Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Today was not good, today was not fun, but tomorrow is another one. Most days everything runs smoothly until lunch. After lunch, the drama ensues in my classroom. Lots of writing in our "Problem Solving Notebook" about what happened at recess or even on the rug, tears, and stomping. I am working very hard to prevent meltdowns with children who need counseling or even a one-on-one aide, and it's taking a toll.
I came home today and vented for 30 minutes about the meanness going on in my classroom. One of my students literally said of a student in another class "I want to make her cry, I don't care if I'm mean to her, she deserves it and she's ugly and dumb." I wanted to cry. I tend to blame these things on myself, always wondering what more I can do to help these kids be kinder. I model kindness, make it explicit, praise it out the wazoo, have scouts to look for kindness, use Second Step, and have specific behavior plans for certain students to help foster kind words for those who it is more difficult for. We role play and talk about choosing to be around people who make us feel good ALL THE TIME. I'm feeling a little frustrated and at a loss. What else can I do for those two or three students who are impacting the classroom environment with their negativity? I have a couple students who may even be considered emotionally disturbed, if not just very very angry, and I'm trying to work with that without having them out of the classroom all the time.
I realize I'm ranting again. I feel in a very negative space. If I hear my students chanting "yayuh" one more time I am going to pull every single hair out of my head. And now I can't stop saying it. AHHH.
Some good things have been happening, though. I told my students about Cesar Chavez today and we wrote about how we can help the world. Lots of kids wrote they were going to get rich and give their money to people who needed it. Some said they were going to listen (which can actually be very valuable..just listening to others can help our world greatly, though I don't think they were thinking about it so deeply ;) We then went in to regular Writer's Workshop time and many of my students wrote beautiful, detailed stories. EC wrote about the time her dog got stuck in a hole because he was trying to escape and how she felt so scared and sad until she saved him. Her story was truly compelling and beautiful. EC, who drives me absolutely nuts most of the time because she's in everyone's business and always all over the place, cleaning when she should be listening, touching my desk, erasing the board, etc, but her personality is pretty adorable and she means well.
I taught my students to say "Doo doo doo doo doo" after I say "Mana-mana" a la the Muppets. It's an attention getter that's been somewhat working--until kids start singing "Mana-mana" randomly throughout the day when I'm talking. I give them a teacher look and have them move their clip down when they do this and bring out my monster claws to make them laugh a little. But for reals, if they do it again tomorrow, I might scream.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I wasn't with my class today. I feel so rejuvenated after spending a day with my grade level team! Every 6 weeks we are given a release day to plan together at a nearby coffee shop. We are diligent in using our time wisely and I always end the day feeling so inspired by the people I work with. My school is heavy on collaboration and I am endlessly grateful for it. I am only in my second year of teaching and am pushed/supported within my ZPD by those around me.
What I was greeted with when I came back to my room was RG with a nonchalant "Oh, hi Ms. Estrada." She normally stays with me after school for my reading intervention club, and I was so happy to see a smiling face with the guest teacher in my class. My room was spotless, the guest teacher told me I had a nice class and left in a hurry. "How was your day with the guest teacher?" "It was good! Well, she said a bad word." Ms. A (who was with me) and I were intrigued, and pressed her. "It's okay, she apologized." We left it at that and commented how everyone makes mistakes. After RG's mom came to get her, I heard from a Kindergarten teacher that one of my students went to the principal to complain about the teacher using a bad word. Turns out the projector was taking a long time to warm up (I'm sure she was greeted with a few impulsive students whining "I can't seeeeeee") and she said that "sh" word, as ZK described it to me. At least she wasn't swearing AT them. Meh, it happens. I certainly feel I have done with...things like rubbing my face in my hands and groaning right in front of my students. I am not proud of some of my lowest moments, but I would never ever swear AT my students, and neither did the guest teacher. I'm also extraordinarily careful about my words, but I'm accustomed to being around first graders every day. Just an example for my students about how everyone makes mistakes, and we can all learn from them.
I'm excited to be back with them tomorrow. Even just being there for five minutes this morning, they gave me a group hug and I felt so incredibly lucky to have such a sweet group of students. They may drive me bonkers, and I may make them angry at times, but we really look out for eachother. I think my students have eachother's backs even if they bicker like none other at times. Like I always tell them, my heart is growing every time I see them be kind to one another. Today, my heart grew with the comfort and joy I felt just to see them. It was like taking a deep breath and letting it go...working hard all day, feeling productive, then letting go a little bit when I saw these little children who are such a large part of my life. It was like running into an old friend--how silly that must sound, but seeing them warmed me. I'm excited for tomorrow and getting down to the business of first grade-- love love love and every once in a while "sit, sit, sit, STOP, okay now we're ready."
I have been so bad about reading my students' writing other than in writing conferences lately... so yesterday I took a little sampling at their masterpieces...mind you, I am not a good writing teacher (yet). I'm still learning how to best combine the wonderful Lucy Calkins with the ideas of Lisa Delpit...giving my students explicit grammar and mechanics writing instruction along with the freedom to just write write write write, and to be honest, I haven't done the best or most diligent job. I am also NOT an expert at teaching handwriting...clearly...but here is what my students are producing...and I have to say I am happy with their ability to put their ideas down on paper.

