Sunday, February 21, 2010

It's Not Fairy Dust

My brother, Brad, was confined to a wheelchair from birth, and I was confined to a wheelchair since the sixth grade. Our parents never told us we couldn't do something due to our handicap. They made it possible for us to do what every other child our age did. Our parents expected us to be successful. We both attended public school at a time when handicapped children did not attend public school. We both attended college. It was expected! Our parents expected us to succeed, and we did! I would be nowhere, if it weren't for my parents' high expectations.

I have always had high expectations for myself and for the students I teach. It annoys me when I hear teachers say: "These kids can't," or "They're not developmentally ready to learn that," or "This is too hard for my students." Those words are fingernails on a blackboard. I cringe when I hear them.

My first year of teaching I taught 5th and 6th grade self-contained learning disabled children. Basically, these were the children that everyone gave up on. These were the "bad" boys. I mean that literally, I had a class full of boys and they were mean. All the other teachers had signs on there door that said, "WELCOME." The sign on my door said, " Please leave all weapons at the door with the guard!"

One day I was working on something after school, and I was using glitter. (Using glitter is a definite sign of a first year teacher.) As I was sprinkling the glitter on a piece of paper, a little boy entered my room and said, "Hi, I am Richard's brother and I need to ask you something. How did you do it?"

"How did I do what?" I asked in return.

"How did you turn Richard into a person? He does his homework, and he talks to my mom real nice. And he doesn't beat me up anymore. So, I was just wondering how did you do it? None of his other teachers have been able to do it."

It was my first year of teaching. I hadn't had time to develop a teaching philosophy. I happened to have a hand full of glitter so, I blew the glitter into the little boy's face and said, "It's magic, kid. It's all magic!"

"That's what I thought!" he replied enthusiastically as he skipped out of my room.

Fast forward, twenty-five years, I was conferencing with a student and I noticed she wasn't paying attention to me. She was staring at something. When I looked in the direction of her gazing I realized she was staring at another student that was diligently working who usually isn't working so diligently. I knew if she continued to stare, he was going to feel her staring at him, look up, and shout, "WHAT? STOP!" I had to interrupt her thoughtful gazing.

"Karen, you have got to stop staring at him," I implored.

"Oh, I was just thinking," she said as she shook her head and looked at me.

"About what?" I asked.

"He has been in the same classroom with me every year since kindergarten, and I have never seen him do any work like he has done in this class. I have never seen him be as nice as he has been in this class. It is kinda amazing. Maybe you and Ms Meyers need to write a book." I laughed, acknowledged her vote of confidence, and we continued with our conference without disturbing the student of our discussion.

After school, I told my team teaching buddy, Colleen, what Karen had said and she laughed and said, "That would be the shortest book with the longest title in the world! How Do You Get Students to Be Polite, Treat Others With Respect, Work Harder Than They Have Ever Worked, Do Their Homework, and Excel on State Tests? Then the text on page one would be EXPECT THEM TO DO IT!"

Colleen was right. People have always wanted to know what I do, and the only "magic bullet" is high expectations.
It's not fairy dust! My mantra is: Expect It!

A teacher at my school went on maternity leave this quarter, and her students "took the substitute hostage" through no fault of the sub. The students were out of control, their common assessment scores were dropping drastically, and the administration was being flooded with complaints from parents. I was asked to step in until their teacher returned. I really didn't want to go into the lions' den. I had observed the class, I had heard the class through the walls when teaching in rooms next door, and I didn't really want to have two full time jobs, but a student from the class came to my office and sadly said, "Miss C, I can't stand it anymore. My class needs help."

The first two days I was in the class I kept asking myself, "What was I thinking?" I was beginning to think it might be impossible. I thought they might be too far gone to rein them in, and then I remembered what the young man that had begged for help said when I informed the class that I would be there until their teacher returned, "All my dreams have come true!"

I went home, I cried, I regrouped, and I chanted my mantra, "Expect it, expect it, expect it . . . . . . ."

I went back the next day. I shared with them their data. I told them, "I expect this to change." I discussed what I had observed in reference to their behavior. I told them, "I expect this to change." I told them, "Every day there will be homework, and I expect you to do it." I also told them, "As much as I expect from you; you can expect the same from me. Also, you need to know that I always have the smartest and best behaved students in the school. You have quite a reputation to live up to so, I suggest we get busy!" At the end of the day, on their way out the door as I handed them their homework, I looked each and every one of them in the eye and said, "I care about you!"

