July 30, 2008

My New Classroom

Kris's Classroom

Kris's Classroom

I'm trying not to worry. It's not MY job to worry about this, but check out the rest of my sneak peak photos. Does it seem like we'll be ready to teach students on August 25th?

This classroom is smaller than my classroom at the old school. I know I was spoiled with such a large room; there were few regular classrooms with so much space. My new room is about 30 x 30, and as of this week, my largest class has 30 students. Nope, not as roomy as I'd like. At least the students will have lockers, so I won't have to do the fancy footwork around their backpacks.

On Family

Because I married a man ten years my senior, who had a daughter when he was too young and two children when he was too old, I am a stepmother to school-aged children and a step grandmother to a baby. It's my life. It's my family. Sometimes it's still weird, though.

With the younger kids, my role as step mom has been awkward at times, but since their parents were only together a few years, I doubt they remember a time when I wasn't in the their lives--especially for the younger one who was still in diapers when I first met him. What makes our relationship even easier in recent years is that I am now their primary mom, as we have full custody, and their mother has no input on how they are being raised.

I'm thankful that our relationship hasn't been tumultuous, and it's been a long time since they tried to throw it in my face that I wasn't their mother--that I wasn't the boss of them. I've had frank talks with them--when needed--about what my role and responsibilities are. I may not be their mother, but I am a mother to them. I'm the one responsible for them on a daily basis. There has been some struggle, but both the kids seem to accept the function of our family and the role I play in their lives. And...when push comes to shove, I have brought out the this-is-MY-home card!

Now, when it comes to the relationship I have with my oldest stepdaughter, it's a different story. She was already an adult when I met her dad. In six years, I've seen her only a few times. Distance has been a major problem, but she has also gone through some bumpy times over the years, and there were long periods of time when we didn't even know where she was. I cried after the first time I met her because she was just so messed up, and I felt so awful for her dad, my husband. She needed so badly to be saved from herself, but she was the only one who could do that. She was raised an only child, daddy's girl, but she had grown distant from her dad. So what was I to her? Nothing.

Imagine my nervousness as my sweetie and I traveled to Tennessee last week to visit his daughter--and especially his nine-month-old granddaughter. It had been at least four years since we'd seen his daughter. She moved herself out of a bad situation in California a few years back into a more hopeful situation near her mother in Tennessee. When she called last summer to announce her unplanned pregnancy, we were apprehensive. So much for getting her life back on track, right?

Over the course of the year of pregnancy and motherhood, it appeared that her life was more on track than ever before. She and her dad talked on the phone several times a week until calls were became a daily ritual. Throughout all of this, I've been on the outside looking in. I collected news through her dad, and I helped pick out gifts for the baby. (My sweetie is quite inept in the gift-giving department. Did the darling daughter really think her dad picked out the crib we sent to her on his own? Hardly!)

So, how did the visit go in Tennessee? Oh, it was awkward at times. She has a history with her dad. I have a history with him, too, but those histories don't cross at any point--until now. I'm not a mother to his daughter, and I never will be. I'm thankful. Six years ago, I distinctly remember a sticky breakfast at Denny's with my younger stepchildren, before I'd ever met their grown half-sister, when I said to my sweetie, "The oldest one can cut her own pancakes, right? She can eat on her own?" During our visit last week we spoke to each other, woman to woman. Sometimes merely cordially, as could be expected from people who don't really know each other. We warmed up to each other, trying to find our fit into each other's lives. It felt like I was the one doing most of the molding, but I wonder if she feels awkward in how she fits in her father's life--she barely knows me or her half brother and sister-- just as I feel awkward about fitting into her life.

So, I'm not her mother. It's even weird to call me a step-mother. She doesn't really need mothering. (Sure, I nagged her a bit about going back to school, but I do that to a lot of young people who need my unsolicited advice. It's a teacher thing.) In simple terms, I am her family. To me, family can be of two definitions. It's the people you are connected to through birth or marriage, but it can also be the people you love and draw into your life. Through whichever definition you choose, with both definitions fitting, my oldest stepdaughter is my family.

