Monday, August 4, 2014

An Ode to Oakland

This will likely be my last blog post on this site...(I plan to start a new one eventually, filled with future Kindergarten shenanigans.) But for now, a week before I officially become a Kindergarten teacher, I'd like to reflect on my time in Oakland.
"You taught in OAKLAND?! Why would you do that?" Because it is a beautiful, diverse, culturally rich mecca of progressive dialogue, brilliant activists, and most importantly, incredible children. I won't pretend that I felt successful in the classroom there...I felt like a hamster of sorts, spinning in a wheel, going in circles, then running out and making progress, and moving on to the next obstacle. Being a new teacher in Oakland, not being FROM Oakland or the community I taught in, was most definitely the most difficult experience I have undertaken in my privileged life. I felt like a failure far more than I felt like I was serving my students how they deserved to be served; I worried constantly that I was doing more harm than good, I lost confidence in myself and beat myself up about things that, looking back, were important but could have improved greatly if only I'd been more kind to myself.
But today, I am choosing to only reflect on the good things (and oh, there are SO many.) There was George's smirk and snarky comments, Y's delight at the jumping apps on the classroom Macbooks when they needed to be updated, the quiet calm of Cozy Reading Time with those beloved beanie babies, without fail, every morning. There was the excitement of introducing a new workstation, the "thank you"s chirped in unison when the paper went out of range of the document camera and a student nudged it back into place so everyone could see. There was the unparalleled joy that was a new Elephant and Piggie book added to the classroom library. There was cutting edge professional development, retreats dedicated to anti-racism and equitable leadership.
There were my colleagues. Reflecting on the horrible inequities our students and families faced, and discussing at length in what ways we were contributing to these inequities, and what we could do to confront our own biases and practices that were potentially holding our students back. There was wandering the halls at 6 PM, hoping to run into someone who was still inevitably at school, just to be around a comforting presence and talk more about how to engage students in a particular Math lesson, how to translate a high-level vocabulary Spanish word, or just to lay in someone's classroom library and wistfully discuss how wonderful a cold beer would be just right then. There were routine hellos in the morning, chocolate sharing and cry-fests at lunch because of some of the horrible atrocities happening to our students' families, about the state of education, about our own tragedies, and yes, for me, sometimes about student behavior (and my reaction to said behavior). (Okay, so these are not-so-good things...but the close relationships that resulted are certainly beautiful.)
There were Lake Merritt walks and runs, recognizing other Oakland educators all over the place, seeing students at the Mexican restaurant near school, at the taco truck, at the Pho place around the corner from our apartment.
Oakland and my school there taught me that teachers and educators are actually some of the most intelligent and reflective people I've ever met or been around. I found a placed where I thrived personally, but not necessarily professionally...but gained so much knowledge, insight, and compassion for the world and people at large. In a place that most people consider to be "dangerous," "shady," and worst of all "ghetto..." I found quite the opposite...I found beauty, brilliance, vibrance...I found home.
I am excited for my new adventure into Kindergarten in what will undeniably be an incredible experience in a rural community amongst fabulous educators and fabulous families. I will give my all to learn, to gain confidence, to serve these children and families to the very best of my ability... but someday, be it 5, 10, 20, even 30 years, I hope these experiences will make me a stronger candidate to go back to my home...back to Fruitvale. Back to Oakland.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Control freak.

