Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Most of what we's true

To: C.W. and you
From: Mrs. Applebaume

I just attended one of those moments...the kind that don't wait.  I live near a college that has a Storytelling Festival.  Five minutes before a lecture by the professional storyteller Willy Claflin's began, I decided I had to go.  The subject was "Storytelling for Teachers".  I got there late, but I made it.

It was held in the basement of the Education Building.  I expected the room to be packed, but since it was during school hours, there were probably thirty of us. I would say three looked like shiny-eyed teachers-to-be.  

So, I scooted onto the back row and began to listen.  You know when someone is able to say something you have felt, but never made into a sentence?..made fact?...given voice to?  Well today Willy Claflin said my sentence.  
Everything we learn is not true.  All of those facts in science class that we memorized, we forgot. What's more, most of those facts have been disproved in the past thirty years.  So, our nation is now preoccupied with the testing and standardization of future falsehoods.
Mr. Claflin may not know it, but I was mentally spooning his pedagogy.   

So what does that leave a simple teacher to do?  Encourage creativity...but for now, I will simply glow.

"Imagination is more important than knowledge." ~ Albert Einstein

Monday, February 21, 2011

Feng Shwhat!?!?

To: Doloris Lachen
From: Mrs. Applebaume

Hi Doloris,

I know it is Monday, and you are tired, and you don't want to know this, but I can not know this alone. 

I was in Mrs. Copperson's room.  Yes, she is hard to like.  Yes, she is hard to listen to for more than a few minutes.  Yes, she is my team leader, so I was there for P/T conference fun. 

Copper and I were talking-shop just inside her classroom door.  I was looking at her decor.  It has the usual stuff.

  • Up With People posters...Garfield and Snoopy are both present and pithy.
  • Her Diplomas. 
  • The state mandated postings of 
    • Professional Principals (what we expect to teach...specific state codes included) 
    • Student Goals (that they learn)
    • Professional Goals (that we meet the Professional Principals and Student Goals that they learn what we teach). 
  • The school district's motto "Whatever We Do, We Do Together"...which some have shortened to 'Whatever'.
  • and Personal Interest clippings.
The personal interest clippings and photos are what caught my eye.  Right above the pencil sharpener I saw an old magazine photo simply stapled to the faded construction paper on her bulletin board.  The photo's colors and shapes were all flesh tones.  

My brain tried to work out the particulars...big finger...five small"Hey, what is that?" I blurted out.

"Oh that," Copper replied "that is an picture of a baby reaching up during a c-section.  The sweet child is reaching up and grasping the doctor's finger.  It is a real discussion opener.  I can't talk politics, but I can plant seeds."

By this point I was having a complete fetal-photo freak out.  All I could come up with was "Hmmm, interesting..." and then I wandered down to my classroom.  

This is what I need to know from you, my professional leader....why, Why, WHY?!?!?!

To: Mrs. Applebaume
From:Doloris Lachen

Ugh...How many times do I have to tell you, do not talk to strange-ers!  

The WORST meeting....ever!

To: Principal Shields
From: Mrs. Applebaume

Hello Millie,

Ronnie E. and his father arrived on time but a day late. We quickly convened, and the group asked me to share our team notes..

It was 8:30 a.m. and the father was drunk.

Each of us spoke about Ronnie's failing grades and behavioral problems. The father was angry when he heard that his son had made a small weapon out of a spring. He had been looking for that spring for a couple weeks.

When our reports were done, the father began to chastise his son's lack of focus. He used an extended metaphor of school work being like a pet dog. How care, cleaning, food and water are required for it not to die. This went on until he seemed to only be speaking of animal upkeep.

He then began to berate his son loudly. Denny regained the father's attention by calling out his name until he noticed. Denny then thanked him for showing support of his son's education. We all reaffirmed what a good heart Ronnie has.

I hope his heart is strong.  He will need to be completely self-reliant.

To: Denny (Choir teacher)
From: Mrs. Applebaume

I just want you to know that you are my hero.

I am a good enough judge of character to know that I could not stop Ronnie's father. He would not have heard anything a woman had to say to him.

I sat there, realizing that I was about to vomit down the front of my shirt. The hostility was so thick in the air.

There were other men in the room. Ones with more clout. You were the one who regained the dad's attention. You are my hero.

To: Mrs. Applebaume
From: Denny

Thanks for the hero status. That was crazy.

Maybe next time we should start by asking for the parent's e-mail address at the beginning of the meeting. If it is like his, maddogfreak@****com, we could just forfeit.

Survival Skills for Parent/Teacher Conference a.k.a. How to be a Bendable Tree

To: Emily (student teacher intern)
From: Mrs. Applebaume

Hi Emily,

As your mentor, I wanted to give you a little info on what to expect during P/T Conference. Every school has a system. Some have parents move from class to class. Others have all of the teachers at booths in the gym. Our school uses the panel system.

The panel system intends on streamlining the discussion. Parents and teachers get a chance to all meet together to discuss the student. It is hoped that group communication improves the cohesion in the expectations and adaptations of the team of teachers, the student, and the student's parents.