AC in November: "I am pretty."

 AC now: "My mom, she said if I finish my homework I will get a big big big big big big big surprise." Love love love her use of long vowel spellings and spelling her sight words correctly. This was my lowest student at the beginning of the year.

 LOVE EM's spelling of excited! And cayke! YAY long vowels! :)

Here is my one of my only non English Learners..ZK...notice the great spelling. (I didn't do that, he's just a great speller and an incredibly smart learner.)
NG's spelling of hide and go seek makes me so incredibly happy. It's that one happyallinonebreath spelling that evokes the excitement of the game.

Please keep in mind 90% of my students are English Language Learners and are new to English. 90% of my students speak Spanish at home. The others speak African American Vernacular, and one speaks Cambodian and English. They all speak English at school, but all but 3 are bilingual.

When I look at teaching blogs, I see lots of perfect handwriting and impeccable grammar. My students are not there, but I am warmed to near tears when I read their writing. I can READ IT--they are expressing themselves on paper--and laughing, chatting, and helping eachother as they do so--what more could I ask for?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What I Talk About When I Talk About Teaching

I am currently reading Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I'm no runner, I'm no novelist, but of course as Murakami confesses his introversion, his daily routine revolving around running and writing, I think of teaching.
But I also think of talking about what led me to teaching. About privilege and family and realizations of ethnicity and power and politics within the United States. Running is so often not simply running. Teaching is most definitely not simply teaching. It is this delicate balance of knowing where to let my biases, if you will, influence my teaching, or lay squirming inside me, silencing them for the neutrality I owe my students. But my job is most definitely not neutral. I come to this profession from a place of white privilege---being born into an incredible family who has worked harder than I to be where they are now. I am the product of an interracial marriage, of white phenotype but with the benefit of having heard Spanish slip off my grandparents' tongues, and from this chameleon-like appearance that makes it hard to pigeonhole or label my ethnicity. I went to a suburban school, lived on a suburban street, ate a balance of all the food groups growing up. I went to plays, the library, the bookstore, the movies, and many theme parks growing up. I spoke English first, and Spanish second. Everything leading me here has been because of my privilege...my parents coming from near-poverty to raise a healthy, happy family. I am so incredibly privileged and am where I am now simply because I was born into this incredibly family who also had certain privileges to allow them to get where they are. English is a huge privilege both my parents enjoy.
So here I am. Living my dream, teaching, and at times very much so struggling. But what I talk about when I talk about teaching has to be my family, my parents, and the opportunities I've had. Otherwise I wouldn't be here, and for that..I am so very grateful. My school of Latino and African American students has almost all white teachers because of privilege...it is a tragedy the way things play out in this country, the way race and power structures influence whether or not we can achieve our dreams (of course this is so much more complicated than I make it) but that makes my job all the more daunting and incredibly important...to give these brilliant brown children the belief that college can and will be in their future if they want it to...all the while validating their incredible backgrounds and combating parts of their realities (flaming hot cheetos are NOT good for your body or mind, no matter how much we both love them, and Black Ops is actually not how we should live our daily lives in the classroom...), while never having experienced what it's like to spend a day in their life.
What I talk about when I talk about teaching is love, hardship, happiness, and pride. But the ultimate thing is this disparity I experience every day...this power that I have to be very careful not to impose upon my students...to be aware of my (half) whiteness and to make my classroom a place where my students can both embrace and love their beautiful country, but also question its practices and the suffering many of its minority groups have suffered. I so much do not want to teach the status quo, to make my students believe that those in power only have their best interests at heart...but also without breaking their spirits. I want them to be independent, strong, and to voice their opinions, thoughts, and the injustices of their lives.
Teaching and social justice are not separate. They are one and the same.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Educational inequities