July 24, 2008


Taking the red-eye to Tennessee tonight. This will be my second trip to Tennessee this year, with the first one being for an educational conference. Seems like with all the options for travel without our country I might find myself in more exciting places than Idaho, Utah, and Tennessee. But this year...no. And Baker, California, which is where we do visitation drops for our kids hardly counts. Hawaii anyone? Alaska? Those sound so nice to me.

A red-eye to Knoxville--for crying out loud--is certainly out of love. Okay, there's some self-imposed frugality, too, but I hate that 5 hour flight across the country. Ugh! And the Atlanta layover. I do not like to fly. Might as well sleep through it.

Anyway...we're going to see my sweetie's grand baby! For several days he's been going around saying, "We're going to see my hun's grand baby!" He's so funny. I'm fearful of an awkward trip as it is without him being delusion enough to think that our level of grandparenthood is on equal level. I don't know his eldest daughter very well at all, and it's been quite a while since we've seen her.

But since love has taken me on some crazy journey where I'm skipping having babies altogether and going into raising young children and having grandchildren at the same time, I'll take what I can get.

July 23, 2008

The Baggage of a Teacher

I regret my last post because I should not speak even slight evil of things I am unfamiliar. Those are the internals thoughts of a teacher who wants so badly help students learn but cannot take anymore edu-jargon that might be attached to promised miracles of student learning that will mostly result in increased teacher workload. It was likely written out of fear and exhaustion.

July 22, 2008

On Learning New Jargon and Forming Uneducated Opinions

Differentiated instruction is the jargon flavor of my week as I've been attending a conference here in Las Vegas. I can't think of any DI language I haven't been hearing for...uhm...long enough that I should know what to do with it!

So in the spirit of conversations buzzing around this week at Mrs. T's casa and NYC Educator, I'd like to add an acronym new to me:


Examples of usage I heard during presentations.

"Doesn't this technique really lend itself to uses with RTI?"

"With RTI coming down the pike, this will be useful for that, too."

Great! RTI. Yet more jargon. Wait! What do you mean coming down the pike? Is this a bandwagon I'm going to be given a ticket to ride? Uhm, what is RTI anyway? Nothing like feeling like an "early-readiness" student...

I saw a book during the course of the day that was labeled as having something to do with Response To Intervention. For those of you, like me, who are not familiar with this term, do you feel completely enlightened now?

I mean, it seems so obvious, right? Responding to Interventions. Probably for the students. Wait. Why are we responding? Who provided the intervention? This sounds like the title of a government report, like A Nation at Risk or something.

When I arrived home, I googled the term, but the first few things I found under the acronym were clear as mud. I saw RTI was affiliated with IDEA, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and I thought of Miss Donna. She's the only one I've ever heard throw that acronym around much (probably from her stint as a district director of special services), so I called to pick her brain about RTI.

She explained how she's heard the term used by telling me that school are supposed to have a RTI team made up of an administrator, a special education teacher, and a few other teachers. When a classroom teacher has a student who might be in need of special services but may not be a candidate for special education services--we all know those kids who fall through the cracks because there isn't a system to deal with them--that teacher tries every intervention possible to help the student. After those interventions prove to be ineffective, the teacher goes before the intervention team and they do a little investigation of the situation and offer suggestions for the teacher. The teacher then tries what is suggested and reports back. The teacher might meet back with the team several times.

Miss Donna indicated that communicating with the student's other teachers often proved to be one of the greatest helps a teacher could have. Boy, that sounds something that could benefit from Planned Learning Communities! And, of course, I could certainly see where myriad of techniques under the DI umbrella could very well play into interventions a teacher might try.

That team sounded little familiar, but it still seemed new. I had a few questions after hearing about the RTI team:
  1. Why did the context in which the presenters used the term indicate that it was a concept coming to a school near me--perhaps the next educational push?
  2. What kind of training do teachers get in coming up with interventions for students before going to the team?
No, I'm not begging for some teacher in-services of the topic of RTI, but it just seems to me that that intervention team might be pretty busy. Common sense tells me that all I would probably have the tools in my teaching belt to help troubleshoot an at-risk kid--at least for a good number of months--but I wasn't equipped with those tools when I walked into the classroom.

