Friday, June 26, 2009

The Last Day

Today I took my last 9 students on a long walk. We went through the Arboretum, where we looked for frogs and turtles, counted dragonflies, and identified catbirds, red-winged blackbirds, and exotic trees. We ambled through long grasses and along stone paths, then came out on busy roads where we walked to our favorite local ice cream shop. We ordered pizza across the street, then had ice cream (smalls, one topping per child). Finally, tired, hot, and sticky, we headed back toward school, this time along the road instead of through the Arboretum.

At least four times we stopped to make friends with dogs that were walking by. Each time we had the same conversation. "What's your dog's name?" "How old is he? Is that in dog years or people years?" "How many years is that in people years?" "What does he like to eat?" "Really!? He eats that?"

I thought a few times about all the things they say and notice that they learned from me. I mean, I thought it humbly, with a kind of awed amazement that I have influenced these kids in a few ways. But they see the world in some new ways because of me. The way they notice and talk about bikes. The way they think about recycling (Ivan carefully found the recycling container at the ice cream shop for his plastic cup.) The way they point at every bird they see. Israel and his ability to identify some of the common birds around here -- grackles, starlings, finches. The way they helped each other get up a steep hill, and Amalia said, "It's a good thing we support each other!" All the knowledge they have, and share with each other, about insects, mushrooms, plants, rocks.

I mean, I definitely don't get all the credit for any of this. I probably only get a little bit of the credit for it. But we've made a community together, for two years now, that is characterized by taking care of each other, the environment, and our neighborhood, as well as curiosity, excitement, and enthusiasm for new ideas. It's been a place where it's safe to share your feelings most of the time, where kids take risks and stretch themselves, and where we have a lot of fun. I feel really proud of that community, and proud of my kids for being such willing and happy participants it in.

Israel came up next to me as we neared school. "I'm kind of sad that it's the last day of school," he said, with an embarrassed laugh. "Me too," I agreed ruefully.

Amalia didn't leave my side the entire walk. Each time we got separated, there she was again next to me, her little sticky hand slipping into mine.

We were sitting in the coolness of the ice cream shop, all of us gathered around 3 tables, when Israel looked around and said, with his customary little chuckle, "It kind of feels like a family."

Now they are gone, and I am in my almost-empty classroom. It's started raining outside. (We forgot to repeat the sun dance today.) I'm facing a big stack of paperwork, but officially, I'm on summer vacation. The traditional end-of-year song is being blasted over the intercom. (Usually, it's "I Will Survive." This year, it's "The Way You Make Me Feel," in honor of Michael Jackson.) I'm tired. I'm happy. I'm sad.

Sun Dance

It has been raining for days and days around here. As of yesterday morning, we hadn't seen the sun in over seven days.

So when my students arrived, we decided to do a sun dance. First we composed the words. Then we worked out dance steps / hand motions to go along with them. We rehearsed, then headed outside.

Bumblebees like the sun.
It is hot and it is fun.
Rain is boring.
I am snoring.
We just wish the sun would come!

Five times we performed the sun dance in front of the school. Amalia counted "1, 2, 3, 4" so we would know when to start. Carlos counted out the number of times we had done it, so we would know when to stop. Jarad held a drawing of the sun up toward the sky. An hour later, the sun came out.

We always knew we were pretty damn powerful.

(Malcolm looked at me suspiciously. "I think you heard the weather report this morning," he said. I frowned innocently and motioned him to shush.)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

I am from a dream a night

We've been writing I am From poems. Some excerpts:

By Amalia
With a little cold wind
I’ll whirl and twirl
around until
giggling with my girls.

By Tia
I hear
in the morning.
My skin is like
chocolate butter cups.

By Alex
I am from China to
become a ninja warrior so I can
meet my grandpa that had
died a long time ago
I just
don’t live
I live
my neighborhood
I hear
baseball games
around the
corner and
trucks rumbling
and kids
at the
I even
hear ice cream

By Pria
I am from a
dream a night
I am from a
I am from
the sun

By Aliyah
I am from cold coffee ice cream.
nice dark coffee ice twisted coffee
ice cream. don’t leave me in the sun or
I will melt like a raindrop

By Jarad
I’m from
the music
that Ms. Swamp
all day

By Jada
I am from my mom’s stomach
like peanut butter is from peanuts.
I am the color of peach coladas.

By Raheem
I’m from Jamaica
where the wind blows in the night
and sun shines in the day. and
in the morning I hear drums
every day. and crickets chirping in late
days and I hear coyotes howling in
the evening. and I feast on Jamaican beef
patties all day. and people have parties in the
morning and they blast music all night.

The scent of burgers and hot dogs and chicken.
Dogs barking in the afternoon.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Math Review

Today we started our end-of-year math review packet.

Not exactly inspiring curriculum. The students need a chance to review everything they've learned in math this year, and they need practice with pencil-and-paper math tests -- things like reading directions carefully, double-checking their work, etc. So we give them a math review packet to do before the end-of-year assessment.

The funny thing is that my kids were really into the review today. And so was I. It was fun guiding them through it, asking them questions when they got stuck, and seeing them find a solution to something they didn't think they could answer.

We didn't finish the packet because it was time for a read-aloud. So after an hour of math work, I told them to clean up and come to the rug for the story.

A chorus of groans arose around the classroom as a bunch of disgruntled second graders shuffled to the rug.

"I don't want to hear the story," Tyshaun whined. "I want to keep doing math."