I tell my students no whining. "My dad didn't let me whine. He has a sign up in his office that says NO WHINING. This is what a whine sounds like: [insert my best whine here]. You will not whine." But what I really feel like doing right now is whining. Ranting, perhaps. I feel that I do that enough with my coworkers, and David, and my mom, and my friends...but sometimes...the positivity I try to keep in my classroom makes me want to be Negative Nancy after school. In the classroom, if a student tells me "TEACHERRR SHE'S LOOKING AT MEEEE" what I really want to do is tell him/her: "IT DOESN'T MATTER. YOU'RE BEING RIDICULOUS AND SILLY. STOPPPPP!" in my best whining voice. Yet instead, teacher voice wins and I give a look, patiently (or not quite as patiently) tell them to look at someone who's making a nice face at them (like me) and then I smile huge and try to get a laugh, and continue. Some days this is very, VERY hard. There could be worst things. You'd think I'd be used to the falling out of the chairs, repeating each other, tattling, and touching everything that is so customary of first graders. Oh, I'm used to it, but that doesn't mean it doesn't drive me bananas. Sometimes I'll even tell that to the kids...well, more so in the frame of "stop acting bananas." ARGH. I didn't even have a bad day. But I have this itching to just let it all out....the frustrations and gripes I have with the education system I work within. I want to complain about things far beyond my classroom, about inequities that exist in this world and this country everything that is going wrong with education in general, but particularly with urban education and the areas where families and children need the MOST opportunities and resources to be able to survive, let alone thrive. I am SO incredibly happy to work where I do, in a beautiful community with so much to offer and so many brilliant, inspiring people. I will not pretend it is not hard, though.
I am also exhausted. I am exhausted and I am not even working myself to my full potential. I am not as exhausted or overworked as some of my coworkers. I make sure I get time to take a bath everyday and to leave work at a reasonable hour (5:30 is usually my limit of being able to stare at my walls or the papers surrounding me and decide to give it a rest.) I then come home and work on differentiating or creating materials until bedtime, usually. But I have a wonderful roommate (slash boyfriend) who makes dinner most nights, helps with correcting papers or cutting laminations, and gives fabulous advice on what I should do for lessons. I have a supportive work environment, principal, and coworkers. Most of the parents of my students are dedicated to their students' learning, sweet, and trust my decisions for their students' learning. In the grand scheme of things, I've got it really easy.
And yet...I feel conflicted when looking at popular teacher blogs from all over the country. I am so pleased by the high level of rigor and talk of differentiation and essential questions and on and on, and I've personally learned so much from looking at the lessons and experiences of teachers from throughout the country. The internet is truly a beautiful way to collaborate, share, and commiserate. Yet what I see makes me realize at the striking disparity in this country, that grand difference between the haves and the have-nots, the access to not only a better education, but a more fun, multi-faceted one too, that's laden with art activities EVERY day, and P.E. teachers who have actually studied kinesiology, and elaborate class parties where teachers don't stress out about missing 30 minutes of valuable instructional minutes. I see clipart of white children or tan children with white features on lots of these activities, and I see the heroes and holidays approach to teaching multiculturalism in so many teachers' classrooms across the country. I am in awe of what these teachers are able to accomplish, and then I notice that most of them are in homogenous communities with teacher aides and parents helping out in the classroom. Most of the families in my community work long hours and speak a language other than English at home. I have lots of help in terms of field trips, but most days I am the only one in the room with these children. I feel like I am failing them sometimes..I want to be super-teacher and do everything, much like a lot of their parents are doing...EVERYTHING. I feel discouraged when I look at these blogs and see what some children are experiencing (multiple adults in a classroom, parents who can afford to send their kids on multiple field trips, freedom of curriculum, art, music, science EVERY DAY, etc, etc.) and I think about what our students experience and the limitations placed on communities in need. We are so incredibly privileged to have what we have at my wonderful school, but the reality is...those in power get more, those with less power get less. I see beautiful student handwriting, perfect grammar, and incredible learning experiences. I see smartboards and craftivities and I just feel like this shadow of a teacher...
And then I realize, I'd rather work here than anywhere else. I have lots of opportunities, I get to teach children who have a unique experience in this country of ours, and I am appreciate of my own privilege every single day. I get to think about race and fostering English in these students, and what access it will give them to speak, read, and write in two beautiful languages. I am humbled by their parents' experiences of hardship and violence in this community, and I am reminded of resilience and brilliance in children whose odds are all against them. I am so very lucky to do this job I do...and from the whining and ranting comes these realizations. I still feel this intense bubbling in the pit of my stomach when I think of all the injustices innocent children have to endure because of the power structures of our nation...and yet, I'm grateful to be a part of the road to close these achievement gaps and to at the very least give these students a safe place to come to day after day.

