Sunday, August 29, 2010

You are drinking a liquid candy bar

I've been going to lunch with my kids all week because their behavior was so bad that I felt I needed to be an extra pair of eyes and ears in the lunchroom. While I was a huge fan of Jamie Oliver's miniseries on cafeteria lunches in the US, I hadn't had much experience with public school lunches since, well, I was in the 4th grade.

While the food itself isn't always what I would select as the most appealing, what makes me sad is the small percentage of my class that chooses flavored milk. I have 25 students right now, so it makes the percentage pretty easy to calculate. On my first day in the lunchroom, 1/25 students chose regular milk or as the kids call it "white milk" -- a name which makes it seem like we are so far removed from the actual product of milk, that stuff that comes from a cow, that out children don't even recognize the original.

I told some of them sitting near me that their flavored milk had as much sugar as a liquid candy bar -- at 160 calories, that might only be a small candy bar, but it's just about the same. I know that getting kids to drink any milk at all is a big success, but when the option is available to have "white milk" I do believe that we should encourage children to drink that. The next day, 3/25 students were drinking regular milk. Small successes.

I'm not alone in this debate over school milk. The NY Times just wrote a piece about the debate. I do wonder about the study that says that without the option of flavored milk, students will drink less milk overall.

Why the sudden interest in what my kids eat? Because I'm not being very healthy myself -- I have a pretty particular diet and I have been doing incredibly poorly at following through on it. That, and being surrounded by children with some kind of stomach virus/flu, means that I'm getting sick. We had one 4th grade teacher with a substitute last week and I saw what happened when you don't prepare for a sub -- either with lesson plans or have procedures down. The children acted as though they had not heard of any of the school rules. We have testing this next week that can't be administered by a substitute, so forgive me for not calling you if promised -- I've been trying to save my voice.

Now, to figure out what to do with 24 children while we conduct reading tests all day Monday....

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Adventures of Ms. Astronaut

One full week of school down, and I can tell you this. Despite all technical difficulties, I am already in love with all 24 little (well, some not so little) bodies that sit in my classroom. We're still working on listening and following directions, especially "Stop Talking". I did feel a bit like one of the videos we watched over the summer about a first day of school where it was chaos.

This week, the fire alarm has gone off several times, there have been workmen drilling into the concrete on either side of my classroom, there have been workmen drilling in my classroom during one of my scheduled class times (read aloud in the hallway for the win), I'm still a few textsbooks short, I haven't called all my parents because I either don't have numbers yet or my phone/internet doesn't work, and since my SmartBoard was installed I have no working board with which to teach since the projector was not installed at the same time.

My first day of school was overwhelming, in part because of one child who arrived late, was added to my list, was new to school, and just downright confusing. I had no idea how to help this child or what to do with him. As it turns out, he was never supposed to be in my class but rather a much smaller class for children with specific needs. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the teachers and administrators who popped in to check on me and my class those first few days until things got settled.

Even now, I can't recall all of the ridiculous things that have happened. I've already confiscated things, but none more frequently than Kool-Aid. The kids bring in packets, lick their fingers, and stick it in the powder. It makes a ridiculous mess and then they get all sticky. The other day a child had an open packet in her uniform pocket and it got wet at the water fountain. I was working with another student when I hear, "uh Ms. Astronaut? I have a problem"I turned and all I saw was this wet red splotch just above her hip and my heart dropped. OMG, how on Earth is this child so bloody???!!? After discovering the cause, I gave my students a talking to about not bringing in Kool-Aid anymore.

I'm still in survival mode, trying to lesson plan while gauging where my kids are at. After one week I can tell you, it's quite a spread. I have all the ELL kids for the grade in my class as well, which is another challenge I wasn't thinking about over the summer. In theory, we're getting more teachers at our school so my class size *might* go down, which would be incredibly nice for getting these kids some more one on one attention. Until then, I'm overplanning until my brain hurts. Hopefully at some point in the next few weeks, I can resume having some kind of life again. We got paid (woot!) yesterday, and I went out to dinner and a movie with friends to celebrate a birthday. It took a little time, but we all finally managed to talk about something other than our kids for a while. It's also nice every now and again to not be Ms. (or Mrs.) Astronaut.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ignore the mess behind the curtain

It's the day before school starts. As a kid, I was always super excited for the first day of school. Now that I'm a teacher, the feeling is a bit different. Perhaps, to be fair, it won't always feel like an all-encompassing fear and panic. It may just be that being a brand new teacher who's teaching in a building that still has construction workers in it isn't conducive to relaxation and eager anticipation. My room is set up, but a whole bunch of things have been shoved in drawers and cabinets until I can figure out what the heck they are and where things should actually go. (Pictures to come this weekend when I have a spare second to upload them)

The whole situation began to feel more real once I got my class list -- 14 boys, 11 girls. I felt my heart drop to my stomach when I looked at all those names. 25 sounds like a lot because it is, even by district standards. I've been issued most things in groups of 20 because that's the ideal size and up to 24 for some other things because that's supposed to be the max. I won't know how many kids will stick with me for a while, and last year the school had a 60 percent in/out rate. If you don't know what that means, don't worry -- I'm not entirely clear I get it when I stop to think about it. Basically, last year had lots of turnover.

I inherited some papers with background on (some of )the kids. I have at least 3 kids with special needs and 2 students who are ELL. Several students are medicated, and it looks like some others should be. I also got to see the kids reading scores. I got excited when I saw one of the first ones in the pile -- at a 44, the student was scored at a mid 4th grade level. Huzzah! Then I turned a few more sheets into the pile.

I have Sweet Pete in my class.

I had learned about Sweet Pete awhile ago when I first met with some of the teachers who knew the incoming 4th graders. I asked a teacher what the range looked like in the grade. As I can tell from my own scores, a majority of the kids are not on reading level. My own class average based on what info I have from their previous teachers puts them at late 2nd grade (24)

Sweet Pete has a 2. A generous 2. By the scale Nashville uses and after the summer away from books, I wouldn't be surprised if he tested back at a 0 which is where he was for most of last year. To be a 0-4 is to essentially be a non-reader. Which means if I am lucky, Sweet Pete will know his letters and what sound they make. Maybe.

I want to make my own conclusions about him, but I have a feeling he's going to be one of my biggest challenges. He is getting special resources, so I won't be the only one working with him, but I think I'm going to push myself emotionally to unrealistic places trying to get him to succeed and will be very invested. Not that it's a bad thing to do, but I realize that people more skilled than I have already been working with him for years.

And that is the achievement gap. I saw it this summer in Atlanta and now I'm getting glimpses of it here in Nashville. It's an intimidating to take it head on, but I feel like I have the confidence of so many people. My family. My friends. My TFA coworkers. Even my school coworkers who know I've never had my own class before have confidence in me.

My dad likes to wear casual clothes, so when he has to dress up for work, he says he's wearing his positions "costume". I have my teacher costume ready to go. We'll see how long it takes for the costume to feel like the real thing.