That being said, I want you to know that parents do not expect the panel. Often it takes a moment for them to adjust. If not operated carefully, it can cause anxiety for the parent (and student if they attend).

My first P/T conf. was highly stressful. I found myself empathizing with the nervous parents. I listened to the words, tone, and posture of my peers with great care. When I saw a mother sitting calmly, but her hands were so tightly clenched that her fingers were white, I got a bit dizzy. When I saw another mother cry about the sick sibling that requires all of her time, I began picking at my fingernails. When I entered at the tail-end of another team's panel and the the father was pacing, the mother was crying, and the boy was rocking........I was glad I was not on that team.

Looking at our schedule, we will have a busy thirteen hour day on Thursday. Each appointment is usually scheduled for twenty minutes. This time we are allotting thirty, so that will be a bit easier. Friday will simply be walk-ins.

So what do you do? Plant your feet firmly on the ground. When things are tense, visualize your feet becoming tree roots digging down deep. You are only responsible for you. Sit quietly. This is your chance to be a fly on the wall. I look forward to finding out what you learn.

To: Mrs. Applebaume
From: Emily

Since I had to leave at 9:00 p.m. sharp, we weren't able to visit. Instead, I wrote my observations while fresh in my mind.

  • How did the school not mention that Jill L. was diagnosed A.D.H.D. and legally deaf in her left ear? It was an in-district transfer.
  • I was surprised that Raul R. only learned English a year and a half ago. It explains his awkward sentence structure. Are we supposed to do anything for him? He is so quiet.
  • Why didn't your panel mention that Shaylynn K. would benefit from therapy. The mother seemed at a loss.
  • Did you notice the T-shirt that the Native American father was wearing? Was that on purpose? If you missed it, it said "America's first Homeland Security"!
I hope that I am not out of line. I truly appreciate the opportunity to observe. I can't wait to take this back to my classes.


To: Emily
From: Mrs. Applebaume

Hi Emily,
I am sorry that we didn't get a chance to visit last night...the parents were talkers. I understood that you had homework waiting for you. My kids needed to be picked up as well. It has been a long day/night for us all.

I will go down the list of the questions you wrote out.
  • I believe you would agree that spending a little time with Jill L. makes it pretty clear that she is easily distracted. The A.D.H.D. diagnosis legally mandates me to accommodate for her needs. This will not change much of what I am already doing.
    It is always nice to know when a student is deaf...even in one ear. It explains her volume. I will move her to the other side of the room, so her good ear will be facing me instead of the window. It is difficult having her in such a large group.
    In that hour, I have three students with A.D.H.D., two E.S.L. (English as Second Language) students, and one student with anger issues that require an adult tracker to stay with him. It is a tricky hour.
As for the question of the transfer papers not showing up. I am not privy to how confidential records are moved. Trust that I will make some inquiries.
  • Raul R. was a surprise to me too. He is a quiet one, but he is so alert that I would not have guessed that he was so new to the English language. Since he is in a class with two official E.S.L. students (not to mention four others who speak Spanish at home) we are in a good position. However, since he has spoken the language for over a year, he is not legally required to have adaptations.
  • Shaylynn K. would benefit from therapy. Here is the truth. If any person working for the district suggest that the mother seek help, we are legally responsible for the cost of care. The district can not afford to offer such help. Now, how crazy is that? The mother will find her way. She is asking questions. She will find answers elsewhere.
  • I did notice the Jr.'s father's provocative T-shirt. I want you to also notice that there were very few pairs of parents that showed up together. It is nice to see that much support coming from home. Plus, Jr.'s grades are good, and they still wanted to meet with us...not bad. As for the T-shirt. It was painful and hilarious, and that is my favorite kind of performance art
You did well Emily. Thanks for making it the whole thirteen hours.
I will see you in the morning.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Some Assemblies Required

To: Doloris Lachen (English Dept. Head)
From: Mrs. Applebaume

Hi Doloris,

I wanted to let you know that your class was great at the End of Semester Assembly. I am glad my prep hour worked with the assembly schedule (I hope your meeting went well too).

You and I have attended the gamut of assemblies. I have shed tears for inspirational speakers, and student performances, and you have...from sheer boredom. This assembly stands alone. Allow me to share.

It started as your basic, Go Students, Finals are Over, Yahoo, kind of pep rally. There was the cheerleaders cheering, a mediocre vice principal speech from Mr. Bradley, some sugar-loaded junk given to the smart kids, and then our beloved custodian, Charlie.

I know what you are thinking...'Charlie?'. Apparently he had asked for a little time. I thought he might want to address the issue of girls blotting their lip gloss on the restroom mirrors (he had put up signs a couple of weeks ago asking them to stop). So, he gets up to the microphone and begins to talk about the pride he has in our school. He talks about how he sees our school's halls, windows, even desks as representing Us.

Now you know me, I am beginning to get verklempt. He calmly explains that he gives the same attention to the trophy cases as he does to the bathrooms. He takes the time to scrub every toilet with care. With his brush's help, he makes them sparkle. He explains that the finishing touch he does before turning off the restroom lights is take that same brush, and he scrubs the mirrors until they shine! He thanked the students one more time then went back to his seat.

