Thursday, March 27, 2014

Whose Job Is It Anyway?

Fighting for Cursive: NPR

I posted a story a few days ago on the demise of cursive writing and those who want to use legislation to prevent schools from doing away with penmanship curriculum.  NPR did a great job in covering this issue (which I seriously doubt you would find on CNN).  The reporter discussed how standardized testing is pushing cursive out of the schools.  Teachers who believe it to be important are struggling with finding time to cover the material since their focus is on test bubbles. Technology is changing the way we communicate, and this includes printing vs. writing.   My own daughter, who is 15, does know how to read and write in cursive, but many of my own students, of the same age, cannot.  This makes me write my notes in cursive in order for them to at least know how to read it. 

The comments that followed the post were extremely interesting and led to a discussing about how many students do not have the basic life skills because parents are not teaching them, and it is no longer in school curriculum.  My husband and I even discussed the "perfect world" scenario where schools and parents worked together to foster these skills so that our children can thrive.   The question remains, however, who is responsible for our children being upstanding citizens of the community.  I am biased.  I believe it begins in the home because I often see what happens when students are left to their own devices.  As a wise friend quoted just this morning, "I believe "parent" is a verb."   I cannot expect my two to thrive at school if I am not building the foundation at home.

I teach.  I love my students; however, I am not a parent replacement.  Public schools are under a time crunch with the curriculum, and some things are going to put to the side so that goals are met.  With that in mind, do I just complain about cursive being a dying art, or do I sit down and teach my son myself?  For me, the answer is clear.  

Monday, March 24, 2014

In a Rut

How do you climb out of a rut?  What is the first step?

I am 42.  Happy to be 42 because it sure does beat the alternative.  Happy actually in my life in general.  I have the normal concerns, but nothing that cannot be overcome.  We haven't had an easy few years, but we are okay, and isn't that the goal in life:  To let things explode and implode and still be okay.

I love my husband.  He loves me.

I love my kids.  They love me.

I have a good job.

So, what is the problem?  I'm dealing with a significant weight gain brought on by previous stress, real life situations, and frankly, age.  Also, I am trying to figure out if the weight gain is from the rut, or did the rut come first?  Chicken and egg, people!

Reasons why I am hitting the proverbial wall and ready to finally acknowledge said fat:

1.  I don't want new clothes.  I don't have the money for a new wardrobe.
2.  I am not ready for mom jeans.  I don't want to look like old ladies in elastic pants yet.  I still have time.
3.  I am still vibrant.  I am not old, so why should I live that way.
4.  I miss being healthy.
5.  I miss being cute.
6.  I want to be my best for my family.
7.  I am not ready to accept my rut.

This is not the first time I have written about wanting to change, but this is the first time I have faced the fat head-on.  I took a good hard look and I don't like what I see.  In the past, I have made excuses, and those can longer be part of my vernacular.  Fat is fat.  No use in saying anything else.  I am not curvacious.  I am not voluptuous.  I am fat.

This is no longer about me being cute.  I need to be able to walk without my joints hurting.  I need to live without being afraid.  Fat is a great shield for hiding and dodging life's real issues.

So, I declare, right from this minute on,  I will no longer:
1.  Give lip service to the universe.  Writing about good health is not the same as living good health.
2.  Think this is as good as it will get.
3.  Think that I don't deserve a bit more or that wanting more is shallow.

One more thing, my stomach size doesn't define me.  I am more than a number; however, if I don't get a grip on these numbers, I won't be able to live the life I want.

Today I make this decree:   I am beginning my climb. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Words, Words, Words

I am a reader.  I was born to self-described readers, and I even married not one but two readers.   With great joy, I can now proclaim I am a mother to two readers.   We are a family of words.  Every person under my roof loves the written word and often writes on their own time.  We aren't great at it, and we may not win any prizes or make a living from it, but it is an important part of our self-expression. A more poetic person would write about how we wrap ourselves in words of soft comfort.

We are a family of talkers.  We share stories and events and ideas.  We sit around tables and tackle sex, politics. religion. and question what we would do if we had superpowers.  Words allow us to plan, hope, and cope with life's tribulations.  We entreat in prayers.  We yell to be heard.  We giggle through the absurd.  Our home's foundation is built upon the words we speak.

I heard yesterday that more affluent families speak more than poorer families, and this shows in their children's performances in Kindergarden.  Educational programs are now being set up in urban areas so families can learn to communicate with their youngest members and increase vocabulary skills (and test scores).  The gist of this research is basically this:  when you live in a culture of poverty, you don't waste words on idle conversation.  It is used for direct commands for survival.  Do this or don't do this is basically all the kids learned.  When reading a children's book,  a teacher realized they knew the word fruit, but they were limited in knowing what types of fruit were being presented on the page.    Researchers developed a recorder that didn't capture the actual conversations in test subjects but rather who was speaking and to whom.  Families can wear this in order to see how they can better engage their children.  Some didn't want to participate because of the "Big Brother" factor even though nobody would hear their conversations and all information is deleted after the data is collected.

As a teacher and as a parent I find this so-called word gap horrifying and fascinating all at the same time.  I was far from rich when my children were little.  In fact, I was living below the poverty line, but I was fortunate enough to have the skills needed to engage my babies.  I was educated, verbal, with a writer for an ex-husband and was blessed with a babysitting granny who had previously taught  language arts.  It wasn't perfect.  My oldest has a speech impediment which impeded her reading comprehension until she was in third grade.  I think our success came from talking to the children rather than at them.  If they had a play date, they were asked about it.  If we went to Disney on Ice, then we talked about our favorite parts.  If I didn't give them a cookie, then we talked about why cookies were bad before dinner.  Our conversations now range from video games, the argument for a pet, and the resolution of East of Eden.

Baby talk and speaking in third person were outlawed around the time they began to toddle.  I recently heard a parent speak in third person to her teen son.  He looked at me and rolled his eyes.  I don't think he is really listening now to anything she has to say.  After knowing more about the home life, I would say she is completely disconnected from her son.  In her eyes, he can still be pacified with a few sweet words, and then she can go and do her thing.  No real conversation.  One day, when he needs a word and some advice, where will he go?

My question is the "now what" of the word gap.  I hear and see the consequences of it every day in my secondary classroom.  They struggle with basic conversation and complain often about my use of big words (aspiration?).  I attempt to engage by talking, talking, talking, listening to replies, and then parroting back with different word choices.  For some, vocabulary is the least of their worries.  The words they are exposed to are often filled with vulgarity, hate, and fear.  They are weapons.  In cases, like these, vocabulary builders and frayer models are not the answers.

Some of them are already parents.  Most will be parents within the next ten years.  Now what?  How do we give power to their voice and words?  Now what?  How do we encourage a vocabulary that is needed for college and career readiness?  Now what?  How do we break the cycles that limits potential?  Now what?  Have we lost a generation of words?

Perfect Crockpot Chicken Noodle Soup

Today was a very busy but lovely beginning to our Halloween Festivities.  My husband and I went to a Farmers' Market that was featuring ...