I have been in the class for five days. The students are working, doing homework, participating in class, reaching their goals, and making a change in their behavior. The assistant principal saw the class in the cafeteria and asked how things were going and the students replied, "We are learning stuff!"

If someone asked me, "How did you get them to change so quickly?"

My simple answer would be, "I expected them to change." That's it! No secret! No magic fairy dust!

There is tons of research on self-fulfilling prophecy. The results of the research, simply stated, are: If students are told they are smart and wonderful, they will be smart and wonderful. When teachers are told they have the most gifted students (even if they aren't), the students will excel on tests. That's it! No secret! No magic fairy dust!

If teachers cry, "They can't," then they won't. If teachers don't believe in the impossible, then there are no possibilities. Believing is achieving! If teachers believe their students can achieve, they will. That's it! No secret! No magic fairy dust!

Paco's Perspective

Do you think we could expect the cock-eared one to come when you call? I seem to have figured it out; why can't he?

The Flip Side

Is it possible to expect treats if I come, every time you call?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Catasterous Disastrophy

As I have said in the past, I have a tendency to get into some precarious spots with my wheelchair. Sometimes the precarious positions are my own doing like getting stuck in a revolving door (Warning: revolving doors are not suitable for wheelchairs.) Then there are times when something will happen and I get in trouble through no fault of my own.

I use two tables in an upside down L-shape as my desk. My laptop is on the shorter part of the L, and two computers and scanners are on my right on the longer part of the L.
The other day I was working late. I was the only one in my office and the library area. I was attempting to put stats in the computer. I reached for a pile of papers from the table to my right (the button I drive my chair with is also on my right). The papers were heavier than I expected, or I am more crippled than I thought, and I dropped the pile of papers on my button with which I drive my chair.Man, I can't believe I can't even lift a stack of papers with one hand anymore. The weight of the papers FLUNG my chair forward. My chair proceeded to ram into the table in front of me.Oh, shit, I know what is going to happen. The force of the forward movement pushed my chair under the table. Yep, I knew that was going to happen.

My wheelchair driving button was under the table, and the weight of the table was pushing the button. The table was "driving" my wheelchair. The table would push the button forward, the table and I would fly forward and hit the bookshelf in front of my "desk".I can't reach the turn off button. Oh, I hope I don't knock over any bookshelves. If I do, that is going to hurt. The force of the impact would cause the table to push my button in reverse, and the table and I would zoom backwards until I rammed into something else and the force of that impact would cause the table and I to move forward again. Eventually, this has got to stop.

The table continued to drive me around my office . . .back and forth . . . . back and forth . . . back and forth. Everything that was on my "desk" had now been scattered all over my office floor. This is not going to stop! It looked as if an Office Depot cloud had rained in my office. Colorful office supplies were strewn across my floor like a field of daisies. I can't reach my turn off button on the wheelchair because as my wheelchair is being driven helter skelter around the office, and my body is being flung helter skelter. The office phone is a daisy in the corner that I am unable to pick. I am going to fall out of my wheelchair. It is going to hurt. I'm not wearing any underwear. The paramedics are going to see my ass!

I am fortunate that I carry a mobile phone on my person. As a matter of fact, I keep it in my bra. I actually keep it tuck in my cleavage which starts at my chin so I am able to pack quite a few items there. I knew these big boobs were good for something! Prior to this experience the school maintenance man, Al, has given me his mobile number and said, "If you ever need anything just call." As the table is still driving me all over the office (thank, God, it is small), and I am calling Al. He doesn't answer.Shit, Al! I remember seeing the principal, Norma, talking with someone in her office, so I call her. She doesn't answer. Shit, Norma! I call my "sistah", Janet, she answers, I yell help, emergency. Janet's room is on the other side of the campus, so I know it will take some time to get to my office. Unknown to me, Janet thinks that something has come undone from my chair, so she doesn't sprint across the campus. I remember seeing someone sitting near the phone in the front office, so I call that number. An office assistant, Maria, answers, and I explain that I need help right away, and she replies, "Okay, I will be there in a minute." I don't have a minute! Maria hears the distress in my voice and she tells the assistant principal, Sienna, that it sounds like I am crying. They proceed to saunter through the office, and then through the teachers' lounge, and then through the library. Maria sees what is happening to me and starts to run; Sienna sees Maria start to sprint, so in turn she begins to sprint across the library. It's about time!

