Friday, August 31, 2007

Your smile is your best accessory.

This title statement was made by Kimora Lee Simons in an episode of "Life in the Fab Lane" on the Style Network. No joke, I am quoting Kimora Lee Simons. In that particular episode, Simmons interviewed candidates for a personal assistant job, and she uttered those pearls of wisdom to the young woman who landed the gig. Watching the show is like watching "My Super Sweet 16" on MTV - they give me hives but I can't stop scratching the itch.

TEACHERS - do you smile much or at all in school? while teaching? while talking to students? parents? (Thanks to blogger/teacher frumteacher's "First Day" post for inspiring this topic.)

I think the bottom line is do your best with what's natural to your personality, and work it into the job. I'm a major smiler in "real life", so I smile when I greet students and they greet me back (I won't bother when they won't even make eye contact), I smile when I'm enthusiastic about a topic, I smile when I want to encourage or reassure ... it feels good to smile, and I actually believe that generally people respond positively when they are smiled AT.

I smile when I feel like smiling. The inclination to smile does not interfere with classroom management. I spell out the rules and consequences, follow through, and students get it. I've had 2 students (in 4 years) complain about how I "seem" nice then turn around and be "strict" - I was happy to explain action and reaction, rules and consequences, etc.

I know some of you teachers save the smiles for ... something really really special maybe? Please explain how you work it... :)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

New kid in town

From song "New girl in town" in movie/musical "Hairspray":

You better tell the homecoming queen

To hold on to her crown
Or she's gonna lose it to
The new girl in town

My 6 year old daughter G is the "new girl in town", starting first grade after Labor Day in a new school. She (probably) won't be "stealing" anyone's boyfriend like Tracy in "Hairspray", and her sweet disposition helps her make friends readily, but I still feel anxious - I'm trying to NOT pass that along to her. G already has a new best buddy B who lives next door, also starting first grade. Tomorrow there is "meet and greet your teacher" time and new student orientation at the school, so we'll become acquainted with the lay of the land together.

Every year I have 3 or 4 students on my team (of about 120 students) who are new to the school. It's interesting to see how well and soon they each "settle" into the social (most important to students) and academic lives of the school. In the classroom, I use common prior knowledge and experiences to teach new knowledge, but that doesn't always work for new students. Asking the new student to share his/her prior knowledge and experiences is balancing trick - just enough to create an inclusive atmosphere but not too much to make them feel awkward about being different (the worst social disease, according to students).

So here's my exhortation for us working in the schools -

Hey look out for that moving van
Look out, look out, look out, look out

for the new kids in town.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What do teachers make?

Perhaps your initial response to this question is, like mine, "Who Cares?" Just hold that thought and watch this video. Slight disclaimer - I really don't know much about Taylor Mali, but I found his message to be inspiring and hysterical, I cried and I laughed, especially right now, facing back-to-school.


Thanks to blogger jenamoured for sharing the link!

Please watch the video because Mali's poetry slam is what MAKES the point, and the video includes the "prologue" story. Here is the transcript anyway, the best I could do - so we can read the words and see/hear his reading in our minds. (P.S. - Mali's website explains the story behind the poem, and other sites provide the words as well)

What do teachers make?
by Taylor Mali

I make kids work harder than they thought they ever could,
I can make a C plus feel like a congressional medal of honor,
and I can make an A minus feel like a slap in the face.
How dare you waste my time with anything less?
You wanna know what I make?
I make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall in absolute silence.
No, you cannot work in groups.
No, you cannot ask a question so put your hand down.
Why won’t I let you go to the bathroom?
Because you’re bored and you don’t really have to go, do you.
You wanna know what I make?
I make parents tremble in fear when I call home around dinnertime.
Hi, this is Mr. Mali, I hope I haven’t called at a bad time.
I just want to talk to you about something your son did today.
He said, leave the kid alone, I still cry sometimes, don’t you?
And it was the noblest act of courage I’ve ever seen.
I make parents see their children for who they are and who they can be.
You wanna know what I make?
I make kids question, I make them criticize, I make them apologize and mean it.
I make them write, write, write, and then I make them read,
and I make them spell, definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful,
over and over again, until they will never misspell either of those words again,
I make them show all their work in math,
and then hide it on their final draft in English,
I make them realize that you got this (point at head) then follow this (point at heart).
And if someone tries to judge you based on what you make,
Then you give them this (raise middle finger)
Let me break it down for you
Let me break it down for you so you know what I say is true,
I make a g-d-m difference
What about you?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Stephen King review