I looked around a little more and found a website with this explanation of RTI on the front page at the National Center on Response to Intervention:

Response to intervention integrates assessment and intervention within a multi-level prevention system to maximize student achievement and to reduce behavior problems. With RTI, schools identify students at risk for poor learning outcomes, monitor student progress, provide evidence-based interventions and adjust the intensity and nature of those interventions depending on a student’s responsiveness, and identify students with learning disabilities.
Well now, that's just loaded with jargon!

After poking around the website for a few minutes, it appears that RTI has to do mostly with students with learning disabilities, and it might include ELL students and students with behavioral problems. I don't have many students who fall into those categories, although I plan to have a stack of them this fall when I teach Fundamentals of Reading to my night school students.

Do I ever have students who have learning difficulties? Sure. In every class. Sure, my students' problems may not be as severe as others. I do have bilinguals students who are no longer considered ELL, but they still need time for the translators to work in their heads. I have boys who are so wiggly that they are a detriment to themselves and who have never had anyone give them interventions to help them cope with being in a classroom. I have many students, the Bubble Kids, who fall just below the line of proficiency and the source of their difficulties run the gamut from more tangible readiness/maturity issues to more intangible social/socio-economic/cultural issues to reasons I can't ever figure out. Most of my methods of helping them learn are research-based, things I've learned at countless trainings and by reading books, but some of them are gut-based. Shhh! Don't tell.

I don't want to judge this RTI stuff without truly knowing what I'm talking about, but I hope it's not coming to a school near me. I'd like to think we already have it--perhaps under different terms. Although I welcome new strategies to perfect my craft, I don't need than more than I have now. Seriously. If I open up the box of tools I've been collecting over the years, I think I will find that I have all the tools I need--I simply need to use them. I don't need more tools that have the same function as some of my old tools. That's clutter.

(If you want to see a physical manifestations of this clutter, visit the shelves of a teacher who has been teaching 20 years.)

Update: Anthony Rebora over at Teacher Magazine's Blogboard linked to this post and directs readers to an Edweek story on "Embracing Response to Intervention." Check it out for more food for thought!

July 13, 2008

For the Love of Cars

In 1963 Dad bought his first car, a '54 Ford, for $60. Back then cars weren't as costly as they are now, but $60 was still a lot of money that wouldn't get you a lot of car. My grandmother signed the transaction papers for him, as he was still teenager. I can imagine it was much like the first cars many of us had. It had wheels, and it would go, but one had to tinker with it a lot. It was still beloved.

My dad has had many cars over the years although he isn't one to have a new car sitting in his driveway every season. When he was single, there were some hot rods he owned, but after he had a family, the cars he owned served more practical purposes like transporting the family and hauling firewood from the mountain. Don't fool yourself into imaging minivans with graham crackers under the seats and pickup trucks dented and banged up from countless loads. No matter the purpose, the cars were clean--still beloved.

Over the years I've heard my dad reminisce about various cars he'd had in his lifetime: "I wished I still had that car!" When I was younger I wondered why he didn't keep those cars he loved so much, but now that I've gone through a few cars I miss, I understand the practicality of trading cars you love so much. (I missed the Mustang I traded for a kid-friendly car while I was driving the new car home.) My dad is exactly the kind of man you'd would expect who would enjoy restoring an car. Why didn't he buy and restore one of those old cars he'd loved so much? It seemed to be one of those things he intended to do someday.

Someday arrived after he retired at an early age and had time on his hands. He found a '54 Ford much like the one he first owned from a local dealer. It was in great condition and needed just a few things done to it. Or so he thought. The more he started tweaking with it, the more work--major work he founded needed to be done to restore the car in the condition he wanted. The car was more lemon-scented than what he thought.

Over the last few years, as he was waiting on mechanics who were too busy or scouring E-Bay for parts unfound, he regretted buying the car. I didn't take him too seriously because I thought he'd been waiting decades for the hassle of restoring a car. Perhaps the tinkering and the frustration isn't what he missed from the nostalgic driving of his memories.