For those who know me, I'm the opposite of a control freak. As we speak, half of the dishes I was supposed to clean this morning are still in the sink, half in the running dishwasher. There is a load of laundry in the washer that's been sitting in there since yesterday. I bought some frames a week ago that are still sitting on the coffee table. I am not at all stressed by messes or disarray.
HOWEVER. In the classroom, it's a different story. I'm still absent minded, I still leave whiteboard markers and my phone and my coffee all over the room, asking in the nicest way possible for students to find them for me. But when it comes to sitting on the rug, I all of a sudden feel like a CONTROL FREAK. At my old school, it was pretty normal to hound students about sitting correctly, where to put their eyes, etc. Walking in the hallway was a silent endeavor (not because I necessarily believe students need to be silent while walking, but for safety reasons and mostly because we were inside a building and other students were learning in other classrooms. Here, the students behave wonderfully with their teachers, but I have had yet to see a teacher give a time-out (other than myself.) The students also tend to careen down the hallways, sometimes even screaming at recess. This puts me into control freak overdrive.
I feel that I am forever telling the kids to go back and walk. To do it again. To keep it in their brain. To take a break, we don't actually touch each other's faces on the rug for fun. And today...the inevitable happened. I made a Kindergartener cry. At my old school, this was a normal occurrence. Students who wanted to do their own thing and then were woken up by annoying insistence that they stay with us would sometimes cry, not used to being told "no." That first time being told NO in a really firm way is a quite upsetting experience, and I get that. And from here I think I will see immense progress with this student.
He is adorable. Comes in every day so excited, speaks only a little English, is absolutely brilliant, and WON'T STOP TALKING. Ever. I of course give time for translating to make sure the kids understand what they're supposed to do or talk about, but I mean...constantly giggling, hopping around, making faces, basically being a typical 5 year old. He doesn't understand much English, so I believe his coping mechanism is playing. I would probably do that too. But today... we went to our seats to draw a map of the classroom. Little muffin KNEW what we were supposed to do...I had his friend tell him in Mandarin, and make sure he knew. He proceeds to draw his mom flying out of the window of his house like a witch. He even told me! I told him his picture was fun, but we were drawing our classroom so please try again. I had a different student translate. They said he understood. I pointed to the model. Then he turns over the page and starts laughing hysterically and scribbling and drawing swords. I took his paper and crayons away from him, told him I'd give him another chance when he was ready to do what we were doing, and he put his head down and cried.
I came back a few minutes later and gently asked him to try again, but he was still sad. Until it was time to go, he hurriedly drew his classroom and then ripped a paper off the corner of his map and made dollar signs all over it.
He handed me the paper and said "For you. Dollars." As an apology. I nearly cried too. I bet he won't goof off to that extent again. The new ELD specialist for the school arrives next Friday, so I'll be there one more week. Better enjoy these muffins (and the two preps a day!) while this lasts.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

ELD Delights

My story begins the same as so many teachers: I've been wanting to teach since I was eight. It began with wanting to be around kids all the time, then evolved into something bigger, even moreso than I can fathom now. Education is, of course, constantly undulating with the times, moving in and out of trends, so much of it politicized, so predestined for those who have access and all-so-difficult for those who do not. Teaching is now, to me, such a personal and vital endeavor, that quite like when I was young, I can't imagine doing anything else. One month ago I woudn't have told you that.
Education is frustrating and confusing. I am a privileged woman, as I have often mentioned, who comes from a home that prepared me for the American culture of school and university. One month ago, I wasn't sure it was for me anymore. Nearly every day for the past three years, I felt like I was failing my students because I was told they were failing. My self worth became based around how many reading levels my students had gained through the year, because if they weren't making gains that was on me (which it still, of course, is.) I blamed myself for classroom outbursts, for moments gone awry, for all the normal (and not-so-normal) things that happen in a classroom. My lack of confidence affected my performance, my sleep, my eating habits--all the things I needed to be on top of my game. I would stay up until 11 PM looking up some new-fangled thing to try every day, always feeling that the result was less than optimal.
I worked at a great school with great kids and AMAZING colleagues. My friends told me to keep on keepin' on, that we were all in this together, that I was good at it. I never ever believed them. My lack of confidence and self worth were ultimately what led to my discomfort as a classroom teacher, not the fact that I am probably a capable teacher who went through the same things that any other average teacher goes through. But I took it all so personally. I felt the weight of my students' learning, and a selfish sense of loss that the only thing I'd ever wanted to do was depressing and discouraging me. School shouldn't be like that. It should be fun and exciting and full of happiness.
As a sub, I still struggle sometimes. But I don't blame myself. I reflect on what went wrong, resign myself to the fact that kids are kids and we will get there with practice, practice, practice...and I come home happy and healthy, excited for the next day. Maybe subbing was the best thing for me. Moreso than someone telling me I was good, I needed to believe it. But for me, that started with divorcing myself from data, with SMILING and being playful but firm with kids, and enjoying the learning process with them. It comes from seeing them happy and excited about what they're doing, from using rich curriculum, and from part of my job as ELD sub to spend time sharing stories and translating and comparing much fun. I learned a tremendous amount from my time in Oakland, and it is validating to feel that maybe I wasn't wrong to choose this education path...
The sad part of being a sub is knowing there's an impending ending day. I've spent the last week launching ELD groups with students from every grade level, and I already really really like them and feel a little attached. (There are a couple who have ignited that all-too-familiar furrowing of the brow with their spanking-butt, giggling-for-too-long antics, but overall it's been quite delightful). I pull groups intermittently or push in and help out in classrooms where I get to observe incredible educators, and it's really been a pleasure.
After this week, onto the next sub adventure. Cross your fingers those adventures end in a Kinder job-share taking over for a maternity leave beginning in December!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

