Teaching advice from fourth graders:

As a lovely parting gift, my fourth graders put together advice they have for new teachers. Some of it is surprisingly good advice, though I loved it all. (* are next to the ones I really liked):

Don’t give homework on Fridays.”

“Don’t YELL at your students, or they won’t like you!”

“Treat your children nicely.”

“Try to give secret words on the board so the kids can earn prizes.”

“Do funny activities with your kids.”

“Get class pets, like hamsters or snakes or fish.”*

“Do something really, really special once every month, like having a picnic outside the classroom.”*

“Pick up trash every week outside.”

Don’t make up really stupid rules.”

Even if they haven’t earned all the letters for a prize, maybe give them a little treat one time every two months.”*

“Learn very exciting lessons.” (by one of my ESL students)

Have longer recess time. Like 40 minutes.”

“Make two rules that kids hate. Like not having any F-U-N.”

“Don’t let your kids make announcements.”

Pay your kids to learn.”

“Do a funny dance once a year in front of the class.”*

Torture your kids with a song every day.”

“Make learning F-U-N-N-Y… minus the N-Y.”

“If your students aren’t listening, threaten to hang them up by their toes.”*

“Don’t kiss your students.”

“Let your students have free time.”

At the end of the year, take a picture with your class to remember them by.”*

“Make some puppets and let your class make an interesting play.”

Sometimes, give homework that they will look forward to.”*

“Have a pizza party at the end of the year.”

“Give your kids jobs to do like teacher’s helper and messenger.”

Read a book to your students.”*

Pay attention to your kids.”*

“Give this homework: Play two video games designed by the same person, and compare them.”*

Let your kids learn a lot.”

“Play with your kids at recess.”*

At the end of the year, have a dance contest.”

“Tell your kids that even when it’s too hard, to never give up.”*

“The class pet should be a cockatoo.”

“Have show and tell each week.”

“Don’t let your kids go to the bathroom in the middle of class.”

“Torture your kids by talking about water when they have to go to the bathroom.”

“If kids aren’t paying attention, whack them in the head with a marker!”

I’m gonna miss these kids.

A brief update:

I feel bad for not keeping things up around here, lately. School is coming to a close, and due dates are flying at me like crazy monkeys. It’s just as scary as it sounds. truly. I just finished the big project for the semester, and have a few papers to write and two take home exams to complete by the end of next week. I can do it, but goodness knows it’s been frustrating and exhausting.

I also have my student teaching information – I’ve been placed with 1st graders at the same school at which I student taught this semester. I met my teacher on Tuesday, and she seems amazing. I truly can’t wait!

I have so much more swimming around in my head, but it is late, and I’m so ready to go to bed. More soon, I promise – there is never a shortage of things to say!

Side note: I’ve been checking up on the search terms that are leading people to my journal, and it’s kind of an entertaining little mix of things, now. It used to be mostly about sex and little girls (gross times infinity!), because of my post about the sexualization of little kids. Now, people are finding me for good things – some have even searched specifically for my journal. It makes me happy. That is all.

Sick… again…

So, if you read this entry, you already know a bit about my history.

And you’ll understand why I’ve caught every cold that’s come my way since I got back in the classroom – two years away from kids really does make a difference. I want my teacher immune system to pick up. I think it’s getting better, as I don’t have it nearly as bad as my boyfriend. I don’t even think this one came from my kids, but I am damned tired of getting sick.

I should check the mail… I don’t know if they’ve mailed the student teaching information, yet, but I’m dying to know where I’ll be next year. But, checking the mail requires going all the way to campus (15 minute bike ride, 5 minute drive), and I’m sick. And it’s raining. Tomorrow…

This semester is wrapping up, and I’m so excited to be that much closer to graduation. I just need to figure out where in North Carolina I want to teach. Anybody have any suggestions? I went to the education job fair on campus, and wasn’t really impressed with anywhere. I’m tempted to close my eyes and point. *sigh* Such a big decision and no real help to make it… guess I’d better spend the summer doing research so I can start sending résumés out.

