Education

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Parmegeddon (Because if it’s the end, I want cheese.) Part 1: The bearable rightness of being.

Published January 7, 2018 by Lynda Christine Rodriguez

What is it that Robert Burns says about the best laid plans of Mice and Men?

I know perfectly well what Burns said. ““The best laid schemes o’mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.” I even know what it means.  The very rightness of knowing things has been both a lifesaver and an anchor in many of the storms of my life (How picturesque! I’ve been teaching children to write descriptively and I may have just lost the run of myself as I am wont to do.)

There is a lot on my  mind right now. There is even more in my sinus cavity because allergy season and kids around me all day, many of them with various and sundry illnesses. Being around my cherubs reminds me of my elementary school experiences and it makes me watchful  because in the anchor and the lifesaver category (world’s worst jeopardy home game) I have a good working memory and have vivid recollections of myself at nine years old and younger. I remember being in Kindergarten and getting into a screaming argument with Sam Honea and Janea Townsend that Ma’am and Mama were two different words. This would not be the first time that I would concede to loud blondes just to keep the peace.

I mostly remember knowing I was right, and not being able to wrap my mind around the fact that these two shrill beasts couldn’t accept that.  As I grew up and my intellectual curiosity was encouraged by nuns, librarians and student teachers (Pretty awesome name for a book store/lounge.) I began to ask a lot of what if’s. I remember asking my parents, “What if someone killed an entire classroom of kids, would the kids be buried together or individually?”  This was in 1980, and, of course, my parents were shocked by my questions because things like that didn’t happen. There are a few other incidents where I just knew something was right and it was. As an adult I have joked about being the pawn between good and evil and I know I have gone on quite a bit about that. With that power seems to come a bit of Cassandra’s curse (world’s worst Lingerie store)  I won’t go into my knowledge of Greek mythology and how Agamemnon should have had more sense to return home after 10 years with another woman, especially since the woman in question spent the entire voyage home warning him that his wife, Clytemnestra probably wasn’t going to be thrilled to see him at all, let alone with a female slave, but, of course, Cassandra was right. Unfortunately, Agamemnon didn’t realize this until after he met the business end of an axe.

Cassandra didn’t get to enjoy her rightness for very long, because  Clytemnestra was only slightly more thrilled to see HER than she was her husband.  And, of course, Cassandra died.

This whole rambly tumble of words is the preface to what will be part book report, part catharsis and part display of my education. (I have an obsessive need for constant reassurance)

This all came about because I just finished reading:

The Mandibles: A family 2029-2047 by Lionel Shriver

and rereading:

The Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri S.Tepper

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.

That kind of explains my mood.

 

Sorry, Mr. Wordsworth, part one.

Published December 17, 2017 by Lynda Christine Rodriguez

I’m fully acknowledge that I sound like a snob or, heaven forfend, Ted Mosby (seriously how did those smug people put up with each other? At least The New Adventures of Old Christine acknowledged that they were terrible) but  the Words are Worth (see what I did there?) saying:

The world is too much with us. In spite of my natural tendency to flail, I can’t just wander about Higgledy Piggledy hoping to land in the right place (of course if you were to see the myriad of bruises marring my landscape you would think I was doing just that.)

BatBeard continues to warn me on a regular basis to stop reading the news because it upsets me. Well, I’m not going to stop, (So there!)

The same teacher who introduced me to Wordworth (She also introduced me to Alfred Noyes, but that’s a fish for another basket) also introduced me to the duo consisting of Knowledge and Responsibility.

I’m pretty sure she wasn’t a familiar with Spiderman or his uncle Ben(But how cool would it be if that Uncle Ben was the same person as the guy from the box of rice? These are the ideas that keep me from sleeping very deeply.)  She explained that knowledge made one responsible for choosing. One had to choose between action and inaction.

I have taken this to heart every single day. My heart and I have been full of decisions lately.  It is not new to this particular administration, because the problems have always been with us.  As Mr. Wordsworth went on to say:

“Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;”

A colleague whose opinion I truly cherish said ,”It’s worse than it’s ever been.”  So while the madness around me has been roiling for decades, or at least since 1802 when Wordsworth tossed this poem out to frame his thoughts, it appears to be getting worse.