Finally last fall, everything came together well enough for a car he can cruise in. There are few things that don't work as well as he'd like, but they're so minor, he lives with them for now.

Elda Mae, that '54 Ford named for my grandmother who helped Dad buy his first car, meets with other cruisin' cars twice a month for a couple of spins on Main. When the streets are quiet, perhaps on Sunday mornings, she takes a drive around town to see what's happening. She doesn't have an exciting life, but she is beloved.

July 9, 2008

Waiting for...Porch Sittin'?

In the last few weeks, I can't even tell you what I've been doing. Maybe I've been waiting for today. Today is the day the ball gets rolling on some summer fun.

Tonight one of my best friends, Miss D, is flying in from her her summer travels in South Carolina. (There's a cute little grandchild out there!) We're going to chill out for a little tomorrow--if it is even possible in the triple digits. Tomorrow's my birthday, too. I keep having to mathematically figure out my age because I just can't believe how old I'm getting. We don't have anything planned, but we can surely work on that. The kids want to stay home and bug us, but they'll be going to the urban budget summer camp Boys and Girls Club as usual.

On Friday we--family and Miss D--are driving to southern Idaho where we'll drop off Miss D at her parent's house for the last bit of her summer vacation. (Ha ha! Sucks to be an administrator!) We'll only spend a day there, but I'm sure there will be plenty of porch sittin' going on. I've visited Miss D's parents in the winter more often than I have in the summer, but the times I have gone in the summer the porch, which is bigger than my living and dining room together, was put to frequent use, with the porch swing being the best seat outside the house to watch the squirrels.

Apparently there's going to be a cook out early Saturday afternoon, so we won't be moving on to my parent's house in northeastern Utah until later that afternoon. I hope it's a quick 5-hour trip home! I can feel it already--I just want to be there already!

We have planned three days with my parents before returning home. Oh it seems so short! What happened to the summers when I spent so much time visiting that I thought my dad might threaten to claim me on his taxes again? I'm sure there will be more porch sittin' in the mornings and evenings. I'll have to remember to take a sweatshirt because it's sometimes too chilly for me--the daily lows are forecast for the 50's, but even the 70's give me a chill since my blood because so thin from living in southern Nevada.

Dad has finally finished restoration on an old car--forgive me Dad, I can't remember if it's a '54 or '55 Ford or Chevy. I just know it's special to you, and it looks goooooood! I do know that every time I've been home in the last few years it hasn't been time to take a ride. It was in the shop...it didn't have seats...it was too cold. I think it's time to go cruisin'! Dad, remember the summer of 2001? All the miles we logged onto my Mustang just driving around in the country? (We also stopped at the coffee shop each night, but I won't even bother asking to bring a drink along!) I don't expect that we should drive your cruisin' car all over the county, but draggin' strip a few times would sure be nice!

July 3, 2008

Begging for Inspiration: Reading About Writing

Go to Scholastic Scribe today to learn about one of my favorite books on writing. If you use your imagination, you might get be able to picture what I was like in 1991. My students think I'm a hippie now just because I like peace signs, happy faces, and I spray this scent in my classroom when it gets too smelly. Sheesh! They shouldn't stereotype based on those things! (I tell my students I'm waaaaay to young to be a hippie, but it only confuses them.)

Below are a few more books on writing I have enjoyed. They aren't necessarily for classroom use, but I've used bit and pieces.

July 1, 2008

Is It Thursday Yet?

Yes, I know that my posting has slowed waaaaaaay down. I was busy with the SNWP advanced institute for the past few weeks, and now I just have nothing...I'm pretty close to blogging about the weather! Check back later for that thrilling post!

I am planning on participating in Take Another Look Thursday over at The Scholastic Scribe. (Did you read last week's post?)

Aren't you just dying to know what I'll be taking another look at? Here are some clues:
  • It's a book.
  • It's about writing.
  • I've revisited this book many times since 1991.
No, were not talking Strunk or Zinsser here. Somebody not as definitively respected--and certainly not as mainstream.

Any guesses?

What are your favorite books on writing?