Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hunger and Hope - Bloggers Unite

I teach elementary school in an urban setting where each of my students receives free breakfast and lunch. When lunchtime comes around and I take my kids to the cafeteria, they all of a sudden become more talkative and almost giddy.

In a line they inch up to the kitchen, where they watch as the lunch lady serves a rubbery chicken patty on a yeasty bun, or runny macaroni and cheese. The food is dropped, hurriedly slopped, on to a Styrofoam tray, often with a plastic-gloved hand. Several kids will ask for "two" of whatever is being served. They'll take a milk carton as well, checking the date as I've taught them to do, and a piece of waxy, bruised fruit that is piled up in a plastic bin.

Once they prance over to their tables, my kids unwrap they're straws and drink their milk. Then, they contemplate the food before them. YOU would not serve this food to your children. It's a tray filled with carbs and low-grade food. One day, my kids were served tater-tots (potato rounds), bread, corn, and a cookie! But most of the kids eat, quickly, they're starving. For some kids in my school, it's supposedly "the best" they'll get all day.

Today, bloggers are writing about hunger and hope. I have to think about my students. Children here in our country are hungry. They deserve good, nutritious food, fresh fruit and vegetables. Why is it that, in our country, food aid programs consist of low-grade, sub-quality left-overs?

Children in my school are hungry; they deserve better.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

My Torture Chamber

I apologize to my loyal readers for not posting regularly in the past couple of weeks. I've been doing mean things to kids, all in the name of TESTING.

Here is a violent run-down of what's been keeping me occupied:
  1. Squeezing in more math skills
  2. Cramming in more writing
  3. Force-feeding hideously long reading passages to "practice" comprehension
  4. Killing the love of writing because they are making me teach formulaic strategies for responding to writing prompts
  5. Hanging up signs, posters, and other "nice-looking" items on every available blank space, because an important person will be visiting next week
  6. Slapping up extra vocabulary words on my Word Wall because K and X "are empty" and a few of the other letters don't have "enough"

I'm sorry kids, but they make me do it.

The mistreatment is self-inflicted as well. I've confined myself to my dark, damp basement to grade papers, do report cards, and write lesson plans. Meanwhile, it's 88 and gorgeous outside.

Our state test is scheduled to begin on May 4th. Until then, and until it's over, more gritting of teeth and relentless stress.

Can't wait to take back my classroom. Can't wait to read and write real stories and poems together. Can't wait for exciting math projects. Looking forward to returning to the kind of teaching and learning that actually means something.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Bilingual Book Review - Oh No! Gotta Go!

Please stop over at Latin Baby Book Club, where I've shared my book review of Oh No, Gotta Go!, a bilingual story-in-verse of a little girl who realizes she needs a bathroom while riding in the car. Susan Middleton Elya weaves Spanish words and phrases into the verses in such a way that invites the reader, bilingual or not, to chime in. Go there to read about it!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Good Boys

My two nephews were watching TV when I stopped in to my mom's yesterday. I was impressed at how well they were behaving. While I had lunch with my mom, the boys joined us at the table for some milk and homemade cookies. One of the boys told me about World Wars I and II, and what he learned from the Pearl Harbor movie. The other boy told me about an upcoming fishing trip with his dad. It was a pleasant insight in to the boys' interests.

The boys left the table after a while and enjoyed some silliness, like crawling and creeping around the house, and sneaking up on me. Later, I heard them giggle as they gently tossed around what I thought was a small Frisbee. Their abuelo (grandfather) was not amused, but I assured my dad that no es nada (no big deal) and the boys returned to their cartoons.

Before I left, I tore out two slips of paper from a notepad in my bag. On each, I created an "Excellent Behavior" note, promising a special prize in the future, as long as they could present the slip of paper to me next time we meet. I handed the "coupons" to the boys and watched as they read them. They exchanged smiles, folded the slips back up, and placed them in their pockets. I kissed them good-bye, and made my way out the door.

I had to turn around though, realizing I had left my book on the table. As I walked out again, I peeked in on the boys. They were reading their coupons to each other!

Awesome. Now, assuming they're successful in preserving those little slips of paper for a few weeks, what should the prize be? Must it be a thing?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tuneful Tuesday - "Closer to Fine"

The Indigo Girls' Closer to Fine was a hit in the late 1980s. I distinctly remember my teenage cousins singing along a todo dar (with all their heart) and how lovely they looked and sounded. Unfortunately, I didn't pay much attention to the song back then, nor to my cousins.