I applied for a job working at the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center. Keep your fingers crossed for me – I’ve worked there before and it was a blast. Pay isn’t much, but I don’t care. I’d rather get paid a little less to do something I enjoy.

I do need the money, though. *sigh* When will I be salaried? I can’t wait to know how much money I’ll have month to month…

“Squeezing the arts out of kids”

This is the title of an email I received, today, which contained a link to this article, about an experiment The Washington Post performed in a Metro station.

They had Joshua Bell, world famous virtuoso violinist, play his several-million-dollar 1713 Stradivarius violin in street clothes at L’Enfant Plaza, a Metro stop in Washington, DC. They wanted to see what would happen.

I really recommend you read the article, but I’ll give the ending away. Nothing happened. A few people stopped or glanced in his direction. But, around 98% of the people that passed by this amazing musician, playing some of the most beautiful music ever written on one of the most rare and coveted instruments ever made, didn’t even acknowledge his presence. One-thousand seventy (1,070) people simply passed him by. One-thousand seventy. In less than an hour.

Because they were too busy. Or didn’t notice him at all.

And, let me just add, Joshua Bell is a good looking man. Put a violin in his hands and I melt like an ice cube under a blowtorch.

Joshua Bell

The point is, even in street clothes with a violin case full of change, he didn’t look or sound like a bum asking for handouts. The problem is, few people listened. And even fewer people looked. The ones that did seemed to have some experience with music – only one woman recognized him, but others had played the violin or at least recognized that this guy was good.

My post isn’t about why people didn’t stop to listen to a man that many of them couldn’t afford to see in concert. The article covers that pretty well. There was one part that was particularly interesting to me, as a teacher, and that’s the part pointed out to me in the email.

“A couple of minutes into it, something revealing happens. A woman and her preschooler emerge from the escalator. The woman is walking briskly and, therefore, so is the child. She’s got his hand.

“”There was a musician,” Parker says, “and my son was intrigued. He wanted to pull over and listen, but I was rushed for time.”

“So Parker does what she has to do. She deftly moves her body between Evan’s and Bell’s, cutting off her son’s line of sight. As they exit the arcade, Evan can still be seen craning to look.

“There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch Bell… But the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.”

Kids love art. Music, dance, painting, drawing, poetry, drama, storytelling… they eat up, they let it soak in, and they often create it with the kind of fearless abandon most adults can’t even fathom.

They also learn from it. They learn to feel, to think, and to express themselves through various artforms, oftentimes better than with “traditional” methods.

As teachers, parents, and adults in general, let’s not scoot our children away from some of the most empowering, enriching, and enjoyable experiences of their lives. Let’s not wait for these experiences to come to them, either – take them to museums, concerts, plays, poetry readings, and dance performances. Give them paints and instruments and let them explore expression through the arts.

Let’s create a group of people who would find time to stop to acknowledge the presence of such beauty in such an unlikely setting. The arts speak to all people, adults have just forgotten how to listen.

Don’t teach your kids to tune it out.

Assuming the position: a little history

It’s time for a little bio…

I knew I wanted to be a teacher in high school; the decision being a result of my own education, experiences with (good and bad) teachers, and many other things. Shortly after I made this decision, my high school offered a class for people like me that involved going to a local elementary school for an hour every day. I took this class for three semesters, working with 2nd, 3rd, and 5th graders – it was a great experience, and I’m fortunate that my school had the resources to offer it as an elective.

Teaching Fellows was introduced to me during high school, as well, and I applied for the highly competitive scholarship, not expecting to get it. Not only did I receive the award, which (at the time) provided $26,000 over four years to 400 recipients in North Carolina per year, but I got it for one of the most competitive schools, UNC Chapel Hill. Thus, when I graduated high school in 2001, I was kind of an elite member of the education community. I’m not saying this to make myself sound awesome – I’m often still surprised when I think about it. Mostly, I’m just giving some background.