"But my teacher does it this way....."

Last night I dreamt of cuckoo children, no sub plans, and mice crawling all over my legs. I was greeted with no sub plans, stories of a mouse scrambling around the trash can the day before in the classroom, and a hurried briefing from the teacher five minutes before the day started. And yet, when the day began, it was just...normal.
Adorable antsy cutie who wouldn't stop humming stage left. A breakdancing aficionado who bopped around the room. 19 boys and 9 girls. Parents, high school helpers, and a one on one aide for a boy with an IEP. A little pixie who had mouth vomit on the rug, which was shut off with a VERY firm "We do NOT shout out on the rug. EVER." and the eyebrows down look that used to give me an end-of-day headache. A minor pushing issue in line, and lots of "My teacher does it this way...." A very calm end of day, and then time in another Kinder class and a *gasp* sixth grade class! Yes, they were as big as me, but not nearly as intimidating as I thought. I quite enjoyed it.
Best part...I get to go back tomorrow, for more butterfly life-cycle, choice timing, singing, breakdancing, decorating, Kindergarten goodness.

Monday, September 16, 2013

I am not qualified to be an admistrative assistant.

I am no longer a first grade teacher. It's weird that it took me so long to post this, maybe I was hoping that at this time this year I would magically be a first grade teacher again, and sharing silly quotes of new Georges in my class, but to no avail. To be completely honest, I am unemployed. For two days more. The process of trying to find a teaching job has been illuminating, and, at times, discouraging. BUT I am excited to report I will be begin substitute teaching the day after tomorrow (hopefully!) and continue the full time job of looking for a full time job.
Job searching is a silly job. It is a game of making yourself marketable to whatever position you're applying. This is obvious, of course, but I didn't anticipate changing my resume 10+ times for each different job domain, or sending carefully edited picstiches of myself drinking craft beer for a bartending position. (Yes, I was probably dreaming for that one.) The Master's in Education looks pretty shiny on teaching resumes, but administrative assistant ones? There's a gaping hole under the "related experience" section of my resume. Sure, I took over the phone in the office...once or twice. I know how to enter student data into an Excel Spreadsheet. I can smile a lot! But the lack of actual experience in an office go. BUT I'm quite excited to sub. My paperwork gets finished processing tomorrow, and I plan to take a first grade class on my first day because that's my comfort zone.
I am married. I went to Spain for 3 weeks. I moved to Davis. Life is exciting. I can't wait to share about my subbing experience in the next week on this blog.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Spring Fever

To say it has been a whirlwind the past few weeks is an understatement. It's been an all out tornado, in more ways than one. BUT we're down to one more day before Spring Break, and I couldn't be more ready. I returned from Jury Duty two weeks ago, and am still adjusting to the non-court life.
I've been trying to update my workstations, find SOMETHING to engage my kids in the afternoon (any suggestions?) and survive this spring fever. Whipped this up yesterday to get more practice with the hardest of the long vowel spellings (in my opinion.) Feel free to grab and share. :) Click the photo for the freebie.

Happy Spring!