"Me too," Israel agreed. "I love math. Let's skip the story."

"Yeah! No story! More math!" Jarad started chanting.

I laughed. Much as I am tired (in June, after ten months of it) of whining, this whining wasn't really such bad news.

"Just wait," I said. "I know you love math. I love math too. It's hard to stop doing math when it's so fun. But the story I'm going to read you is so good, you'll be glad we stopped. Plus, we'll do more of the math tomorrow."

Then we read And Tango Makes Three, a book that has been banned in many places for telling the true story of two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo who became a couple, built a nest, and eventually hatched an egg given to them by the zoo keeper. It always generates good discussions, although I have to stop my knee-jerk reaction when kids giggle or say "that's nasty" at the mention of two dads. Instead I ask them why they think it's nasty, and other students disagree and share their thoughts, and we have a real conversation about it.

The thing about the story of the baby penguin is that everyone loves it. The charm of the two male penguins who want so much to have a baby that they try to hatch a round rock (and remember, this is a true story), and the delight everyone feels when their real, adopted egg hatches -- you can't help but rejoice with the two dads. The students are rapt, with enormous grins stretched across their faces and hands clasped nervously in their laps, as the two dads take turns sitting on the egg and then hear peeping coming from inside it. I saw my student with Asperger's Syndrome more emotionally engaged in the story than in anything else we've read all year. (Except for another book about penguins, come to think of it. Hmmmm.)

And that's the beauty of the story. No matter what you think about two dads, you are pulling for Roy and Silo. Which is what makes for good literature.

After the story, I said, "See, you didn't want to stop math to read this story. But aren't you glad we did?" And they were.

It was a very good morning to be a teacher in the second grade.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Too Rough Fingers of the World

I was looking online for the text of Langston Hughes' poem "The Dream Keeper," which we've been reading this week. (It is incomparable.)

I found this. It is definitely worth a read.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Portfolio Presentations

I work at a school where, in order to graduate from the eighth grade, students have to write a paper and do a portfolio presentation for a panel of judges about the relationship between colonialism / colonization, government corruption, deforestation, and climate change in Haiti or Kenya. They learn about US contributions to poverty in those countries, and 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Winner Wangari Maathai's work on reforestation in Kenya. They speak about the ramifications of global warming, and the importance of stopping deforestation as one part of slowing climate change.

That is just exactly the kind of school I would like to work at.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Student Poems

Here are few of our first original poems. Not everyone has line breaks down, so I'm copying them as they are, even though many of these line breaks are not purposeful (they just wrote until they ran out of space.)

The ceiling is like a cloud in the blue sky shifting across the sky. (unfinished)

Music is in hip hop and
soul or smooth rock
when my mom is going to
sleep she tells me to turn
it off but I just make
it louder music is my thing.

(Undertaker is a WWF wrestler, I think)

There goes Undertaker
leg drop...
There goes Undertaker
last ride...
There goes Undertaker
old school...
There goes Undertaker
choke slam...
There goes Undertaker

My mom smells like a blossom when I eat her chicken
the crust is crispy the meat is tasty
she spends her money on me and my baby sister
She gives me money on my birthday her pan-
cakes are moist and good her bacon is crusty


They pass it to me in the lane,
and my knee is in a lot of pain
I make the and-one
the fans say "that's the game!"

Ray Allen

Ojo passes it
Ray dunks it
Ojo gets
Ray makes
Yeah Ray go

The ice cream man

The ice cream man
never steps out his
truck is it just
because of a
angry old man, approaching
the ice cream man?
He steps on the brake
as if he was in a race
and he never turns
back he leads the
police on a high speed
chase, and that's mostly that.

The last one is my favorite. I love the angry old man, approaching the ice cream man.

What is it about poetry? Their natural sense of rhythm and language and powerful words emerges so naturally.

How to be a good mom

My assistant Melissa just left for maternity leave. The students put together a book of good-bye letters, complete with advice on how to be a good mom. A few gems:
  • "I think the day you have your baby will be the BEST! My mom says I'm the best thing that ever happened to her."
  • "Teach him to be a gentleman."
  • "Babies cry because they are cold. They miss being in their moms' warm stomachs. That's what my mom told me."
  • "Your baby needs plenty of sunshine."
  • "Make sure you give him lots of love and care."
  • "When he's 4, he can come here to go to school with us."
  • "Teach him to use the remote control." (oh dear)
  • "Make sure you get enough sleep."
  • "Make sure you have time to go out with your girlfriends and have a break."
  • "Teach him to be good when he goes to the dentist to get his teeth checked or cleaned.
(This last one was from Tyshaun, who came in yesterday and sought me out purposefully in order to say, "I have to leave early today to go to the dentist." Remembering his advice to Melissa, I thought there was perhaps something going on in all this dentist talk. "How do you feel about going to the dentist?" I asked. "Not good," he answered emphatically. He told me he doesn't like having people put their fingers in his mouth, or getting shots in his mouth. I could very much empathize, and I told him what I do at the dentist when I'm nervous: close my eyes, take deep breaths, and try to think about something else.)

Jerome made a big picture, split in the middle horizontally. On the top was a baby in a crib, with big bubble letters over the top that said: "Let Baby Sleep!" On the bottom was a baby in a high chair, with the heading: "Let Baby Eat!"

Melissa's baby boy was born yesterday morning. He's got 22 happy aunties and uncles in our classroom.