In college, as part of the UNC Teaching Fellows program, I was in the classroom for an hour every week my freshman year, and about 3 hours a week sophomore year. Junior year, I entered the UNC School of Education, and began my professional coursework. Unfortunately, the strain of school and a job I’d taken on my sophomore year, in addition to my inner struggle with depression, anxiety disorder, and ADHD, caused me to falter toward the end of my junior year, and I dropped the semester and took two years off of school.

That two years, in many ways, would prove to be the least productive, and most boring and horrible years of my short life, to date. I did not work with children. At all. I worked two retail jobs at the mall, which sometimes meant back-to-back 12 hour days (with random 15-30 minute breaks) during Christmas. I was yelled at, broke, tired, and made to feel inferior for not being a sleazy salesperson. To put it simply, it sucked. A lot. Even when I got a better job, it still wasn’t what I wanted to do.

So I came back to school last fall, and am currently finishing up the previously dropped semester of my junior year. I’m happy to report that I’ve got, at the lowest, a B average this semester. And, while it was certainly strange to come back into the classroom (to the classes I was taking and the classes I was teaching), it felt like home. I felt like I knew what I was doing, that was where I was supposed to be. All the worries that I might not be able to do it, that I might fail, again, or not cut it in the classroom have melted away.

I find myself thinking like a teacher much more than I ever have – I dream about it, I jump out of bed in the middle of the night to jot down ideas that keep me awake, I think about teaching with (nearly) everything I do – I even blog about it.

I’m excited about teaching, again. Student teaching starts next year – I’ll have the same class all year, one full day a week in the fall and every day in the spring. I find myself anxious to find out in which grade and school I’ll be, so I can start thinking about what I’ll be teaching.

I find myself assuming the position.

And I like it.

Separation of church (intelligent design) and state (science education)

Flying Spaghetti Monster

I really don’t need to go on about this. You can read a lot of funny, well written, and intelligent posts by visiting Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy Blog, James Randi’s internet home, Skepchick.org, and The Flying Spaghetti Monster site, among others.

I just want to put it simply – religion is not science. I’m not not necessarily saying they’re opposites (though they often are portrayed that way), just that they are not the same thing. The differences are obvious, and I don’t think I need to lay them out for you.

We learn a lot of things in history and science class that aren’t absolute truths. I remember a textbook in high school that said that Spain blew up the USS Maine to start the Spanish-American War. We now know that the Maine blew itself up, tragically, and that Spain had nothing to do with it.

As new discoveries are made, information is changed and the things we teach evolve. There are now 8 planets, not 9. We’ve discovered more moons around Jupiter. The agreed upon model for an atom changed several times when I was growing up. And, yes, along with the information we’re teaching children, we need to say that nothing is absolute – that just because scientific evidence and research supports x theory above all others, now, doesn’t mean that will always be the case.

That’s part of teaching – instilling within your students a love of learning and a thirst for knowledge, and making them realize that “It just is” or “Because I (god?) said so” are wrong answers to any question. I firmly believe that children (and adults) have the ability to think for themselves and things don’t have to be oversimplified for them to understand. Of course some things aren’t developmentally appropriate, but that doesn’t mean the answer to a question should be a lie. When a child asks why something is so, telling them “it just is” is damaging – it sets them up to believe that anything they’re taught “just is”, which we all know is never true.

That being said, perhaps the Big Bang never happened and evolution isn’t really happening. I suppose anything is possible in the realm of all possibility. However, right now there is more evidence (by far) to support those theories, and most scientists agree that they are valid. Thus, they make it into text books and are taught in science class.

If somebody has beef with that, then they can make observations, perform experiments, and pour over research papers to back up whatever mechanism they claim happened, instead. Then they can write their own research papers, submit them for peer review, and start a scientific discussion about their findings. If it turns out that some other explanation has more supporting evidence, then texts will be rewritten, scientists will shift their support, and I will teach it to my students.

