Thursday, August 31, 2006

messy school, tired boy

Roman has had to be woken up 3 out of 4 mornings this week to get rolling. We have to leave the house around 7:10 for me to make it to school by 7:40ish, which is the latest I would want to arrive once school starts. This is not going to be a pleasant year. I volunteered to be "on hand" for students who can have access to our building tomorrow for 2 hours, so at least Roman can sleep in a little. He was Sybil again tonight, sweet and cheery and then wham! spittin' nails at us. He threw a cat toy at me, scratched his daddy, kicked and fought. All this because it was bedtime.

School is a mess. We were rehabbed this year as part of a bond issue passed a couple years ago. Brand new floors in all classrooms, fresh coats of paint on every wall (glorious white!), and new lighting. Air conditioning, too, and new windows. It's so bright and airy, and cool (within our 4-degree window of 68-72 degrees). On the other hand... we were told they wouldn't be truly done until February. There is dust and debris ALL OVER the school, and the construction crew has turned D-hallway into their personal tool and box storage. I'm not quite sure how it's going to be all cleaned up, but as our principal said, "there are seats for the students and there is knowledge in your heads." So school will happen, no matter how torn up we are.

Monday, August 28, 2006

It's the most wonderful time... of the year!

Day One of meetings. I giggle every time I remember that commercial for office supplies from some store, with the parents doing a coordinated happy dance-with-shopping-carts number to the song "Most Wonderful Time of the Year." Kids, of course, were dragging their heels after them. I feel that way about school supplies. Both Doug and I could spend hours in an office supply store just wandering the aisles and collecting stuff for our desks. It's wonderful.

Today was back to school day for me, heralded by 6 hours of meetings. Followed by tomorrow's 6 hours of meetings. Our district is trying to get collaborative, and the buzz-letters are PLCs - professional learning communities. Or in other words, as Doug says, "starting to do what the business world has been doing for years now." The problem is, we're still talking. They aren't giving us time to DO what we need to do. We don't need 2 days of meetings about this, when we've heard it all last year. Let us start "unpacking our standards" as we discussed today and actually DO collaborative work.

The problem I have with PLCs is the same one I have with NCLB - that's "No Child Left Behind" for non-educators. Side note - I feel like I'm in the Army now with all these acronyms. My other favorite is the "glicks", or GLCEs - Grade Level Content Expectations. Anyway... the problem is, basically, it is expected that 100% of children will meet or excel standards 100% of the time. And that can never happen. Tell me, what other profession anywhere in the world is expected to have 100% approval/accuracy/job performance 100% of the time? It simply can't be done. Not to say we (teachers) shouldn't strive for excellence and constant improvement... but come on. It is totally ridiculous.

Even better, with PLCs, the responsibility for student achievement is entirely in the hands of the teacher. In the perfect "achievement pyramid" there is no step for "do the #*$! work in the first place." It is all teacher-directed, teacher-motivated, teacher-led support and interventions. Where is personal responsibility? On the one hand students are asked to be "explorers" and be totally active learners; teachers are expected to be "facilitators" rather than the traditional lecture-input-output. That's what I do, and it's good. On the other hand, when it comes to failing students, it's up to the teachers to intervene and save them. Bah, humbug.

In last interesting news, Detroit teachers voted almost unanimously to strike starting today. I feel I need to explain their concerns because the news is doing a horrible job of reporting what the demands are. Detroit teachers would like copy machines that work most of the time, the computers that are in their classrooms to be plugged in and operational, among other things. Regarding their pay, yes they are asking for a 5% raise every year for the next three years; but what the news fails to mention is that the union accepted a pay freeze 4 years ago, and now they are being asked to take a pay CUT. So I do support the Detroit teachers. Not to say I support a strike - technically it is illegal, and the union can be fined up to $5,000 a day - but I think the DPS teachers have put up with enough.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Growing up, moving on

Roman is very proud of the fact that he's potty trained. He informed his Daddy of this tonight, while pointing to himself. Of course, we did have a half-accident; he "leaked" a little bit before running to us to say he had to go. He also did #2 on his own tonight with no help.

