October 8, 2009

Falling into significant gains

There's something about fall that makes me feel alive. The cold air, the smell of dried leaves, smoke from chimneys, the color that explodes like long lasting fireworks, exotic foods that only come out when the weather gets cool- it wakes me up and keeps my senses fresh. On the other hand, fall also reminds me of the end, and makes death so beautiful. It's mother nature's last farewell before the world gets covered in a blanket of renewing snow, waiting for the new year. I love fall.
I'm glad to be feeling like my old self again, as I was grumpy, irritable and tired when sick and on medication. Not the person I want to be. Teaching while sick is a nightmare that I do not wish on anyone. My room-mate is recovering nicely from the Swine Flu, but the virus rages on through the city of St. Louis, closing several schools in the bordering counties. I have a feeling that the inner city schools will not close unless 99% of students are out sick due to our obsession with attendance. 95% is the magic number that it all goes back to for Busch AAA, though some schools are struggling to meet a 75% average attendance rate (or lower). In fact, in some elementary schools students are withheld from any field trip or assembly if they miss a single day of school. I imagine they are small trips.
Anyhoo, here's a question to ponder in your spare time: what are significant gains?
Sometimes I feel like saying, "What kind of a question is that when I've got hundreds of papers to grade, meetings to attend, and referrals to write?" It's hard to keep the big picture in mind when the dirty little details drag you down, but it is OH SO IMPORTANT! Without focusing on the underlying philosophy of teaching- that it is a service for the children- it is too easy to get fed up with disrespectful or silly behavior. If you don't focus on the fact that without reading students won't be able to understand day to day activities, you might become frustrated with how your students misbehave when it is really a testament to the fact that they do not understand, have not understood for quite some time and are used to failing. They just cover it up by acting like they don't care (or like a pack of spider monkeys. That's a story for another time). If I forget that I am here to achieve significant gains with my students, then all the extra work and extra hours seem like torture, not a gift.
I came to a realization today after taking a look at my students SRI scores. The student who reads at a BR 21 reading level (that's Below Reading level 21. Pre-kindergarten) couldn't possibly write an essay. If you can't read you can't write. If you can't read you can't understand complicated instructions so it's no wonder he pretends to shoot imaginary monsters in class instead of focusing on a worksheet that could be written in Chinese for all he knows.
With the first quarter officially done as of this past Thursday, I'm going to be making some big changes in my classroom. We start our first class novel next week, Number the Stars by Louis Lowry. I hope this book about the Holocaust will help my students positively interact with each other and learn a little empathy for other human beings. Also starting next week, every student will read every day in class for 20 minutes and at home for 20 minutes. This will give me time to meet with each student individually and really hammer home the importance of reading. I moved all my desks around into groups and it is so true- moving furniture around is good for the soul. I feel like the freshness of fall has invaded my classroom and helped me turn over a new leaf (or perchance turn the leaf into a different color).

Highlights of my life:
*Caitlin (my older sister) is visiting in early November- yah yah YAH!
*I just bought my plane tickets home for Thanksgiving (cost me an arm and a leg, but I gladly pay it in order to go home)
*Hot chocolate on a cold day. Live music. Coffee shops. Warm showers with space heaters (in the bathroom, not in the shower). The smell of nutmeg and pumpkin.
*I have a student who told me upfront that he doesn't like to read and that all books are stupid (HA! I thought in my mind, a challenge!). I promptly introduced him to the book, Sir Fartsalot, which he has not stopped reading since, and I catch him giggling from time to time about the knight's (and his friend Sir Armpit) adventures in the Kingdom of Flatulence. Another class favorite is the Captain Underpants series. That series is a blessing for my students who can't read above a third grade level. They have found an actual book that they enjoy, a rare thing for many of them. Thank God for toilet humor.