1) Stephen King is amazing but I can't read anything he writes (even fantasy Eye of the Dragon and nonfiction On Writing) without being scared witless EXCEPT this article,
2) I just watched movie "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" yesterday and it teared me up *sniff* (I read that some readers watched the movie, then heard the characters' movie "voices" as they read book 7. Since I read book 7 before seeing the movie, the movie made me nostalgic, glad that the movies help keep the story alive)
3) I especially love the point about Rowling growing into a better writer through writing,

...please read this review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (spoiler alert)! (Thanks, H!)

Friday, August 17, 2007

Doing my homework

Reporting from the land of no Internet, my new home in the suburbs, where there are more trees and lawn and fresh air to enjoy, no sirens but cicadas and delivery and utility truck sounds abound, I can use the iPhone to email blog posts though not reliably receive notice of your comments but in a pinch use the painfully slow web browser, and I've lost track of the sentence structure here...

My point is I'm finally doing my summer reading (holy cow - I discovered new occupational hazard yesterday at ob/gyn checkup, where the nurse practitioner and I discussed her son's summer reading and the merits of using audio CD especially for students with learning disabilities DURING THE YOUKNOWWHAT exam - Seriously - I can't decide if the conversation was a good distraction or an outrage).

Really, without the Internet, my late night activity yesterday was reading and journaling TWO chapters of Learning by Doing: a handbook for professional learning ..... *sigh*

And I truly miss blogging, which is reading, commenting, and visiting with blog friends. Thanks for your comments - I'll reciprocate when I can snag some wi-fi or September 1 when our internet service starts.

Sunday, August 12, 2007


... 3 weeks. My first official day back at school is Tuesday, September 4. School starts the next day. Today my friend and colleague CS told me about a large discount "dollar" store with a "teacher tree" area, where she found a lesson plan book and miscellaneous supplies. YIKES! I can't do it yet - shop for school. It's not just because I still have about 20 packs of looseleaf paper and 20 spiral notebooks leftover from LAST August's "back to school" sale. It's mostly because I have to finish moving to my new home, a fact that I haven't mentioned here till now, and THAT's mostly because I procrastinate. Clearly. Hence all this blogging. The good news is that the leftover paper and notebooks have been moved to the new home.

Now, logically, 3 weeks is 3 weeks. Why should these last 3 weeks be any less enjoyable than the first 3 weeks?! We can't LET that happen! Sure, I have to catch up on MY summer reading - Learning by Doing, A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work (and practice 3-2-1 strategy after each chapter, 9 chapters total). (Any of you familiar with PLCs? the DuFours?) Yep, I'll spend 15 hours next week at a Ruby Payne workshop led by my department chair. Oh yeah - the unit plans, lessons, and my ability to memorize 120 names in 3 days will be ready to go right after Labor Day. BUT I'LL ENJOY EVERY MINUTE OF THESE NEXT 3 WEEKS, NO LIE!

Toronto Rogers Centre
Blue Jays vs. Yankees 8/6/07 (Below, Derek Jeter at bat, really!)

Friday, August 10, 2007

Experiment #3

I hope to use this picture (resized a la flickr) as my profile picture (I'm sure there's an easier way, but I'll do what I know), and I might as well tell you the story. This is my wai-po, my maternal grandmother who raised me from birth to age 7 in Taiwan. Needless to say, we were very close. My parents lived in the US and (finally) sent for me to live with them a month before my 7th birthday. Wai-po brought me to NYC and thought about staying, but decided to go home, much to my dismay at the time. Certainly distance (time, space, culture) separated us for most of the rest of my life, and she passed away from illness last October.

