February 19, 2011

Upward and MAPward we go!

Here's the million dollar question- how do you catch the attention of 28 twelve year-olds whose minds are still at home playing on one of their hundred snow days? You start teaching them about the Greek gods and all the nasty stuff they did. Oh yes, I have resorted to shock and awe in order to drag my students into the land of learning. I can't tell you how many students recoiled and shouted 'Ewww!' 'What?!?' or 'Wait a minute...' when they learned that most of the gods marry their sisters and brothers, or that Hera is one P.O.ed lady due to her philandering husband Zeus, or that Ares and Aphrodite may not be married, but boy do they love each other! Yes, that is the sound of learning in my classroom- Ewww!

We are currently reading The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan and I am having so much fun! It's one of my favorites and I think I have successfully hooked the students with all the background knowledge of the Greek myths and gods and creatures. The book is a roller coaster ride of excitement and thrills, so even if it's a struggle for some students to comprehend, they are trying harder than they normally would because they want to find out what happens next. I love it when they moan after I say, "Alright, that's all we have time for today. Close your books!" Music to my ears.

Life is moving right along and the MAP (Missouri Assessment Program) test is coming, which means everything gets turned MAP-ward around now. Focus lessons, constant principal observations in the classroom, and a general feeling of nervous stress are the norm all over Busch and probably the district. At this time of testing stress, I recall those naive discussions I had in college classes, safely tucked in a happy corner of a protected little world, where I strongly denounced teaching to the test. How little I knew of how our wacky world works. It's not necessarily that I teach to the test- I teach the reading skills a student is supposed to know in the 6th grade and that is what the test is over, but boy does my life revolve around the test. Everything rides on it.

I don't think one can truly comprehend what the MAP means unless your spectacular students' future class will depend on their score, your school's freedom and open status depends on improving on the test, your Principal's job depends on the school wide improvement, the district's funding and standing compared to other districts depends on how all the children do, and your record is forever marked by your students' scores. All of these realities are based on the awesome idea of accountability, a double edged sword that hacks away at my confidence. Thank goodness for the book, Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire, which taught me to teach my students test taking skills (which is really boosting their performance!) and to assure them that while the test is important, in the end it is a piece of paper that adults are afraid of and they should view it as a challenge, not a monster. This mantra is what gets me through the testing season.

Anyhoo, onto more pleasant things.
I LOVE PAINTING. Period. It calms and soothes my MAP-mad mind and I can't get enough of it. I am currently taking a painting class at the community college here in St. Louis, and it is my first dabbling in oil. The professor is extremely professional and likes to use big canvases, which was a stretch for me. I'm learning a lot, and want to paint all the time, be it oil, acrylic or with my fingers. I told one of my co-workers that moving from acrylic to oil painting is like eating Hershey's chocolate your whole life, and then placing a Belgian truffle on your tongue. Both are good, but boy, does oil take the cake. It moves like butter and blends beautifully, the colors are extreme and vibrant and it will last forever if you prepare and paint it right. That said, it was also intimidating, time-consuming and expensive to begin. I love it!

A few of my early canvases have been attached to this blog for your viewing pleasure.
I am also looking forward to a trip to Disneyworld with my friend Jessica and St. Patty's day here in St. Louis with my friend Allie for my Spring Break. I love being in a position where those kind of things are an option. Thank God for all the blessings in my life!
If anyone wants to come out and visit- please do! If that's not an option, call, send me a letter or carrier pigeon, or contact me in some fashion, because I'd love to hear from you.

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