As Sienna reaches my office and sees me ramming the table into the bookshelf she says, "What are you doing?" as if I have control of the situation. What the hell do you think I am doing? Sienna, eventually, surmises the calamity and lifts the table off of my chair and yells, "Pull her out! Pull her out!" Pull me out! Pull me out!

My chair cannot be moved by a human when it is in wheelchair drive, as poor Maria is trying to pull my chair out from under the table; the table "drives" me backward and has pinned her against another table and she is squeaking, "I can't move the chair."

The table is getting heavy and Sienna is starting to lose her grip so she is shouting, "Maria, go get Al!" Yea, because we have time for Maria to go find Al.

Maria is squeaking like a trapped mouse, "I can't move."

As Sienna is shouting, "Go get Al," Janet is entering the library. It's about time! She hears the shouting and comes running. Janet helps Sienna hold up the table, I finally position my body so I can reach my button to drive and I drive my chair out from under the table.

Sienna, Maria, and Janet ask in unison, "How did this happen?" Well, I was thinking what stupid predicament can I get myself into today, and this is all I could think of on such short notice.

I reply, "Well . . . . I was trying to . . .and then I . . . and then it . . . and then, and then, and then as the BFG would say, 'It was a redunculous catasterous disastrophy!"*
It is just too hard to explain.

They looked at me with a puzzled look and started to pick my Office Depot daisies.
Thank, God, the paramedics didn't have to see my ass!

Paco's Perspective

That wheelchair has a mind of its own. I think it plans the things that happen.
Like the time it ran over my paw.

The Flip Side

I like to ride on your chair!
I like to ride on your chair!

* The BFG by Roald Dahl

Monday, February 8, 2010

Why I Do What I Do!

Every year when I fill out my income taxes and I come to the part where teachers can only deduct $250 for classroom expenses, I just die. (I spend that once a month on books for my classroom library.) Then I think to myself, "Whoever thinks this is fair is just one more person that doesn't get how much teachers do!"

I get to work every morning at 7 a.m. and I leave at 5:30 or 6 p.m. I, with many other teachers, put in at least a ten hour day. Then I go home and work at least another two hours planning, grading, helping students on the phone, and researching. I also work four to five hours on the weekends. That makes for about a sixty-five hour work week.

I know, no one ever said teaching was going to be easy, and I made this choice. But every once in a blue moon I just want to be appreciated. I just want someone to say thank you.

After finishing filling out my taxes and laughing at my pitiful return, I was WHINING! I was being a pissypants, and my New Year's resolution is to NOT be a pissypants. There I was whining like a kid not getting his way in a toy store when I checked my email and I was forwarded the following email:

My name is Samantha I am now 31 years old. I attended Peralta school twice during my childhood in the kindergarten and again in the 5th grade. I am looking for the woman who was my teacher in the 5th grade. Her name was Miss C.... Cathy Cunningham. While she was my teacher she was in a wheelchair. She made such a huge impact on my life. I have thought back to my time in her classroom many times over the past years. I have a feeling that she might not be alive anymore due to her health conditions. But I am praying that I am wrong. Both of my parents are deaf and that was such a struggle for me during my early years. Miss C helped me work through my parents’ handicap and helped me to know that it’s okay to be different or to have a disability.

After the 5th grade I moved to Washington. Now, I have moved back and am looking for Miss C. I'd love to know if she is still teaching there! Or if there is anyway to know or to find out if she is still alive or still teaching in Arizona. I am not sure if you are able to help me or not but I figured it might be best to start my search in the last place that I saw her.

Thank you so much for you time and for listening to my situation. I'd love a response back from you even if you aren't able to help me. That way I'll at least know that you got my message. Once again thank you so much.

After I finished bawling my guts out, drying my eyes, and slapping myself for being a pissypants, I immediately sent an email to this young lady. Just when I thought I was done crying Samantha sent me another email. Here is an excerpt from it:

Just knowing I found you is bringing tears to my eyes. I never had a chance to tell you how special you were to me and what a huge impact you made on my life. I didn't know at the time when I was young & in your class that I'd love and remember you forever. I still have the letters that you wrote to me. I find them every once in a while when going through my stuff and read them. Thank you so much for everything you did for me as a child. All of the love & attention you showed me really made a lasting impression on me. I'm not sure if you remember but you even took me to the mall once to buy me some lysine for my cold sores.... I still remember your little white mini van & how you'd let me operate the lift for you.