We gave official notice to daycare this afternoon that Roman would be withdrawn. We talked to the director, who was very supportive. She actually admitted her own son went to the preschool we're transferring to! She said we'd be very pleased with it. Daddy and I want to do something nice for Miss Katie (we gave Miss Elaine a gift when we transitioned out of the Toddler room). I asked Roman what he thought she'd like. "A new necklace," he said, "... or a new train." How sweet and thoughtful. He says it like this - "neck-a-liss." I asked if he'd like to make one for her, like our cousin Sadie made a bracelet for him once. "Oh, yes... but I don't know how," said our very smart boy. So we agreed to go find some beads and string on Saturday morning.

Another example of our moving onward and upward - we got a call from Wendy at our church. She is an illustration of why we like our church so much... if only we went more often! Very friendly, open, and welcoming. Anyway, Wendy is now in charge of staffing the nursery and also "recruiting" kids for Sunday school and what is called Pioneer Club on Wednesday nights. We agreed to 3 Sundays in the nursery (April, June, & August). She then informed us that Roman is old enough to start Sunday school this coming year. We didn't realize they started that early, but she said they are in groups with 4-year-olds to do the rotations and they have a "shepherd" who stays with the group all year so there is consistency among the rotation. We definitely think Roman is ready and comfortable with this idea, so we're going to try it out. This also means going to church mostly every week (and shifting weekend visits to family to Friday-Saturday instead of Saturday-Sunday!). We have been wanting to get more involved and meet the parents of the other kids we pass in the nursery (every six weeks or so, at our current rate of attendance).

Lots of events telling us that Roman is growing older, and growing better. He's practically trained, he's excited about going to a new preschool, and he's old enough to finally join Sunday school. And, he's got a new train bought with some of his money (Diesel-10) and a gift of the REAL Buzz Lightyear (big plastic version) from his Grandpa & Baba today. So life is very, very good.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Controlling bodily functions

It can be done! And Roman has proved it! We have gone all day, six days in a ROW, with only one accident - and that was during quiet time when he was told he couldn't get up. Oops. :) On Thursday afternoon, after Roman had 2 accidents at daycare, Daddy told Roman very frankly, "no more accidents. They are not allowed." Friday afternoon Roman and I happened to go to the new daycare, which we're now calling preschool, to pay the fee. The director spoke a lot to Roman about how he has to be in underwear and no accidents, etc. I think these two things combined put a fire under him. Consider the wonderful evidence:
1. Roman stayed dry the entire 2-1/2 hour trip to my parents', including informing us that he wanted to "stop at a gas station so I can use the potty."
2. Roman stayed dry the entire day Saturday at the youth fair, even when sidetracked by animals, rides, and his cousins Iris & Eli.
3. Roman rode a train home from my parents' and stayed dry the entire trip.
4. Roman informed us when he had to poop. Hooray!
5. Roman has a tell-tale "jiggle & shake" when he has to go to the bathroom, "ants in the pants" if you will. He rarely argues when we tell him we have to go, and often admits it when you ask.
6. Every once in awhile, usually at naptime and bedtime, Roman will voluntary say he has to go potty.
7. Roman went poop in a public restroom today.

There is still some issue with him not telling us until the last minute when he has to go potty, and I'm concerned that he will get so wrapped up with things at preschool that he will continue to have accidents. But he also heard the director and I discuss what would happen if he continued to have accidents once he attended there (he'd be asked to leave) so maybe something sunk in. We're just pretty darn happy we're discussing his bodily functions so much again! And the best news - only 6 more days at daycare. He starts preschool on Sept. 5!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Unit created, but this teacher is tired.

Worn out. It's been a dramatic week work-wise, not even counting the 5-day inter-disciplinary unit myself and five others have thrown together in 6 hours - plus some typing time at home. On top of all the brain-busting (The New Deal: Relief, Recovery, Rhetoric, or Revolution? Discuss.) and networking, our principal jumped into the action by rearranging mine and a few other coworker's schedules for the school year. A lot. Not only my subjects, but hours have been shifted - most unhappily. And we have officially lost my mentee, who has been displaced to an elementary school. The drama in detail:

Tuesday night was a board meeting, where final "counts" were taken of each school and the board decides if a school can hire any last-minute people. This is all done on per-hour basis, stupidly. West was given 0.4 FTE, or translated into 2 classes. We needed 1.0 to keep my mentee. So he's gone. Now my principal had to decide - add classes to part-timers, or hire someone to teach 2 hours a day? We're not sure what the final decision is, but all we know is on Wednesday, the schedules started changing.

I went from three 8th grade classes to one 7th and two 8th (of course - I packed all my 7th grade stuff up and put it in storage). My coworker, who had 1 Econ elective and 4 7th grades, now has 3 preps - worst yet, SHE got my 8th grade and a NEW elective.

I also went from teaching 3rd-5th hour to gaining a Homeroom, teaching 1st hour, 3rd, and 4th. So my day of starting at 10:15 now starts at 8am, and ends at 1:00 instead of 2:00. Which is inconvenient for reasons I won't go into here.

I think what I'm most irritated about is losing one of my 8th grade. I was really looking forward to teaching all one subject and it NOT being 7th grade, which I've taught for 4.5 years now. And why my coworker, who has never taught 8th grade EVER, now has it as one of three preps is beyond me. Ah well.... perhaps this shall pass? The fat lady hasn't truly sung yet, and rumor abounds that kids are still registering at West...

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Go Broncos... fire that prez!

My alma mater has fired the president of the university, 8 months after extending her contract. I don't know what could have changed in 8 months when the official position is "enrollment has declined 15% in the three years of her tenure." They offered quite a nice little package to get her out but she refused, so they fired her. Apparently she's thinking about fighting the "wrongful" termination.

I guess the only bright spot is that my beloved President, Diether Haenicke, has been named interim. Diether was prez when I attended and what I remember about him is what I think universities lack these days - I saw him walking on campus, he held open office hours a few times a month where kids could walk in and talk about anything that was on their mind, and I guess mainly that people KNEW him. Who he was, about his family, his love of Western. A good choice for the trustees to make.

My thought about why enrollment is declining at WMU? The only news I receive is about new graduate research facilities, science facilities, engineering facilities, more buildings, buildings, buildings and research, research, research. I don't see where Western is honoring their core - the teaching profession - nor any of the "liberal arts" majors. I also wonder about fees, the requirement of a laptop of all incoming freshmen, and that sort of thing. And the declining income of people in Michigan in general. Ah well, perhaps Diether can rescue things.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Democracy as experiment

Today's day of the History Grant was, as usual, mind-melting. Headache began about 1:30 and I had to take 3 Advil to get it under control. My brain has been laying wasted all summer, and what a jerk back to reality today was! Today's deep thoughts:

Democracy, being an experiment, needs to be constantly tested. The Founding Fathers, knowing their history, knew that a republic will eventually decay; see Rome, Time is the enemy of a democracy.

The way to analyze a democracy - whether it is "good" or "bad" - is to study what kind of culture it produces. What does it do for an individual person? Does it develop or prevent the full potential of a person?

Finally, some discussion on character (under the auspices of Hawthorne's "Scarlet Letter"). In today's society, one professor argued, we are more interested in personality than character; that is, we build ourselves from the outside in, instead of the inside out. To fight the decay of a democracy we must continue to have character and historical consciousness; understanding the character of our ancestors, how our country navigated through "tests" previously, and how we should continue to strive to build character. Another professor argued that we are, as a society, on the cusp of a great decay - the obsession with glam and glitter and the personality of vapid celebrities is rapidly overtaking a concern for character.

Interesting things to think about. We then talked about how history is approached in different ways, depending on the age and the surrounding politics and social issues of the time, and how to navigate prior social research keeping those biases in mind. Specifically, the study of art and literature - what did a particular piece mean to people when it was created, and what does it mean to us now?

In small-group news, we decided on an essential question: "What events in the American Revolution tested loyalty?" and worked out the guiding questions which I won't go into here. We also started mapping out the concepts we want kids to get out of the book My Brother Sam Is Dead. After we figure out the rest of the mini-unit and how many days we want it to take, we're going to tackle coming up with a DBQ (document-based question) to replace the final assessment of the unit, and throw that together. Making kids learn how to think, that's our goal!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Poll time!

I like doing these. Thought it was interesting - and not at all surprising.

Your Political Profile:
Overall: 60% Conservative, 40% Liberal
Social Issues: 75% Conservative, 25% Liberal
Personal Responsibility: 75% Conservative, 25% Liberal
Fiscal Issues: 50% Conservative, 50% Liberal
Ethics: 25% Conservative, 75% Liberal
Defense and Crime: 75% Conservative, 25% Liberal

Cheeseburger in Paradise? / Serious brain work ahead

We have returned from two whirlwind weekends of camping. Last weekend we were at Yogi Bear's house in Frankenmuth with Grandma and Papa Van Eeuwen. We visited "the Christmas Store" (Bronner's) and the Cheese Haus downtown, played around the campsite, and went swimming a lot. Doug and I played a lot of Hand & Foot cards and are determined to practice at home to get better (and for me to learn how to add up the points!).

This weekend we camped for the first time with our friends Mark & Jen and their 3 kids aged 3, 5, and almost-9. Roman hit it off best with the 5-year-old. We were at Sleeper State Park in Caseville, Michigan - in "the thumb." We had a great time... went to the beach, rode bikes, Roman got great at pedaling his Tigger bike. But the thing that took us by surprise was The Celebration. More specifically, the Cheeseburger in Caseville festival. It "celebrates the lifestyle and music made popular by Jimmy Buffett" according to their website. It was one of the funniest, happiest festivals I'd ever been to. What a great sense of humor. Even people at the campground were into it, some sites even having tiki bars and 10-foot light-up palm trees next to their campers. We all decided we have to stay longer next year.

Here's the serious brain work part. Tomorrow I start the third and last installment of the Teaching American History Grant in my district. This year's theme is "Whose America? The Struggle for Dignity and Identity in America." Focusing our units on the antebellum period and 1930s, but our studying for the week is on: Colonial period (women); antebellum period (slaves); 1930s (farmers); and 1950s/1960s (women). I realize there are lots of other groups that could and should be included in the "search for identity" but the above was selected by people more intelligent than myself.

I'm looking forward to it as always. Our end products in the past were a type of discussion (Socratic) and last year we did a museum display. This year we're tackling literature and how to incorporate it into Social Studies - or coordinate with the Language Arts department. To that end, we're designing units or mini-units to use in SS but involves one or more books (could be picture book, young or teen reader). My group has selected the Revolutionary War and the book "My Brother Sam is Dead" as our starting point; we will use this week to find other book(s) to coordinate with that in SS. More on that later, as the week progresses and Doug is bored with hearing about it.

I've done a bit of reading already - we've read Scarlet Letter, Narrative of a Fugitive Slave, The Harvest Gypsies, and watched Grapes of Wrath. I still have to catch up on chapter reading and packet reading - I've relaxed a bit on that this year!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Confession time.

We are gearing up for Roman's return to full-time daycare. Most people don't understand why we take Roman to daycare during the summer, surprised that I wouldn't want to spend all day every day with him. To be honest, it's boring! Do other women find playing trains for 2 hours a day exciting? My mind melts after about 10 minutes, especially because Roman doesn't really want me to play with him... he wants me to do the voices for a few minutes, move a train around, and then just sit and be next to him. Or he tells me exactly how I should play. But woe to the person who decides to multitask while Roman does something, be it reading, coloring, Playdoh, trains, even a video. He pesters and whines, sometimes gets physical (launching himself onto your lap, or playing doggy). And when I am "game" for playing with him, he changes his mind every 5 to 10 minutes, never satisfied. It is annoying.

I have noticed that at this age, it would be good to have a sibling in the house for Roman to pester, be it older or younger. We rather regret that we can't afford to adopt another child right now; it would be good for Roman to not be the universe in our household. That's partly why I want him to go to daycare in the summer - he needs to be around other kids, continue to learn how to be a friend, and do the kinds of activities that I wouldn't think of. He comes home singing songs and having done projects that would never occur to me to introduce. "Little Bunny FooFoo" being the most recent song. Roman especially loves bopping the little field mice on the head.

Anyway, on the subject of adoption, it is irritating to me that people are now telling us that "you need two in the house!" or flat out saying, "now he's at a good age to plan another one." Sure, if it wasn't for the
_ _,000 dollars it would take! Especially because money aside, now does feel like the right time that we would start paperwork again, for an arrival in another year or so. But age is up in the air to us, as well as, how do I put it, minor medical problems. There are a couple kids that we became aware of as we went through Roman's adoption that our hearts bleed for, that we both admitted the other day we still think about. But for that, I'd want to quit work and that can't happen anytime soon. Plus, we wouldn't want to start an adoption in one area of the state and have to finish it in another. Ah well, adoption is like tattoos. Once you get one, you immediately start thinking about the next one. :)

In exciting news on the Roman front, the boy put his head under water today for the first time! Last swim practice, and he had been working up to putting his ears and nose under water. Today he pushed himself to just over his eyes, and thought it was so wonderful he began to dunk himself over and over while holding onto the wall. Luckily I had a camera handy and took lots of pictures!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Mod Podge decoupage

The scrapbooking world is slowly leaking onto "things" with the help of decoupage. A couple years ago at the scrap convention I attended, there was a store from Plainwell selling wood block "puzzle" kind of things that they decoupaged pretty papers & photos onto. Since then, I've seen more and more scrapbooking on everyday items - coasters, storage boxes, photo albums, all kinds of things which people want to personalize.

Well, I finally did it. I picked up a couple cheap plastic binders that I'll need for the American History Grant & grad school, and thought I'd prettify the one for the grant. I had some Mod Podge, which works as both glue and sealer, grabbed some old 4th-of-July style paper that I hadn't used in a scrapbook lately, and had some fun. It turned out nice for a first project. A couple bubbles I should have smoothed out but not noticeable. Our house better watch out - I've got a ton of scrapbook paper and an almost-full bottle of Mod Podge, and I'm ready to use them!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

new scrap pages

Just wanted to post the link if you care to see the scrapbook pages I've done this summer. Three of them are 2-page spreads so I put them next to each other, so you can get an idea. Plus, you can get a glimpse of the infamous Miss Katie!

I'm a professional. Officially!

I completed requirements for my professional teaching certificate about a year ago, but why get it early when my provisional didn't expire until June? And so, upon completion of "18 semester hours in a planned course of study after the issuance of the Provisional certificate, completion of Michigan's reading requirement (6 semester hours of teaching reading for elementary teachers or 3 semester hours for secondary teachers) and 3 years of successful teaching experience" (according to the State of Michigan's website), oh, and a $125 processing fee, I received my professional education certificate in the mail yesterday. I am qualified to teach History and Social Science in grades 7-12. (Social Science includes specialized classes in Economics, Geography, Civics, & Psychology).

It's really just a paperwork thing, but it did make me pretty happy to accomplish it. I am "Highly Qualified" in Michigan as well, having taken both certification tests when I graduated college. Of course, I believe the state will constantly change what "Highly Qualified" is and means, as No Child Left Behind continues to become a bigger boondoggle. Now, according to the State of MI, I only have to acquire "completion of 6 semester hours at any four-year or community college listed in the Directory of Michigan Institutions of Higher Education, or 18 State Board Continuing Education Units (SB-CEUs) or a combination of the two (3 SB-CEUs are equivalent to 1 semester hour of credit)." I must do this within 5 years, and every 5 years, for the rest of my teaching life... or until the state changes things.

So, lastly, this also means I can earn those credits by returning to graduate school this fall, which I quit when we came home with Roman so Doug could finish. I have 4 or 5 classes to go, and probably at least 1 makeup class (for going over the 7 years granted for completion). But, at least, I'm officially a "professional" teacher.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Jamie Lee Curtis in our house

For the first time since his arrival, Roman chose to read the book "Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born." It was written by JL Curtis about her experience adopting a daughter. I have read the book myself a few times but never out loud, to Roman. I explained to him what it was about, and as we read I compared the story to our own journey to adopt Roman. He asked all kinds of questions, also for the first time. "What's a baby home?" "Was I a baby or a little boy?"

At one point he pointed to a picture of the exhausted parents on the first night of having a baby and asked, "are those my parents?" I explained that we did not have any pictures of his Russian parents but told him a little about each one. Between tears, of course. Tears of happiness because he's ours, regret that we can't connect him to his homeland very well, melancholy because I can't fill in all the holes for him yet and make him understand. Not sure I want to fill in all the holes of his story for him. I explained, also for the first time, that both he and I grew in another woman's special baby place (how we finally had to call it, as Roman did not like the idea of babies in tummies) and then came to live with our family. I explained that is called adoption.

Way too much information for him, but it's a start. We definitely have to keep the conversation going now - with our friends Nicole & Paul having a baby, Roman definitely has become more "knowledgeable" about where babies come from, and just starting to figure out that his story is much more complicated.