Thursday, May 14, 2009

Keane Observations

Tuesday I went

To see
[these guys]


[this girl].

And it looked a little something like


It's surprisingly difficult to get a decent picture of the band when there are a million strobe lights. This was my best effort.

Concert Review: Hands down, my favorite concert I've been to. I loved both opening acts (Mat Kearney is one of my top ten favorites) and knew and loved all the Keane songs. Plus the absence of alcohol made for a much less obnoxious crowd. And I haven't been to a Coldplay concert, so this one remains the best until I do.

Music Suggestion: Keane- all of their albums, but especially the latest. Mat Kearney- pick and choose his songs on his albums (see me for specifics). Helio Sequence- not bad at all, but much better live.


Sunday, May 10, 2009

Almost a Parent

No, this is not an announcement. I'm pretty sure you've got to kiss a boy or something along those lines to become a parent.


When I was in college I was a nanny of sorts for a family. Another girl about my age and I would take turns helping the mom with the kids on extra busy days or watching the kids on nights the parents had something. Over the years as I've become busy with a full time job and other things, the other nanny girl and I have stopped babysitting but have kept in touch with this cute family. I still take their kids every once in a while so the parents can have a date night and I can catch up with the kiddos. The other nanny girl does the same. Sometime over the course of the past few years the other girl got married and now has two kids. I didn't. This is confusing for the kids' little minds.

A few weeks ago I was watching the kiddos while the parents went to catch a flick. I was helping the five-year-old get his PJs on and get ready for bed. He looked at me and asked, "Are you a parent?" I took time explaining to him that I wasn't married like his other sitter that has kids, thus I had no children. 

He looked at me again and said, "So you're in high school?" 

"No, I've been out of high school for a while," I said.

"So you're in college?" he inquired.

"Um, no. I've been out of college for a little while. Now I go to a job all day," was my answer.

"And you have no kids?" he asked again, just to double check.


"Oh, I get it! You're almost a parent!" he exclaimed

"YES," I said. "I am almost a parent."

A couple weeks later, I was helping this same little boy put his PJs on again. We went through a similar dialogue. Except this time at the end of the conversation, he looked at me and said, "You're not married 'cuz you're saving your appetite for me, huh?" (while doing some sort of disco dance.) I could have died laughing. And then I felt bad, because he was completely serious. I grabbed his chubby cheeks, looked at him and said, "Yes. I want to marry someone exactly like you someday. Hopefully he'll be a  little closer to my age."

So although I don't have children to have given me cause to celebrate Mother's Day yesterday, I am almost a parent. So I almost celebrated. 

But to all of those actual mothers out there who raise these clever and entertaining children, thank you! Thank you for devoting your life to such a selfless, noble cause. And to all you Mother's Day greeting card writers who brought me to tears in the aisle at Walmart, I hate you. But I love my mother. She's not perfect, but she's better than any other mother I could have imagined. And she's a really great woman for putting up with me and loving me even after seeing me at my very worst... over, and over, and over. 

Happy belated Mother's Day, everyone!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

No Child Left Behind- No Teacher Left Standing

A co-worker of mine, who is also a former teacher, sent me THIS LINK. It's a somewhat recent article from the New York Times about the future of the No Child Left Behind law. It's a very telling article. If you have children in public education, work in public education, or care about the fate of public education, you will find this article interesting and frustrating. And you should probably be very scared.

The following letter is written in response to that article. No, it's not a letter that I plan on mailing— just a pseudo letter that allows me to vent.

Dear Mr. President & U.S. Legislators:

Have you no children?!? Have you no heart?!? No brains?!?

Wait. I'd better start over.....

Dear Mr. President & U.S. Legislators:

I have read recent information regarding the future of the No Child Left Behind law. The information I have read has given me cause to worry. The following excerpt from the New York Times article gives me the heebie jeebies:

"... Congressional rewriting of the federal law later this year to toughen requirements on topics like teacher quality and academic standards and to intensify its focus on helping failing schools. The law’s testing requirements may evolve but will certainly not disappear. And the federal role in education policy, once a state and local matter, is likely to grow."

