Thursday, July 15, 2010

ALS Breeds A Teacher

ALS left me with no parents. For those who don’t know, ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a motor-neuron disorder that is always terminal.

My father was diagnosed in 1971. I was seven. He had noticed weakness in his hands and trembling in his fingers. In spite of my parents’ valiant efforts to keep life normal for their two young daughters, ALS took over our family life. At eleven, my mom in the throes of taking care of a sick husband and my father debilitated by the disease and unable to care for himself, I took over caring for my younger sister and myself.

Fast forward to 1988. I grew up and became a teacher. A sixth grade teacher. A teacher of eleven year olds living in a chaotic, immigrant barrio, forced to grow up way too fast. I vowed to help them and make sure they had their childhoods left intact. A woman who’d grown up without parenting, deciding to parent her students? Yeah. I see it now. Did I know that was what I was doing back then? No. But lately thoughts of my father, his illness and how it changed my life, have swirled in my head. I realize I became a teacher to put some sense of “right” back into my world.

I truly believe teaching is a calling. It has always been my passion. But is a calling something we’re born with or something that develops from our life’s path? A fireman friend of mine years ago said, “Cynthia, We’re the lucky ones. We were born with a calling and we get to fulfill it everyday.”

Now I wonder - a calling or destiny? Or does it matter, as long as I’m feeding the passion?

If you are a daughter of a parent who has/had ALS, please join our new Facebook group:
Daughters of ALS

Saturday, June 5, 2010

A Balboa Bar and A Distinguished School

A few weeks ago I wrote about sending letters to my former students upon their High School graduation. One e-mailed me the other day. She's going to Yale! Wow. Yale. Ivy League. Great for her.

In other news, my former Principal and teacher friends from that school are in Orange County at the Disneyland Hotel, picking up Baywood's California Distinguished School award.
Congratulations Baywood Elementary!

Last I heard, the group left Anaheim, lost and wandering around Newport Beach. Hope they find a Balboa Bar!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


A friend e-mailed these to me with the subject: "Why Teachers Drink"

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Cure For Teacher Complaining

“It’s time for another weekend in the desert,” said Elizabeth. Friday afternoon our group of five teachers piled in the car and drove out the school parking lot to Rancho Mirage near Palm Springs.

As we drove the two hours, we talked and complained about school, students, administrators, school conditions, funding….you get the idea. We needed to vent to people who would understand, but after two hours of griping and complaining we were in a bad mood.

Warm, sunny Rancho Mirage greeted us. At the condo, we drank strawberry daiquiris and sat around the small patio table overlooking the golf course.

“No more talking about school,” Elizabeth declared. “Any time one of us says a word about school, she has to put a dollar in the middle of the table and the money goes to buy us drinks tonight.”

We continued this tradition for all our Palm Desert weekenders. No matter how much money ended up on the table, it cured our bad mood every time.

Here we are years ago (back in the 80’s) in Palm Desert, ready for a night of “Teachers on the Town”.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Teacher Dreams

Last night I dreamt I was teaching again. I welcomed my students into the classroom, took attendance, saluted the flag and talked about an assembly that was happening that day. I could picture the colorful walls filled with student work, the desks and chairs, the backpacks in the cubbies and lunch bags tossed around the room.

I left teaching ten years ago, due to an illness, but teaching is still a part of me. When do these dreams stop? Ever?
Do others who have left teaching still dream of being in the classroom?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Teacher Remembered

Yesterday, Anita Painter passed away. Mrs. Painter was my Humanities teacher and one of my three favorite teachers, all from Corona Del Mar High School in Newport Beach.

It saddens me to think she’s gone. She was the perfect combination of a kind, yet tough teacher. I found out through Facebook where a classmate of mine wrote, “She enlightened thousands of students during her teaching career and she will be missed.” Yes, she will.