Then when I finished bawling again I knew this is why I do what I do. This is not the only letter that I have received like this, but, unfortunately, they are few and far between. I am okay with working so many hours. I am okay with working at home after school and on the week ends. I am okay with having no money and a lousy income tax return. I am okay with anything that comes my way. I will do it for the Samantha's of the world because they deserve it!

At the beginning of the school year I was creating a powerpoint with quotes from teachers that I work alongside. Below is one of those quotes:

Sometimes there is one person who changes the course of a child’s life, who even might save it. Assume that you are that person, every day, for every child. At least once in your career it will be true. And once is so worth it. -Lenora Counts

Lenora is so right once is worth it.

Paco's Perspective

Have you thanked me lately for making a difference in your life, Miss Pissypants?

The Flip Side

Am I a pissypants? Or is it I piss you off when I piss on the floor?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

I Heart Edward Tulane

As I have stated in past posts, I am a book lover. I am a carry-a-book-with-me-wherever-I-go-read-any-chance-I-get-don' book lover. But I am not a lover of adult fiction. I have tried to to read adult novels. I have tried the Oprah-Winfrey-disfunctional-family-of-the-month books and they bore me. I read children's books. I love to read children's books. Hand me the latest picture book or hot novel for youth and I will devour it. My carrot on the end of the stick would be a children's book.

I happen to have the ability to read aloud very well. God had to give me something, and He gave me the ability to entertain others with my read aloud capabilities. Whenever I introduce a new read to a group of students or teachers I always start by saying, "This. Is. My. Faaaaaavorite book. No. Really. It is. I'm not kidding." I say that about every book I read, so when I am asked by students, "What is your favorite book of all time?" I have trouble answering. Usually my favorite book is the new one I have in my hand at the time.

If I was told I had to live on a desert island and I could only take one book with me, it would not be the Bible (Sorry, my Christian friends). I have thought long and hard about this which is proof that I have no life! First, I am generally not a rule breaker, but in this case, I would be the one that would be caught trying to smuggle books in my underwear. If I had to pick only one book, it would be The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo. I believe that this book should be required reading for every man, woman, and child. Every home should have a copy, preferably hardback because it has color illustrations. Every new mother should be given a copy. Every teacher should be required to read it to their class. It is quite surprising that I love this book so much. I am not a fan of the fantasy genre. I hate it when the animals talk, so I should despise the fact that the main character, Edward Tulane, is a china rabbit that communicates.

If students are asked what this book is about, they will reply, "It is about a china rabbit doll that is lost and found and lost and found and lost and found and lost and found and lost and found." But, if asked to think deeper and explain what the book is REALLY about I hope they will answer, "It is the answer to all life's questions. It is about love. It is about death. It is about reflection and change."

I love Edward Tulane. Edward Tulane would make a great man. He looks fine in his silk suits with all the regalia, but he can wear an old unravelling sweater or even a dress and look quite handsome. He doesn't have to be called Edward or Mr. Tulane. He is perfectly happy being called Malone, Jangles or even Susanna. Edward is reflective. He is aware of his flaws and willing to change. Edward will love you with every bit of his china being. Edward will follow you to ends of the earth. He will follow you to the stars. I heart Edward Tulane from the top of his furry, bendable ears to the tip of his cracked china toes.

Now, Edward wasn't always as wonderful as the picture I have painted. At one time he was a self-centered, vain, egotistical jerk. He cared about no one but himself, and only worried about whether or not his clothes would get wrinkled. But, Edward Tulane took a journey, and on this journey he learned important life lessons. The reason I am so smitten with Edward is that he experienced life, learned from his experiences, and made the choice to change. Change is never easy, especially, when it involves changing one's own ideas or philosophies. It takes a courageous person or rabbit to reflect, find fault, and fix it.
Edward looked inwardly at the man or rabbit in the mirror and made the difficult choice to change.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is a quick read, but I suggest it be read slowly because the disappointment of having no more of the book to read is a heavy burden. Get a hardback copy as soon as possible. Buy extra copies. Don't be ashamed to pull it out of your bag on the airplane. It can stand up to the best of the book chat books. Read it several times because new learning will be found each time it is read. Beware: Kleenex are required. I have read this book at least thirty times and I have cried every time. Go ahead and read it, and when you are done it is okay to shout, "I heart Edward Tulane!"

Paco's Perspective

You have another thing coming, if you think that I am going to give up my number one spot on your "I love . . . . . ." list to a rabbit made of glass! I already have to share the spot with the slow one.

The Flip Side

Rabbit! Did someone say rabbit? Where?