I would like to address where I think this law falls short. 

Teacher quality and academic standards are being assessed by tests, portfolios, twice-a-year principal observations, and other similar techniques.  Just four years ago I completed my degree in elementary and special education. In order to be considered a "highly qualified" teacher you decided (indirectly) to have me pay a couple hundred dollars and take a four hour test. I was tested on all major academic topics from U.S. history to geometry. I'm smart enough, I did well on the test and received some official-looking certificate that is now filed away in a location I couldn't remember if my life depended on it. I accepted my first teaching job as a highly qualified teacher. And I thought I was. I had the diploma, test scores and certificate, and portfolio of college projects to prove it. 

I hated my first year of teaching. Hated, hated, hated it. I worked at a good school, had a great principal, had a great team of teachers to work with, and had the most adorable students. I hated teaching that year. Time that should have been spent coming up with and creating memorable learning experiences for my students was spent writing out lesson plans on the official lesson plan observation sheets, gathering data after data to prove my students were improving, organizing YET ANOTHER portfolio, having unnecessary formal meetings with my principal so we could sign a form saying we met, attending numerous trainings before and after school,  and writing (or should I say goals and proof of achievement each term. Oh, yes. And then there was that ESL program that I spent four hours a week attending, and many more hours working on pointless projects... all for the sake of meeting the new requirements of being a highly qualified teacher. I DID NOT sign up for this. Silly me, thinking that I was hired to teach content curriculum to children. My naivety led to a complete oversight of the biggest portion of my job, jumping through hoops!

Year 2 and 3 of teaching were similar to the first year, and only slightly less hectic due to the small amount of teaching experience under my belt. If the goal of making sure that I was highly qualified and a "quality" teacher was to help schools and students improve, I give that goal  a failing grade! I helped no one. I became really, really good at taking tests (because I had to pay even more money and take TWO standardized tests after my 3rd year), creating well organized portfolios, and acting really on the ball during my many meetings and classes. My test scores, diploma, and many certificates meant nothing to me at the end of my third year of teaching. I felt like a failure. I had spent all of my time meeting my requirements to be highly qualified, that I hadn't been able to improve on my classroom management, teaching strategies, curriculum planning, and parent relationships- to name a few crucial and neglected skill sets essential to teaching. I could not shake the feeling that I was static in my skills as a teacher but improving in my skills daily as a bureaucratic butt-kisser, and hoop jumper. 

My whole life I have wanted to be a teacher. That is all I ever wanted to play with my friends as a child. I, of course, got to play the role of the teacher. I have the most vivid memories of my own grade school experience. I remember just how my classrooms were set up, what they looked like, smelled like, and sounded like. I can remember phrases, verbatim, that my teachers said in teaching lessons. I loved my teachers. I loved school. I loved learning. I fear that my teaching experience fell short of creating those same types of memories for students I had. We had fun, we did fun things, I cared for them, they cared for me, but there was always a overarching pressure to PROVE and SUCCEED that I couldn't shake, and the students couldn't shake it either. Children in 3rd and 4th grade should be having anxiety over their birthday parties, soccer games, and ballet performances if they're going to have anxiety. NOT over their end of level test scores, and hours required to practice for those tests! They are kids for crying out loud! Let them be kids and let them learn like kids!! We are doing a huge disservice to the upcoming generation by teaching them to be great test takers, fact memorizers (which doesn't last after the test, by the way), number crunchers, intense (not intent) listeners, and stressed students. These are not factors that contribute to learning. 

Do YOUR homework. Talk to teachers. Talk to students. Talk to parents. Talk to the people in the trenches- they know. Visit a classroom for one week, one day, one hour, and you'll see that this approach to reforming education will only get us right back where we started- failing schools and failing students.


A burnt-out, former teacher who would like very much to go back teaching someday