As much as it makes my head and heart hurt to look, I can’t help it.

In a related tangent, I read the Handmaid’s Tale around the same time as I learned this poem. Since I was twelve, I didn’t quite absorb all of it’s meaning, but the gist of the story stayed with me. So, when BatBeard, the same pirate hero who has warned and cajoled me to remain calm raved about the series, I began watching the series (I in no way blame BatBeard for any of my angst, in fact, he is truly loved by the Mom, my Amanda Friend and Actor Boy for bringing my smile back from wherever it had been hiding.) I could only watch one episode at time because the words and the knowledge began to form thoughts and choice in my head.

Take care when thoughts are provoked.

Here’s the one that got me:

“It didn’t happen overnight.”

Sometimes it IS just the pencils.

Published September 17, 2017 by Lynda Christine Rodriguez

I have been teaching for twenty-six years and in that time I have the need for pencils. (I know this sounds weird, but it’s true.) When I taught theatre, pencils were imperative for preliminary sketches for storyboards or first drafts as well as for taking blocking notes.  For some reason, actors never have their own pencils.

When I began teaching full-time and I was having to push a mule uphill while trying to teach 160 students per day and communicate to the administration that a Theatre classroom looks different than other classrooms and trying to shove us all in the same size box was damn near impossible, I had a hell of a time keeping up with pencils.  Kids don’t bring their own pencils, and due to some very bizarre verbage in the FWISD manual, no student should be denied the lack of education because they don’t have a pencil. (No one is at all interested in my retort that the students can’t keep track of them because they don’t have any motivation or real commitment to their own education. Ah, that’s a can of worms for another time.)

Last year I worked at  a charter school that was striving to be a paperless campus. I say striving, because, really, nice idea, but how, exactly does that work if you are trying to differentiate education and there are so very many students who are tactile learners who need hands on choices and it’s hard to be hands on with one eye on a computer screen. It’s even harder when some of the kids don’t know how to type.  Seriously. Nice idea.  But either way, I needed pencils for the percentage of time that the computers didn’t work. And kids who were told they are on a paperless campus NEVER NEVER NEVER have a thought about where pencils come from.

Now I am in a more traditional classroom and the mountain of necessary supplies are provided, but I have been blessed with a group of cherubs who take five minutes longer than the rest of the world to do anything, anything at all. I’m comforted by the fact that I will get to live five minutes longer because nine fourth graders will make all of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse wait for them to get a drink of water and use the restroom, or go back for their sweater.  Except it will dawn on someone that Armageddon is likely to be toasty warm, so then everyone will have to take off their sweaters and fill up their water bottles.   Something tells me I’m going to spend that last few seconds of my earthly life shrugging at Conquest and War while Famine and Death roll their eyes at me.

So we have the pencils, but since I don’t have the extra hour a day it would take for 9 students to decide at differing times that they need to wander about the room trying to decide if they should sharpen their pencil, or should they maybe use pen, unless it’s math or a rough draft and then they need their pencil and if the pencil doesn’t sharpen to rapier’s edge, they  have to stare out the window while the mangle the wood , yet somehow do not manage to sharpen the pencil into a workable instrument.

That is why I spent most of last weekend and all of my test monitoring time. (Yes, we had that already) sharpening well over fifty pencils. I started with three for each student, and then that accelerated into sharpening the pencils that were on the floor in the room at the end of the day, because why would it ever occur to a child to pick something up?

Maybe i should warn the horsemen so they don’t trip.

Well, there you go, part II

Published July 17, 2017 by Lynda Christine Rodriguez

Before anyone goes ber-bonkers looking for part I, I won’t be posting that until tomorrow. But the follow up is fresh in my crowded head so I’m going to put that one up first.  I can explain my process if you want, but I don’t think it’s very interesting.

Today I was meandering through my errands because it’s beastly hot and I didn’t really want to get anything done. As I walked from one place to the next, a woman called out to me and said, “Did you teach at Metro?”