Mrs. Painter expanded my world through history, the arts, philosophy and geography. She expected much of her students and attained it through encouragement and compassion. The final exam in her class was no mere two hour pen and paper exam. No, no, that was the easy half. She expected us to bring to life all she had taught us. For my final, my friend Katrina and I researched and created a 16th century Florentine dinner. We created a menu based on foods of the day. We cooked the entire meal as authentically as possible in Katrina’s mom’s kitchen.

We invited our parents to the meal with Dr. and Mrs. Painter. Once seated our teacher directed conversation to her two students. We spoke only of present day issues in 16th c. Florence; Da Medici’s, Michelangelo, Raphael, irrigation, voting procedures. She graded us through our conversation.

Each summer Mrs. Painter took some of her students on an educational trip through Europe. She convinced me to go.

As we drove on the bus to our first stop, Dachau, the tour guide informed us the road on which we were traveling had been paved with ashes from the concentration camp. Tears fell down my face as we drove along the German countryside.

Then we went to Italy where I stood motionless in front of Raphael’s School of Athens, the painting I had studied and examined and learned to love through Mrs. Painter’s class. The Botticellis, lunch on the Seine, hiking a glacier in Switzerland, there’s so much more, but for now, I’m content to know that even in retirement, Mrs. Painter continued her love of Humanities through community service to the Arts, education foundations and staying in touch with her former students.

Enlightened. I can't think of a better word to describe her.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Students: Letters To Themselves

May 17, 2000
Dear H***,
You have lots of friends like L**, E**, C**, K** and L** of corse.
You have a goal for when you grow up which is an artist and an actriss and of corse a person who helps wild animals. I hope that one day I will have three kids and an understandable husband. I just hope that I'll have a dog (golden retrever).
Also I hope to learn cursive soon. I've had many teachers but I think Miss Christian has tought me the most inportant lessons in my life.

The letter above is from a second grader, typed exactly as she wrote it in May, 2000. She's in this year's group of students about to receive a letter from their younger selves.

At the end of each school year I had my students write a letter to their future selves. I saved the letters, then mailed them to my former students the year they graduated from High School along with a letter from me, talking about what I remember of them and what has happened in the past five to ten years.

I love sending these letters each year and reading about forgotten memories from the child's point of view. Most of this group wrote about becoming veterinarians and seeing dancers from all over the world perform at the local theater. There's also a note about coming home from a field trip and one of the parent's racing another back to school with students in the cars! I wish I'd read that back in the day. Wait, on second thought, maybe I don't.

The BEST part of this process is when I receive letters back from students telling me about their lives in the present.

Yes, I miss teaching.

Friday, April 30, 2010

They'll Always Be My Kids

I read a story about a former 5th grade teacher from Newport Beach, Ca. Her former students from 1966 are throwing a party for her.
She states, "They'll always be my kids."

I'm in the process of finding my sixth grade students from 1989-90, when I taught in Anaheim, Ca. I reunited with one in person last year. For three hours she and I reminisced about our lives then and discussed our lives now. She's married with two children. We had a thoroughly adult conversation until the man next to us at the coffee shop asked how we knew each other.
"She's my sixth grade teacher." (Yes, I'm almost positive she used the present tense.)

Immediately I felt how much I've carried my students in my heart for 20 years. They're my kids. Still. I put a protective arm around her and gave her a hug before I asked the man to take our picture.

My friend Jeff used to make fun of me when I spoke of my students. I'd say, "Oh, my kids and I discussed that in class." Jeff would reply, "Your kids. You sound like Jerry Lewis with his kids." I'd insist, "But they ARE my kids". Now, I'm sure Jerry cares about his kids, but I knew more about my kids, by watching them grow for seven hours a day, five days a week for a school year.

So far I've found three of my students from that year. Only 29 more to go.
You can read the story here.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

C-SPAN Helps Students Cram for AP U.S. Gov. Exam

Help your students "Cram for the AP U.S. Government and Politics Exam" on C-SPAN this Saturday 5/1 from 9-10am ET.

Burning Questions from Teachers: Meet Our Realities, Mr. Duncan

Burning Questions from Teachers: Meet Our Realities, Mr. Duncan

Here is a blog that offers questions to US Secretary of Education. These questions, I believe, are exactly what we should be asking. The focus is right where it should be.

A sample from the blog:
• How can we trust you if you support merit pay based on student achievement and charter schools that undermine public education? You said recently that a child who has a good teacher for three years has scores that show it. If a child has a bad teacher for three years, the scores show it. What about that child's home life? Do they go to bed hungry? Do they live in fear? Who are you to determine if a teacher is bad or good. You have never been a classroom teacher. You do not know the realities we face in the classroom every day.

•Research correlates economic status and nutrition to school achievement, much more so than teacher performance. How are we meeting the fundamental needs of our children first and foremost so that they are physically prepared to meet our academic standards. Teachers can teach children who are safe, well fed and rested. Teachers should not have to focus on these factors when they enter the classroom, but many go above and beyond to meet these needs of their learners since their professional performance is judged solely on test scores.

•If funding is linked to test scores, and high performing schools are rewarded, how can The Secretary of Education justify further neglect of the schools that need the most aid?

An interesting read.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Sushi & 6th Graders

“Can we go to real lunch now?” My students asked.

It was spring and my sixth graders had studied Japanese history and culture. Trying to bring some authenticity to my classroom, I asked the owner of the nearby sushi restaurant to make samples for my students.

The next morning, just before lunch, my sixth graders sat in a circle on the classroom floor, their handmade tatami mats in front of them, shoes off, desks pushed against the wall and classmade scrolls with haiku lining the walls.

Our Vice Principal walked into the room carrying a platter she had just picked up from the sushi restaurant. “Lunch is here,” she announced.

Excitedly, the students looked up as we placed one sushi roll on each student’s plate. The boys picked up their pieces with their chopsticks, bit into their rolls and announced, “Blech”. The girls tentatively took small nibbles from their sushi rolls perched in between the chopsticks. Everyone downed cups of tea.

“Sure, go to lunch,” I said laughing.

Funny thing, I don’t like sushi either.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Free DVD from History Channel-America The Story of Us

Here's the info. taken from their website:

America The Story of US — premiering on HISTORY™ April 25 at 9pm/8c — is a six week event that provides a fascinating look at the stories of the people, events, and innovations that forged our nation. It will provide you with an unprecedented opportunity to bring our nation’s history to life for your students. This 12-hour series will be supported by educational materials tied to curriculum standards and is copyright cleared for Fair Use in the classroom by instructors or pupils in the course of face-to-face teaching activities.
* HISTORY is offering America The Story of US on DVD to every school in the United States. School must be an accredited public, private or home school, grades K-12 and college. In order to receive your school's DVD, your school principal (grades K-12) or Dean of Students (college) should fill out the request form below. HISTORY strictly limits each school to one request. DVD requests must be made prior to July 1, 2010. DVDs will be mailed around August 2010, and free shipping is included in this offer.

Monday, April 12, 2010

C-SPAN Educator Conference

My favorite non-profit is at it again!

C-SPAN Classroom’s 2010 Summer Educators’ Conference July 12-13 in Washington, DC.

Twenty-five lucky teachers (6-12 grades) will be at C-SPAN’s headquarters in the heart of Washington, DC.

Airfare to Washington, two nights’ hotel stay (July 11 and July 12) and meals during the conference will be provided by C-SPAN (and registration is free!).

For more information go to their website. The application link is here too.

Apply! Go! Say Hi to Joanne Wheeler for me!

3x5 Cards and Elizabeth Green

In the recesses of my closets and my storage unit, I have my teaching boxes. I know you all have them; boxes of art supplies, books, math manipulatives, holiday/cultural exhibits, rock collections, etc. Well, I was searching through the boxes that held files, mostly files of former student work, but I came across a few 3x5 cards. I had 3x5 cards for every student where I wrote down dates and times of disruptive behavior.

Here are the highlights from 1992 from a student I'll call "Elizabeth".

Elizabeth Green
9/16 12:45 Fighting with Melissa in line
1:05 Drawing when told to put it away
2:15 Pulling arms into t-shirt and pulling t-shirt over her head
9/17 9:05 Running in the library
9:20 Running again after being told not to by librarian
9/21 10:05 Brought video game to school causing problems during Computer Lab
12:50 Gluing paper to her forehead
2:00 Walking around room with paint on a paper, dangling it in front of her and in other student's faces.
2:30 Putting torn up paper bits on Derrick's head.

Then another card for Elizabeth:

10/7 11:30 Kicking legs of desk
11:55 Stabbing George with a pencil and giving answers to assignment to Derrick
10/15 8:40 crumpling paper while I was giving directions
2:25 Drew with pen on Derrick's back
10/19 11:15 Calling Ricardo "Stupid"
1:15 Playing with ruler trying to hit Mark
1:40 Threw Crayon across the room

There are more, but at this point, I'm wondering whatever happened to Elizabeth Green?

Oh, wait, there's a letter I wrote to her parents also. Now I remember - they didn't believe their daughter could do anything wrong. I had to turn copies of these into my Principal.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

PTA Goes Dancing

I found the PTA on Saturday night at the Pioneer Saloon in Woodside, Ca.

My cousin's band (yes, shameless plug here) The Hummers, had a pre-St. Patrick's Day celebration. Marvelous Marvin, the lead singer, asked, "Who are all you beautiful dancers out there?"

"Woodside PTA," a few of them shouted. After an event at school, the PTA drove to the Pioneer to dance and sing to "Brick House," AC/DC, the Rolling Stones and "Mustang Sally."

I couldn't find any teachers, but the parents were dancin' and singin' and movin' to the groovin'...
Wonder what they do for Open House?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

What We Really Want To Say

I listened and pictured all the school secretaries I worked with over the years and the smile on their faces if they could record something like this on the school voice mail system.

I'm sure teachers are applauding.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Monkey Year

"How are your students this year?" I asked my friend about her kindergarten students.

"Monkeys." Was her answer. "They were born in the year of the monkey and they show it!"

Monday, March 8, 2010

3 Ways Educators Are Embracing Social Technology

Interesting article I found on Mashable from Greg Ferenstein. Read the entire article here:

The modern American school faces rough challenges. Budget cuts have caused ballooning class sizes, many teachers struggle with poorly motivated students, and in many schools a war is being waged on distracting technologies. In response, innovative educators are embracing social media to fight back against the onslaught of problems. Technologies such as Twitter and Skype offer ideal solutions as inexpensive tools of team-based education.

Pockets of experimentation are emerging all around the world, and I hope to inspire my fellow teachers with some stories of success. From cell phones to social media, below are three schools that have chosen to go with the flow of popular technology to turn the tide for education.

Skype and Language Learning

Why force students to yawn over a textbook when a real-life native speaker is only a Skype (Skype) call away? At Marquette University, Spanish students hone their foreign language skills with frequent webcam chats with their English-learning counterparts in South America.

“I absolutely fell in love with this program,” wrote one student. Professor Janet Banhidi, the brains behind the virtual language exchange, said Skype conversation gives students a surprisingly authentic experience. As a teacher (and fluent speaker), she can only give her students limited 1-on-1 attention. With Skype, every student has weekly access to a free personal tutor.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of using Skype is the radical increase in motivation. A whopping 85.3% of Janet’s students kept in touch with their digital pen-pals outside of the classroom through Facebook (Facebook). “In the end, the best part of this exchange was gaining a friend who I still today talk with on Facebook” said one student. Additionally, though some of her students enroll to simply fulfill a language requirement, many participants have gone on to major in Spanish from the experience. Students who go above and beyond mandatory assignments will be more likely to remember class material and apply it when they get out into the working world.

Mobile Phones

While many schools around the country have declared all-out war on mobile devices, Wiregrass High School took a decidedly different approach, integrating cell phones into the entire educational experience. Students exchange questions and answers with their teachers via SMS and browse classroom blogs for additional instruction. Moreover, as an efficient collaborative tool, students can quickly trade notes or take a snapshot of the blackboard for later studying.

Like with any tool, students do misuse the privilege, but according to the school’s principal the number of cell-phone related infractions is “minuscule.” Perhaps this is because the policy permits students to use cell phones socially between classes, giving them a much needed digital fix throughout the day. Wiregrass’s experience pairs nicely with similar workplace-related research which shows that giving employees periodic down-time with the Internet actually boosts productivity. In the end, fighting pervasive technologies may just sap the energy of everyone involved.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Another Day

My friend's Facebook status this morning:

"Another day, another dollar. And I mean that literally.... I'm a teacher!"

Jane Owen, Newport Beach, Ca

Here's Jane follow-up comment:
"The Spanish speaking nannies here get more than I do!"

Friday, February 26, 2010

It's Parent Campout Time - a.k.a. Kinder Registration

Baywood Elementary in San Mateo, CA: API scores in the 900's, a fantastic staff, highly involved parents, and too many students for the overcrowded neighborhood school.

Parents here line up outside the school office TWO DAYS before Kindergarden registration begins! But this is no ordinary campout. Besides sleeping bags and beach chairs, the super organized Baywood parents bring pitchers of martinis to share and a large screen to watch movies.

Once upon a time, I taught second grade at Baywood. I'm still friends with some of the staff there, but this year, my cousin's son is now one of the newly admitted students.

I can't wait to hear about the annual Baywood Campout from a parent's point of view!

Anyone work at a school similar to this?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Kids Are Quick

I wish I knew where this originated. Enjoy!

TEACHER: Maria, go to the map and find North America.
MARIA: Here it is.
TEACHER: Correct. Now class, who discovered America?
CLASS: Maria.

TEACHER: John, why are you doing your math multiplication on the floor?
JOHN: You told me to do it without using tables.

TEACHER: Glenn, how do you spell 'crocodile?'
TEACHER: No, that's wrong
GLENN: Maybe it is wrong, but you asked me how I spell it.

TEACHER: Donald, what is the chemical formula for water?
TEACHER: What are you talking about?
DONALD: Yesterday you said it's H to O.
TEACHER: Winnie, name one important thing we have today that we didn't have ten years ago.

TEACHER: Glen, why do you always get so dirty?
GLEN: Well, I'm a lot closer to the ground than you are.
TEACHER: Millie, give me a sentence starting with 'I.'
MILLIE: I is..
TEACHER: No, Millie..... Always say, 'I am.'
MILLIE: All right... 'I am the ninth letter of the alphabet.'
TEACHER: George Washington not only chopped down his father's cherry tree, but also admitted it. Now, Louie, do you know why his father didn't punish him?
LOUIS: Because George still had the axe in his hand.

TEACHER: Clyde , your composition on 'My Dog' is exactly the same as your brother's. Did you copy his?
CLYDE : No, sir. It's the same dog.
TEACHER: Harold, what do you call a person who keeps on talking when people are no longer interested?
HAROLD: A teacher

Thursday, January 21, 2010

C-SPAN Helping Teachers

If you've never checked out C-SPAN's website for teachers, you really should.

C-SPAN in the Classroom offers materials for Classroom Civics and Social Studies Teachers. With elections this fall it's a good idea to start collecting materials now.

No, I'm not being paid by C-SPAN, but I did work there for a year, a long time ago.

Great people. They'll help you find video you can use in your classroom too. Check it out.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

No Governator Autograph

"As of September 1, 2008, the Commission on Teacher Credentialing no longer prints or provides a paper copy as an official document.
The online official record of your document will be viewable to you and your potential employer directly through the Commission's website in approximately 48 hours."

So says my e-mail from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. The last time I renewed my credential, I paid my money and received a nice certificate, signed by the current California governor.

I'm all for reducing paper and storing documents online, but is it wrong to want a certificate with my name on it signed by Arnold Schwarzenegger?