I just thought you should know that our custodian takes school pride really seriously. I would also expect you to hear a few comments during your afternoon classes, so I wanted to give you the scoop.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Notes on Future Me

To: Doloris Lachen
(English Department Head)
From: Mrs. Applebaume

As per our district's mandate for professional introspection, I have written a small description of what inspired me to become a teacher.

I have always been a teacher. It started with my Fisher Price School Days Desk. I loved it. I still do. It was creative, orderly, and gave me a justifiable reason to be "in charge" of my little brother. Come to think of it...I may have had a much larger hand in why he hated school than I thought...hmmmm. Well, it worked out well for me.

As an elementary student, I wrote notes. Not just to friends or for assignments. I took notes on my teachers.
1st grade-Mrs. Winkowski-Use cubbies for school papers. They are made from wine bottle  boxes set on their sides. They make perfect student mailboxes.
2nd grade- Ms. Regan-Don't scratch arms while teaching. The noise is terrible.
3rd grade-Mrs. Sanders-Don't wear beige bras under white shirts. It shows through.
4th grade-Mrs. Wilkins-Be willing to laugh and try things for the first time in front of the class. Even if it doesn't go as planned.
Also, on the last day of school before winter break, say "See you next year!". It is confusing, and then sooooo funny.
5th grade-Mrs. Edgeward-Do not humiliate one's student by following bad advice from a student's mother. I did NOT need to wear the hockey goalie helmet my mother bought at a yard sale that past summer. Yes, I was an epileptic, but we were only cross country skiing!!!
6th grade-Mrs. Bowie- Do make extra effort with students. Without her, I would never have had legible handwriting (I am one of those Lefties turned into a Righty).
Do make students show maturity. The slides of nude Olympian males painted on vases were important to the lesson. Our body is a natural thing. Giggling about it is unnecessary.

I stopped taking notes in junior high. There were too many teachers and hormones to worry about notes...but I was still making mental notes.

I do not think I missed much by stopping when I did. The bones of my future me are there.

Well, I hope this is what the district faculty leadership committee was looking for. I need to enter some grades, respond to two parent e-mails, and pull together homework assignments for six students (three are sick, two are out for sports, and one is suspended). I will also make time to call my brother.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Santa Suddenly Succumbs to Crazed Crowd

To: Janet Strauss (Student Leadership Director)
From: Mrs. Applebaume

Hey, soooo glad that we got through that school dance. Seriously, it went well, other than "The Santa Incident".

I know that you heard what happened to our most-awesome art teacher Shane a.k.a. Santa, but allow me the pleasure of filling you in.

The Details: We were getting the dance started. Since I embrace my ability to be a dork, I was one of the faculty who went out on the dance floor to begin pulling kids out to dance (it is like guy-ask-girl at the skating rink...only yuckier). While standing center court, I saw "Santa" at the door; he hadn't started the Santa photo booth yet. I waved him in. He jogged onto the court like a varsity jock (perhaps for the first time in his life). It was too much. The kids went wild.

Then, all of a sudden, the students who had been standing near the bleachers rushed Santa. It was amazing. Within seconds he was entirely swarmed. His eyes were bugging out behind his wire spectacles. His velvet, red hat was flipping from one side to the other. It was obvious from his jarred movements that the crowd had claimed him. He was too high above them to still be on solid ground! Our beloved choir teacher Denny and I jumped into action. We forced our way through the mob to the aid of Saint Nick. We marched him out of the gym, me in the lead, Denny protecting the rear.

When we got him out into a side hall Santa began to get his bearings. He was stunned...we all were. I feel a little bit guilty for calling him out on the dance floor, but really...who could've seen that coming?! The wild drive of the mob reminded me of horrible stories of people crushed at concerts, or of the Bacchaen rituals where virginal males were torn apart. This is why The Beatles ran. This is why Mall Santa's have elves...festive feeding frenzies.

Santa kept on saying "I can't believe that just happened. My pants felt like they were going to drop...can you imagine?" (I can). He was in shock.

I told him that I was definitely the Kevin Costner to his Whitney Houston. I broke into song, but just for a second.

Then Denny tried to make him feel better. He took the tune "Grandma got ran over by a reindeer" and sang "Santa got gang-raped by some 8th graders". Only a professional choir teacher could pull that off.

Truly, between the vision of Santa's terrified expression while his body jutted back and forth AND Denny's song, I can't keep it together. I haven't spontaneously laughed like this in a long, long time.

I do think we need to make a pro and con list so we can kick it for the spring dance planning. Luckily there is not a spring cult figure that will require security...I just snorted again.

To: Principal Shields
From: Mrs. Applebaume

Hi Millie, I really appreciate your e-mail to the entire faculty congratulating us on the success of the Holiday (Christmas) Dance. As our principal, I know that you are incredibly busy, and therefore it is understandable that you were unable to attend the dance. We look forward to having a wonderful spring dance.