My first teaching gig was teaching a theatre class at an alternative high school. I wasn’t a classroom teacher, but I was part of the curriculum for a psychology/health class. I taught basic acting and playwriting.  My students ranged from an emancipated sixteen year old who was trying to graduate as quickly as possible to go to college to a lesbian couple who was bullied out of their high school. Some students were former gang members and/or returning after dropping out.  Many of my students used the class as a way to process the bizarre events of their lives.

The woman who called out to me was a student of mine about twenty years ago.  We talked for awhile; she has raised four kids, three of her own, one adopted from a family member. She has finished court reporting school and is working and investing in her future.

She told me a little about her kids and the things she tells them about education. As I listened to her, I realized that I had heard some of things before; they were things I recall saying to different classes.

I told her I remember every student I have ever taught.  (I do, I’m just terrible with names.) I do remember her. I remember wondering how she would turn out and if she would survive high school.

She did. She graduated from high school and faced some challenges and is working very hard to instill the value of education in her children.

So there you go.

It continues

Published March 16, 2017 by Lynda Christine Rodriguez

(This is the rant, continued.)

So what else is 610 going to do?

I’m so glad you asked. Bill 610 will repeal the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.  Let’s break it down a bit further. This Act  is the main K-12 law. (For those of you who don’t know, this means kindergarten through twelfth grade. This law affects students from the ages of five to eighteen.)

The latest version of this Act is called Every Student Succeeds.   If this law is repealed, equal opportunity protections for students would go away. This would largely affect Special Education students.

How would this madness happen? Well, under the current law, any school that receives federal funding, which is every public school in the United States, must have resources available for Special Needs students.  This includes Individual Education Plans. This means that every student who has a disability as designated by their school would be affected by the removal of this law.

For the uninitiated, disabilities range from the obvious, like a wheel-chair bound student, to a high functioning student with Asperger’s Syndrome.  There are also 504 designations which covers just about everything else in the alphabet soup of diagnoses. With out this funding the programs in place could suffer by losing qualified staff to dissolving completely.

In my school  of 81 students we have two students who are directly being served as a result of Special Education funding. One of them, let’s call him Marcus, has Tourette’s Syndrome. He also has several cognitive and developmental delays. This means in addition to being a squirrelly 12 year old, because all 12 year olds are squirrelly, he also has the Tourette’s ticks  and motor control issues. He also is on the academic level of a third grader.  His under-education is a direct result of of the mishandling of his case at his previous schools, meaning he was lost in the crowd and was too difficult to handle in a classroom of thirty-five students.  So instead of educating him, his previous schools isolated him.

Now that he is in smaller school, his disabilities were easy to spot and deal with. Fortunately many of our students are kind and welcome him into their large group activities. Marcus has a teacher whose sole job is to work with him as a result he has mastered the sight words of a grade level very close to where the rest of his classmates . He can already out perform many of them in basic math.

I mentioned Carl in an earlier blog. We are awaiting  a specific diagnosis for him, but for the time being he is also working with our Special Ed teacher. Carl is on grade level, slightly above it actually, but emotionally he has regressed to a five year old.  When he gets overwhelmed he gets violent.   (I can totally understand this; there are days when I want to get violent with some of my students.)

With out Special Education funding, both of these students would be isolated, possibly institutionalized. Neither of these students’ families can afford private education. Bill 610 would effectively doom these children to a life behind grey walls where they would be managed by indifferent under trained staff.

It is a head shaker, especially when you consider how many kids will be damaged by this.

Damaged kids become damaged adults.  I don’t want to know what will happen after that.

 

 

Challenges, part one

Published March 6, 2017 by Lynda Christine Rodriguez

My students are working on research paper. It is the second semester for Sixth Grade English, so I don’t think I am asking too much for them to pull together some thoughts and academic rigor and organize said thoughts into a specific format while  using complete sentences. (I know, I also want to flap my arms and fly to the moon.)

They have known about this paper and I have had due dates, etc as we go through the process, so they know they have a rough draft due next week. I even gave them extra time because we lost a whole week because of a mad woman who was not me.

I am also required to make sure they have a unit of grammar and a unit of vocabulary each week.  You would think these things could happen concurrently, at least I thought that.

Last week I did a quick review of nouns.  I spent the first six weeks of school reviewing grammar and sentence structure in an old school way, with examples and interpretive dance. Imagine my chagrin when only three students could define a noun.