More than 20 years later, I came across this song again, and discovered how happy it makes me feel. Songs do that to us. Sometimes it's the lyrics, or the melody, or the memory attached to a song, that makes it linger, heal, or please.

I placed Closer to Fine in my iPod this past weekend. While I set up my son's iPod, he asked me to place it in his as well, and said "That one makes you smile."

Here's to songs that just plain feel good.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Spirituality, my son

For many reasons, which I'm still trying to figure out for myself, I have not pushed churchgoing nor any kind of religion in my home.

I was baptized at St. Lucy's RC Church in Scranton. I had a godmother who held me while a priest poured water and oil on my head. My parents did the dutiful thing and sent me to Catholic School, where I wore my plaid jumper and green knee socks daily. I had reading, math, and religion every day. I memorized the Act of Contrition in second grade, and wore a lovely white dress and veil while I made my First Communion, accompanied by another godmother. Eight grade ended in two grand celebrations - my confirmation (where I had a new godmother, or "sponsor") and graduation. I then spent four years in a Catholic high school, burgundy skirt, knee socks, English, Math, History, and Religion. I even "married" one of my classmates and together we cared for our hard boiled egg-baby for a week.

I stopped going to church sometime in college; nobody was around to make me go. I felt no guilt. Then, when I met my future husband, a Presbyterian, I started thinking about church again, about rituals and obligations. When I tried to plan a church wedding, to please my mother more than anything, I was denied it because I did not "belong" there. And that was that.

Since then, I've done a lot of reading and thinking about religion. I've been living a certain way, conscious of how I see things, acknowledging what I know and what I don't. But, I don't want to ever have to say what I am, or where and how often I go to worship. And as a mother, I don't feel I can fairly and justly point my child to one specific place.

I just try to be good. I love my people deeply. I respect and forgive, though it may hurt when I do so. I am awed by the swaying of the trees, the bubbles that form as I wash the dishes, the familiar smell in the crook of my husband's neck, the shine in my hair when the sun hits just so. I wonder at my body's gradual deterioration and healing, my son's agility on the soccer field, the power in my mother's embrace, the taste of the spiciest food. I'm humbled by the soft skin on the tops of my father's hands, and my cousin's growing belly, full of life. I am struck by the intensity of crossing a bridge while the loudest, rockingest song plays in my car, and the magic of the spider who weaves her art across my front door. I'm blessed by a chorus of birds outside my window, the hot shower that wakes me, the coffee that warms me.

I close my eyes and say "I know. This is here. This is You."

Larry, at Crowned with Laurels, kicks my butt at writing and beat me to it, this topic of religion. Go there to see what he thinks about it.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Langston Hughes in the 4th Grade

My students have experienced several different types of poetic forms since September. I use specific poems and certain poem forms (haiku, list poems, auto-biographical) to encourage English language development with my ELLs. Since the beginning of the year, my students have made enormous gains in English proficiency. Even more remarkable, is that they have emerged as thoughtful writers and thinkers.

Yesterday I kicked off National Poetry Month with "Poem" by Langston Hughes. It's one of the most touching and simple poems I know.


"I loved my friend.
He went away from me.
There's nothing more to say.
The poem ends,
soft as it began-
I loved my friend."

The students discussed the poem in groups; they touched on how "short and simple" the poem was, and how sad, "even though the poet didn't even say sad!" I then asked them to write a five-paragraph essay about a time when they lost someone or something they loved. They got right to it, first planning, then writing their first drafts. I did not have to coax anyone to write. Writing flowed freely, even from the three children who are often reluctant writers.

I was able to conference with half of the class yesterday, and the rest today. I was floored by the quality writing they had produced! My students wrote about lost friends, lost relatives left back home in their countries, lost pets, and a lost necklace. While they read to me, some of them got a bit choked up, and some managed to provoke a tear or two in my eyes. (Of course, I had to look away, or pretend like I was distracted by something on the other side of the room!)

Several students started to publish their work today. The rest will do so tomorrow, I'm sure. And today we read another poem, Life Doesn't Frighten Me, by Maya Angelou. They loved it and want to write their own poems about their fears.

These days... are magic. There's nothing more to say.