Friday, March 2, 2012

What's really said in Room 157

A list of things that are said daily in my classroom... by the students or me
"TEACHERRRRR....I NEED TO USE IT!" "Show me your silent signal." "Oh."
"Get in your rug spot...NOW." "But she..." "NO."
"Let me count how many people are in their rug spots looking up here...1..2..3...15..16..KJ Where should you be? KJ you have 3 seconds...Okay, now you're wasting your....(everyone chimes in) LEARNING TIME!"
"Warning. 2nd warning...good bye."
"I am invisible." "But, what is this word?" "Go ask a friend." "But..." "GOODBYE"
"Ms. Estrada can I touch your shoes? They look so soft...oooohhh." "Me too?"
"If those become distracting, they're mine. I love wearing pretty necklaces/playing Pokemon/flying mini paper airplanes at home. David does too."
"Ms. Estrada... I have candy in my lunch. Here you go. I get it after school?"
"Ok, you have ten seconds to get to your rug spots." MS- "I'M ALREADY IN MY RUG SPOT!" This happens, without fail, every day.
"Ms. Estrada I didn't get water." -IB "You didn't?" Shakes head. "Okay.." "TRICKED YA, YES I DID!" Also, without fail, every day. I still fall for it.
"Ms. Estrada she's looking at meeeee." "I'm not in charge of her eyes. Ask her to stop."
"This is not a beach. Sit up on the rug."
"We are not in the beauty salon. Keep your hands on your OWN hair. She doesn't like it when you touch her hair."
Mean look..."Ahhh Ms. Estrada's a MONSTER!" Giggling ensues, including myself.
And, yes... "I love you." "Can I help you?" "Will you please stop tapping your pencil?" "Can I borrow your glue?" "Do you want to read with me?" "I'll be your friend!" "We can solve this problem!" "We are SO SMART!" "I am pretty and smart (this from one of my pudgy girls...makes me so happy. I constantly tell her how smart she is...she came up with the pretty part from her parents and herself. She really is beautiful...I just love her strong sense of self-worth, without being boastful. Just so matter of fact.) "Ms. Estrada can I...oops you're invisible. Sorry!" "MS, I'm sorry I used a loud voice with you. Shake hands?" "JB is so smart now! Look! He's telling time! (says LA after patiently teaching him the math center)" "Ms. A told us The Lorax book is even better than the movie and we are so lucky to get to read it!" "Dr. Seuss is real? Or not real?" "That green guy with no face is MEAN. I want the world to be beautiful." "We made up a game at recess...we were detectives! We were trying to find KJ...but we couldn't...oh look...there she IS (sitting at her desk in class.) Clapping ensues" "Yesterday I was in my bed reading your beautiful, smart writing....(everyone chimes in) WITH YOUR HOT CHOCOLATE!" "Our surprise is David?!" "Not today..." "Can we have a hot chocolate party? With marshmallows? And reading?" "BOOKS!!!!! I LOVE BOOKS!"