I'll make the simple "teaching connection" that I have written about wai-po when I demonstrate writing assignments (memoir, poem) in class. Sometimes I struggle to find interesting personal common ground with students (I have no siblings, I didn't play sports, I'm Chinese, etc.), but students have no trouble connecting with my wai-po stories. They're captivated.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Predator and prey on the internet

Local headline news today:
"Online romance ends in an arrest when Lancaster girl text messages for help" (Buffalo News). This topic has been on my mind since reading yh's blog post "stop blaming myspace". About 3 years ago, FBI held informational meetings at our school district to talk to staff and parents about the dangers of the internet for teens. I hate to admit how behind the times I was - that was the first time I really saw myspace pages (projected on large screen from computer monitor). FBI gave example after example of young people in our area who met total strangers online and then in person. I walked away from the meeting horrified, terrified. (See FBI Parent Guide to Internet Safety.)

I grew up WAY before the internet and had VERY strict parents. Here's my perspective as parent now of 6 year old girl. The whole point of raising a child is to help (push, drag, whatever) her into independence. The toddler needs constant, vigilant supervision in any room of the house. The 6 year old does not, hurray! I limit the 6 year old's choices of TV channels/shows, movies. When will I stop doing that, and by what degrees? What are the points in between??? When should she be allowed to watch MTV? When should I put a TV in her own room? When should I give her a mobile phone to use to call us, and then to call her friends? When should she have her own computer, set up in her own room? (According to the FBI agent at the informational meeting I attended, DON'T allow it! Keep the computer in a common area.) Doesn't all this depend on the kid, the parents, other family, friends, any number of unique circumstances?

Parenting is a puzzle that no one else can tell you how to solve. If the puzzle works out, others compliment you (and your in-laws think the child was just born perfect), even though no one really knows how the puzzle was solved (i.e. nature vs. nurture). If the puzzle does NOT work out, there are countless people pointing fingers, second guessing, judging (yeah, I do it, too).

Bottom line: Forget blame and fault. Just tell me what to do to protect children and foil predators. For my students, I remind them over and over to be careful online, to not trust strangers no matter what they say, to inform their parents of their online activities (SERIOUSLY). I'm careful about assignments with online components, to explain safety, to inform parents. But there's only one child I can follow home and monitor, and she's only 6, and I really DON'T know how I'll monitor her when she's 12. And even if she never falls prey online or otherwise, I still can't claim our example as THE single parenting solution. There never is. So when I hear "blame the parents" when children fall prey, I'm doubtful. That's all.

Update: please read and participate in comment discussion. Also new post from yh on this topic.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

JK Rowling interview - your patronus?

If you've read Deathly Hallows, here is a super interview with JK Rowling. Tiny excerpt:

Question: What would your patronus be?
JK's answer: I'd like an otter, like Hermione, but I've got a feeling it might be a large dog.

I'd like a panda, because they make me feel warm and fuzzy, they are in essence Chinese, though many transplanted, like me, and the efforts of many to save pandas (among other endangered species) give me hope of our humanity.

What about you?

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Hairspray Crazy (a few tiny spoilers)

Who needs to read and write
When you can dance and sing?
Forget about your algebra
And calculus
You can always do your homework
On the morning bus
Can't tell a verb from a noun
They're the nicest kids in town

GO SEE THE NEW "HAIRSPRAY" MOVIE! I have, twice, in the past week. Tuesday I saw it with my 6 year old daughter G, and we both loved it so much I bought the soundtrack. We've been singing along for 3 days, and last night we took D. to see the SING ALONG version, which just means the lyrics are on the screen. Since there were only a dozen people in the stadium seating theater, I could only hear me and G sing along. It was a blast! Even better to laugh with someone who got all the jokes. Favorite joke is a sight gag: Tracy waltzes into smoke-filled faculty room in her school, during song "I can hear the bells". Favorite punch line: "Link, the pork is ready!" Favorite actor: Travolta, hands down. Before I say too much, JUST GO SEE IT!

Seriously, I'm already plotting how to use the movie in class. Literary terms: "I can hear the bells" teaches METAPHORS (I tried to explain boxing to G), IRONY (see lyrics above). Themes of racial prejudice, racial integration, doing the right thing, don't snooze in school...

I love using movies in class, usually just clips to suit my lesson goals (leading to endless student complaints). I would love to teach a film literacy course some day. Some movies I've used: Napoleon Dynamite, The Truman Show (super connections to novel The Giver), High School Musical (they can sing along, but they don't know what "status quo" means), School of Rock. Others I want to use but never have time to incorporate: Whale Rider, Seabiscuit. Anyone have good suggestions?