A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Friday, December 13, 2013

Dog walk reminders of Robert Frost and other worldly pleasures

Winter chill, woods deep
Snow on the ground, trudging feet

Miles to go, tired feet.

Mabel has not been getting much attention from me lately. Second quarter interim reports went out today, which has obligated me to prepare weeks in advance by sending out frequent progress reports in advance of interim grades, and contact most of the parents of the students whom I teach, whether by phone, by email, or at Starbucks. Pulling students for lunch or after school three to four days per week takes a toll on my energy level, which I have attempted to bolster with Marine D3 Supplements.

It's been awhile since I have engaged in the guilty pleasure of blogging about my odyssey in education. The Hernandez twins, Jake and Jack Hernandez, have passed me in the halls every morning, providing daily reminders, "The book, make sure you are writing everything down," reminding me of my rather unoriginal idea I shared with them one day, going off topic, of using Homer's epic quest and characters as a template for writing a series of episodes about learning about teaching. "It's all up here, just need some time at the beach," I typically respond, "This place gives me tons of material on a daily basis."

In second grade, at Taylor Elementary School in Arlington, VA, I was removed from one class at my mother's insistence, and placed in Mrs. Brown's class, with the smart kids I would suspect. Likely, I was uncontrollable in an environment where I was being forced to sit at a desk and follow boring arithmetic procedures. Boring repetitive drills! In all likelihood, my first second grade teacher danced the jig after getting rid of me, just like a room full of special education teachers, myself included, practically started cheering when a parent answered her cellphone after she failed to show up at an IEP meeting because she was with the movers. Thank goodness my mother intervened, and thank goodness Mrs. Brown was able to handle me.

Mrs. Brown's room had tables instead of desks. I remember that her room had much more open space than the other teacher's room, and best of all, as a veteran teacher, Mrs. Brown's classroom backed up to the playground. In Mrs. Brown's room, I dictated "The Story of Nature," which contained immortal lines such as, "Some tortoises each fish. All monkeys eat bananas," and "President Lincoln was shot at a theater, then came modern man." My anthology remains one of my most prized possessions. In Mrs. Brown's class, we had to memorize "Stopping By The Woods on a Snowy Evening," which I can still recite from memory to this day. Walking in the woods reminded me of Hemingway and Frost, I chuckled. as Mabel turned back quizzically.

The second quarter has been rough for Eddie, who at the beginning of the quarter showed up one morning at my door before 1st period and pulled up his sleeve to reveal some bruises on his arm. Eddie shared with me how he had had a fight with his mother the night before, and that she had beaten him, so I immediately found the counselor and asked him to share with her what he had just shared with me. That, of course, prompted an automatic call to Child Protective Services. A few weeks later, as I walked to my car at the end of the day, our school resource teacher and the counselor asked me to talk to Eddie, who was pacing in a room, after he may have taken a swing at my friend and fellow teacher, who may have grabbed his wrist first, to prevent him from leaving the room. I often share extra breakfast bars which I pilfer from the cookie jar, unbeknownst to my wife, who might flip if she realized that she has been helping feed my students. Whatever it takes.

Recently, Eddie came to my room to make up work from the beginning of the quarter  -- it dawned on me that the reason Eddie had not been doing the assignments was because he never learned his multiplication and division math facts. Apparently, Eddie had managed to get passing grades in elementary school, despite throwing chairs at successive teachers from 3rd through 5th grades, despite not knowing his math facts. Even the tutors which come from a local high school -- some of the brightest students in the nation -- I am sure did not realize that Eddie was able to do the math without automatic recall of multiplication and division math facts. He was getting by, with a calculator and street smarts -- fooling everybody! After my epiphany, I went through materials for teaching multiplication and division facts from 3rd and 4th grade, and came up with 4 levels of differentiated assignments for teaching multiplication and division in developmentally appropriate ways, complete with pre- and post-tests. While helping Eddie with a problem that involved multiplication with decimals, for a second day in a row at lunch, I showed Eddie Napier's method, partial products, and the traditional U.S. algorithm. Then, I showed him two tricks for remembering the nines. Eddie had an aha! moment when he did the finger trick! I held him a few minutes extra, then went with him back to US History, caught him up with what he missed, whereupon he scored a perfect score on his Early Colonies Quiz!