I wanted to scream, “Did all of you have a simultaneous brain injury?” I did not.

One of my students was home schooled and my colleagues and I are discovering that there are gaps in this child’s education. These gaps include major portions of math and the mechanics of writing and grammar. It doesn’t help that this student is extremely dyslexic. He was educated holistically, which means his teacher (mom) decide what curriculum they studied based on his interests.

Home school is fine option, especially for students who have special needs and other issues. I have a cousin who is homeschooling her son because he has several life-threatening allergies and the public school in their area doesn’t have a full-time nurse so there is no way for her to ensure that her child can access his medicine during the school day.

Holistic education is great if you have access to master quality teachers and if your child has the kind of discipline to stick to the topic and not just Bumble off into the distance.

Guess what kind of student this is?  

I don’t mean to pick on the Bumbler. He’s a sweet, kind child. He has the best of intentions and he is very smart. (He’s on very late and he’s won several awards.)

So last week when I was having my noun related tantrum, one of my colleagues asked the Bumbler, “Have you ever learned nouns before?” The Bumbler said, “I’ve heard of them, but I never cared to learn.”

That has stayed with me. “I never cared to learn.”

I find this challenging, but not in the way most people do.

Dis(associative)

Published July 10, 2016 by Lynda Christine Rodriguez

Have I mentioned lately that I am not a big fan of being told what to do?  Well, I am not. It is in that spirit that I approach teaching the legions of  balky, high spirited and clinically quirky children who have made up most of my classes and tutoring clients.

(I realize that being a resident of North Texas I might be ignoring a band wagon and/ or soap box by not speaking about the horrifying  events that happened last week leaving scores of people terrorized and five Dallas Police Officers dead, but I am numb and I am trying not to think about it so, instead I’m going to focus on the good parts of last week.)

I am back to tutoring the same two children I worked with last spring.  I am reading the Phantom Tollbooth with one and A Little Princess with the other.

What I am enjoying is introducing both children to a whole different universe. A world that makes sense in itself and a sensibility long gone.

I am, however, finding it challenging to help a modern child understand the concepts and historical significance laid out in A Little Princess.  How to you tell a child who is a very literal thinker and whose most challenging literature to date includes the books in the Dork Diaries series? (I am in no way slamming that series, Rachel Renee Russell has hit  upon a very clever, and may I say addictive thread of fiction.)  The inciting incident in A Little Princess involves the British occupation of India. The school Sara Crewe attends does have a similar social stratta to that of Nikki Maxwell, but no one in at Nikki’s prep school gets their ears boxed for being slow to perform a task.

A Little Princess is on the summer reading list for the school Child A will be attending in the fall. She is also supposed to read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.  I have no idea how to begin to approach the concepts with her over this one.

The challenge I face is directly related to the information that is accessible to children 8-12. I have been boning up on my middle grade fiction so that I may be better informed when I load books into the reading pit that I plan to have in my classroom next year.  I do enjoy the Dork Diaries, probably more than I should, but the other books in this particular genre of first person narrative fiction that also includes The Judy Moody series, Junie B. Jones and the I Funny series tend to dumb things down, IMHO for the reader.  (I will freely admit that I do not like Judy or Junie and I might actually jump out a window if either of these children popped into my classroom.  I would warmly embrace Ramona and Beezus and even Susan of the Boing Boing Hair. I have not read the I Funny series, mainly because I don’t think James Patterson needs my money.)

The other child I teach is not a reader, which is why I am reading to him.  He is very bright, kind and sensitive child, but he’s not that great about listening for detail. I am reading him The Phantom Tollbooth two chapters at a time and it is a book best heard. We discuss the figurative language as we go along and we are going to do a fun, comprehensive activity when we finish the book.

Now he understands complicated concepts and ideas, so much so that I think it hurts his perspective.

Speaking of perspective, having to speedy-quick adjust my comprehension and attitude to work with these two students has helped me put a wedge between the pointless cruelty that abounds in the “real” world.  And who wouldn’t choose to jump in the car with Milo and Tock and perhaps ask Sara and Becky if they would like to rescue Rhyme and Reason.

The choice is, as Child A would say, Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy.