funded, my folks donated $50.  Since we were fully funded, that money has been placed on account for our next project, but it has to be used by July 2.  So another item on my To Do list will be to come up with another project.  Good thing I have a new Intern starting next week.  Tee hee!

All For One And One For All

appleStandardized testing.  We all love it, right?  Because who needs to be educated, thoughtful, creative, or literate?  What we need is the ability to take tests.  Proponents of high-stakes testing insist that it provides accountability.  How can you tell the bad teachers and bad schools from the good teachers and good schools?  By their test scores, of course.  If sarcasm was lethal, you’d all be dead now.

Unfortunately, it’s the reality we all have to live with, like it or not.  Schools and teachers are evaluated based on the results of their most recent tests.  Our Title I school has struggled to raise our scores.  Two years ago, based on a complex algorithm that takes into account gender, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status, our students didn’t show enough growth and so our school received a grade of D.  We were placed on a list of the lowest performing schools in the district and were overrun with clipboard holders who visited regularly to hem and haw and cluck their tongues, coming up with all kinds of interventions.  “You know, if you move your rug from here to over there…”

With a great deal of hard work and an hour added to the instructional day, we were able to move from a D to a C at the end of that year.  Clipboard holders came to pour on the attaboys, but frankly, nobody was satisfied with a grade of C.  Who wants to work your ass off to be average?  We followed that up with second year of the added instructional hour of literacy and we were able to make the gains necessary to become a B rated school.  This year, as a B school, we no longer have the extra instructional hour.  They tried to tell us it’s because we did so well, but the truth is that they need that money to pay for an extra hour at some other school.

With raising the school grade comes bonus money for the staff.  And the staff votes for how the bonus money should be allocated.  In the eleven years I’ve been at my school, we’ve received the bonus three times.  Each time we’ve voted to split the money equally among all staff members, instructional and non-instructional.  So teachers receive the same cut as cafeteria workers, office clerks, and custodians.

This year some people had different ideas.  The notion was put forth that teachers in testing grades should receive 70% of the bonus while teachers of kindergarten, first, and second grades should receive 30%.  After all, they said, it was their students who raised the school grade.

You can imagine how that went over.  Because here’s the thing.  Forty percent of my annual evaluation is based on the ingenious invention called the VAM score.  The Value Added Model takes the results of administrative observations of my teaching and adds the test scores of the older students I did not have in my class, melding it all together to form the judgement of whether or not I’m an effective educator.  Obviously, it’s in my best interest to make sure that the first graders in my charge are ready for the upper grades.

All of that to say this: If the VAM score is good enough for my public-record evaluation, it’s good enough for my bonus.  Third graders don’t just walk in knowing how to read.  The fact that they can read is the direct result of years of blood, sweat, and tears in the lower grades.  And I’m prepared to bitch-slap anyone who says any different.

Needless to say, staff unity has taken a bit of a hit.  I’m sure we’ll get past the drama.  The aforementioned option did not appear on the final version of the ballot.  You know, it’s true.  Love of money is the root of all evil.

I’m not Miss Beadle.

The Winds of Literacy

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Occasionally in our staff mailroom, someone sets up a display of books and other items for order from the Books Are Fun company. To be honest, I never really pay attention to them because, let’s face it, I have no money to spend. This morning, however, as I breezed through on my way to my classroom, I was thunderstruck by this cheeky little book. Farts: A Spotter’s Guide. It appears to have a little gadget to go with it, too. I believe I’ll pass. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to spot a…well, you know.

Bizarro Generation Gap

electric_company_mainHey, you guys!  Do you remember The Electric Company?  Not the dumb knock-off recently shown on PBS.  I mean the brilliant original show.

Ok, I get it. I’m old.  No, really, I’m staring down the barrel of the big 5-0.  Many moons ago I learned to read by watching The Electric Company.  It was like Sesame Street for the elementary school crowd.  We’d already learned our letters.  This helped us put them together so we could read.  EC was fast-paced and featured sketches illustrating various phonics concepts like the two sounds of g, actors in profile silhouettes pronouncing word segments (c, at, cat), and the amazing silent e.

The show featured some very big talents.  Check out the photo.  Second, third, and fourth from the left are Morgan Freeman, Rita Moreno, and Bill Cosby.  The Adventures of Letterman was narrated by Joan Rivers.   Mel Brooks even had a few voice-over segments.

Years ago I purchased The Best of The Electric Company on DVD to use in my classroom.  I like to show it sometimes when we have the time with the stipulation that if there’s a word on the screen, you need to read it.

That brings me to one day this past week.  We had a Professional Development Day, so the students were dismissed at 11:30.  We brought our lunches back from the cafeteria and I put on the next episode of The Electric Company for the kids to watch while they were eating.

I have 25-year-old intern with me this semester.  Enthusiastic Intern was clearly unfamiliar with the program and she was as excited as the kids to read the words on the screen and to sing along with the songs.

“Wait!  Is that Bill Cosby?” she at one point asked, incredulously.

They all, Enthusiastic Intern included, watched in rapt wonder as Bill drew something on a large poster.

“It’s a square!” shouted Enthusiastic Intern.

Bill added a few more details to the square and one of my short-fry friends said, “It’s a tv.”

“It’s an old tv,” quipped E.I.

At that point, 6-year-old Preciously Precocious turned around in her chair.  You might remember her from the post Progressive Children’s Programming (Or Not) https://notyourmamasteacher.wordpress.com/2014/09/10/progressive-childrens-programming-or-not/ .  She’s a delightful old soul masquerading as a small child.

“This was made in, like, the 1960s,” she patiently explained to Enthusiastic Intern.

In, like, the 1970s, actually.  But who’s counting?