Until then, keep your religion out of my classroom. (And my body, my government, my pharmacy, my doctor’s office…)

This post is a part of Blog Against Theocracy 2007 – a chance for those who believe in the separation of church and state in the United States to speak out about how they think that separation has been or is being compromised. Anyone can participate, click the logo for more information and links to other such posts.
Blog Against Theocracy

Separation of church (the Bible) and state (public schools)

“…[when] church and state are separate, the effects are happy, and they do not at all interfere with each other: but where they have been confounded together, no tongue nor pen can fully describe the mischiefs that have ensued.”

Isaac Backus (Baptist Minister), 1773 source

I’ve written about this before, but an article in Time Magazine titled “The case for teaching the Bible” in conjunction with this weekend’s Blog Against Theocracy “blogswarm” makes me think I should give it another go.

I’ll make this as brief as my angry little brain will let me (I’ve lost sleep over this post, trying to figure out how to word things so that I sound informed, intelligent, and reasonable rather than just angry and opinionated).

It appears as though the author of the Time article, David van Biema (Time’s senior religion writer), believes that public schools should offer a class that teaches the Bible as a textbook because it is such an influential text. He cites examples of Bible references in politics, pop culture (a feature of the magazine article not included in the online version), etc, and uses these as evidence of why knowing the Bible is important (so we can understand these references).

In an example of “Bible ignorance,” he talks about a case in which the Supreme Court was forced to overturn a jury’s sentence because they used the Bible, particularly the “eye for an eye” passage, as a resource during deliberation. Van Biema suggests that the fault here could lie with anyone involved “who perhaps hadn’t noticed that in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus rejects the eye-for-an-eye rule.”

Or, perhaps, the fault lies in the fact that the Bible was brought up at all – not that there wasn’t full understanding of the text. Religion has no place in government proceedings, and ignorance of the Bible should not be a disadvantage in those proceedings.

He goes on to mention statistics that support the idea that we are “a nation of biblical illiterates” (George Gallup), because,

“Only half of U.S. adults know the title of even one Gospel. Most can’t name the Bible’s first book. The trend extends even to Evangelicals, only 44% of whose teens could identify a particular quote as coming from the Sermon on the Mount.”

I don’t know where he got the statistics – the mention of George Gallup implies the Gallup Organization (home of the Gallup Poll), yet I couldn’t find that information on their website.

I want to spin this a different way. Perhaps the fact that a seemingly increasing number of United States citizens are ignorant of the religious text is not proof that we need to force schools to offer a Bible course, but that the Bible’s influence is waning. Regardless, the government is not allowed to endorse any religion (hello, first amendment – it’s not just about free speech). These classes, however secular they say they are, endorse one particular religion (the article notes that many such classes focus only on the positive influence of the Bible and ignore its negative influence). I would be less up in arms about a class on world religion that included multiple religious texts as sources, but I still feel that those are classes that should be reserved for college. Partly because I feel that finding teachers who are able to teach multiple religious texts in a balanced manner is difficult, but mostly because I feel like a lot of schools don’t have the resources to support core instruction, let alone a class that focuses on religion.

There is no mandate stating that every school must offer music, art, drama, dance, etc as electives, why should the Bible get special treatment? Schools are fighting for decent teachers and the money to teach students the basics – to add to all this the arguably constitutional elective of a Bible class is ridiculous, unnecessary, and (I believe) unconstitutional.

There is nothing preventing people from studying any text outside of government-funded programs – if you want to learn more about the Bible, there are many ways to do so that don’t involve chiseling away at the already eroded wall of separation between church and state (a wall deemed “absolutely essential in a free society” by Thomas Jefferson).

Read my other post in this series, here.

This post is a part of Blog Against Theocracy 2007 – a chance for those who believe in the separation of church and state in the United States to speak out about how they think that separation has been and/or is being compromised. Anyone can participate, click the logo for more information and links to other such posts.
Blog Against Theocracy

Blog Against Theocracy

Many do it, anyway. Because we’re fed up and we want honesty in our government, again. But – there is a movement. One that I will be joining with my insignificant internet presence.

Blog Against Theocracy

I encourage anyone else who would prefer to go back to the good old separation of state and church that we are promised by our Constitution to write about it this weekend. I will be.

Comment changes!

So, I’ve decided to allow anyone to comment. I did this because I understand why people don’t want to have to register. We’ll see if I have trouble with Spam comments – in which case, I’ll see what other things I can do to prevent it. I’m even allowing anonymous commenting.

So, comment. Lots.

(You can still register, but you don’t have to.)

Edited at 7:33pm to add: Your first comment will go to moderation, don’t worry – after I approve a comment from you, you should be able to leave comments after that without moderation. If you notice that you’re leaving comments and they’re not being posted, send me an email at: owner [at] starwidget [dot] net.

Miss Fox rocks North Carolina government!

So, not all my posts are angry rants about the world – sometimes, good things happen, too.

A couple things you should know (or be reminded of):

(1) I’m a student teacher, working with a fourth grade class. My teaching assignment this semester is to teach an integrated social studies lesson to my class. Integrated means it should include elements from other content areas (specifically literacy and the arts). I have a partner to work with, and we have to plan the entire lesson and teach it by ourselves. Totally awesome and exciting, and something we should do more often.

(2) In the fourth grade in good ol’ North Carolina, social studies revolves around the state. And only the state. Period. If it doesn’t deal with NC, it’s not taught. Social studies, itself, is often skimped on because it’s not tested – so a lot of kids don’t learn much of anything about social studies, ever.

Government being the most boring topic (others include geography, Native Americans, pirates, etc), we had a tough time thinking of ways to get the information to them without boring the crap out of them.

Originally, I wanted to go over the branches and such, and then do a mock election – the kids could make posters and give speeches (hello, art and literacy!) and they would get to learn the voting process. I still think it’s a good idea, particularly for state government, since a lot of kids that know what an election is think you just vote for the president. To have them run for governor or mayor would give them both insight on the election process and the executive branch, as well as awareness of voting for local officials. Alas, our teacher thought it was beyond them (I really think, in this case, she is selling them short – though she is a great teacher), and decided a mock debate would be better.

So, on Tuesday we taught them the branches of North Carolina government. We started by going over what they already knew (mostly dealing with the federal government) and questions they had, then showed them a Powerpoint slide as we explained the branches:

North Carolina Government

Sadly, it was really hard to find pictures to put in my slide, so that picture of the justices is Maine’s Supreme Court. Ours doesn’t have a group photo – must not be how they roll. Regardless, the kids seemed to understand (for the most part). We did a short activity to explain the concept of checks and balances, and then we closed by having them all write down issues that they might want to debate next week. It went really really well.

The next day we were there (Thursday), we assigned their groups and gave them their issues (“we should stop cutting down trees”, “pools should be open in the spring”, and “we should be given more challenging homework”). They got started on the research and everyone seemed excited! Score!

Today, Tuesday, we did the debate – and every group had great ideas on both sides. We had to cut off the kids for time, and we were worried they’d run out of things to say! The class voted on each issue (21-3 to stop cutting down trees, 20-4 to open pools in the spring, and 14-10 in favor of more challenging homework), and we talked about majority and tied the debate into lawmaking and such.

There are lots of things we could have done better – we should have tied government in a bit better at the beginning, gone over the logistics a bit more, etc, but overall the lesson went so so much better than expected. AND, after revising it a bit, I’d love to put it online somewhere (because there are NO good NC lessons online, since it’s only taught in North Carolina.)

We taped the first and last lessons, and I’m currently putting them on my laptop so I can watch them and edit them into a nice video for the class (maybe) or at least my teacher and professor.

Rock on, happy lesson time!