Saturday, May 01, 2010
Life has been so busy at school that I really have not wanted to take Stella with me; in some ways she is like having another student in the classroom. At the moment, my room is covered with props and costumes, and the art room, where I also spend a lot of time with my students, has wet paint out for the flats, which is messy enough with children, but I can just see the giant poodle footprints painting the hall.
Follow the Yellow Paw Prints, Follow the Yellow Paw Prints.
So, even though Mike isn't home, I decided to leave the little diva home yesterday. That meant a long walk in the meadow in the early, early morning so she could work out her poodle beans as well as empty her bladder.
Stella loves to zoom around the meadow as fast as she can, running circles around me, around trees, or just around, banking corners so fast she almost lies flat.
"What about the birds?" you say, "Get to the point!"
Ah, yes, well here's the story:
At one point, Stella stopped and started jumping up and down like a goat sproing, sproing, sproing! I thought she had found a mole, We have some giant ones, and they are very entertaining to her, a sentiment not shared by the moles. So I made my way over to her to rescue the mole, only to find that her discovery was a baby robin.
Fortunately, it was a feisty and brave little baby. When Stella tried pouncing, the little robin charged the giant poodle. And fortunately, the baby was uninjured. I was able to reach around behind it and pick it up off of the ground.
It was awesome to have this little one in my hand. Its wee heart was beating hard, but it relaxed into my hand, and settled down.
I found a branch in the honeysuckle where it would be out of poodle range, and placed it there.
The baby is fully feathered, and strong. I am very optimistic about its survival. Don't you just love its bright eyes?
On the chicken front, the weather has finally warmed up enough and the chicks have finally feathered out enough, that they could move out of my bedroom and into their chicken condo.
They are really getting to be quite a handful! I love the way they look like miniature chickens, but still peep like little chicks.
This is their upstairs loft.
And below is their patio.
They seem very happy with their new home, and I am delighted to reclaim my bedroom!
Meanwhile, the baby quail are rapidly growing up in the Younger Group classroom.
I love the way the baby bob whites said 'bob white' almost as soon as they hatched. I didn't know that they did that - incredible! The parent who brought the eggs in for hatching wants to give me some of the quail babies. I am trying to figure out how to give them protective shelter, and still let them be wild. It is a bit of a dilemma about what to do with them, as they have already adapted to humans.
If anyone has any words of wisdom about the bob whites, I would love to know what to do with them.
Have a lovely Saturday!
Friday, April 30, 2010
I think there are many out there who believe that teachers must have been good students and loved school. This isn't always the case.
My brother called me a couple of weeks ago. He had been going through my parents' tax files, before throwing things out.
"I found something in there that wasn't a tax form," he said, "for some reason your 2nd grade report card was tucked in there. I don't know why they put it in there, but I was surprised - you got all Cs."
I have no idea why they saved that report card, but I almost cried because my big brother had always believed I was smart. He had never seen the pain I suffered academically, he had just seen who I really was - a smart capable little girl. This was not the case for me at school. You see, there was no comprehension of learning disabilities, attention deficits, or hyperactivity when I was a child.
When I went to kindergarten, I was tiny, very shy, still stuttered, was poor, and dressed funny. Any one of those things could have made me a target for teasing, but together in a package, I might as well have had a bulls-eye painted on my forehead. I spent much of my kindergarten year under the rabbit cage, later to be joined by a child even smaller than me who is to this day one of my dear friends.
The kindergarten teacher told my parents that I shouldn't be passed to 1st grade because I was delayed, as evidenced by the fact that during my entire kindergarten year, I had failed to learn to skip. My mother did not accept that as a valid reason for holding her daughter back, and made sure I was moved up to first grade.
The real problems began then. At that time in education, we had 'tracking', children were grouped together by slow, average, and advanced learners. I was already labeled as a 'slow' learner because my kindergarten teacher had identified me as such and because I was not a child who would volunteer in class. This evaluation was further confirmed by the fact that I couldn't sit in my chair without wiggling it until it fell over, and didn't appear to pay attention to anything the teacher said. My reading was below grade level.
What wasn't understood was that I was reading well above grade level at home, but couldn't read out loud. Between stuttering and what was eventually identified (as an adult) as dyslexia, my oral reading was indeed below average. Given time to organize the words on the page, and not being stressed by public humiliation, I was already reading books like "Charlotte's Web" at home with no problem, but condemned to "Dick and Jane" at school. By the end of 1st grade, I had given up on school; I made my way there dutifully, and bided my time each day until dismissal. At school, I was nothing more than a problem child- the label that came home on my report cards was 'under achiever.' At home, I was an artist, a musician, a poet, and a naturalist. I had interesting conversations with my family, and loved to read.
Sometime around junior high school age, we were given IQ tests. The school counselor was alarmed and had an emergency meeting with my mother. A mistake had been made in my educational placement. While I was in the class with the children with the lowest educational expectations, my IQ was far above average. They did not know how this mistake could have happened, except that I was exceptionally lazy. The problem was ameliorated by moving me from the lowest classes to the highest classes. In some ways, this was good because the classes were more interesting, but I had a lot of catching up to do because the other children in those classes had had a far better education than I had for the past 7 years.
By high school, I had learned how to work the system. I wrote my own excuses in print, then signed my mother's name in cursive. Doing this, I left school every Wednesday afternoon for a 'psychiatric appointment' which they certainly believed I needed, and I found interesting illnesses that would keep me out of school for a week or two at a time. Then I would go canoeing, took a train to Washington, DC for the day, hung out in Central Park sketching, rode the Staten Island Ferry back and forth, and generally enjoyed time on my own. When there was a test, I showed up, took my test, and passed with flying colors. I left for college at 17.
It wasn't until my 3rd attempt at sticking with college that I was diagnosed with ADD and dyslexia. There was another surprise for me. I knew I did not learn well at all by listening, and thought that I must be a visual learner since I have always loved to read. The perceptual testing showed that I was 1 standard deviation below normal in visual learning, and 2 standard deviations below normal in auditory learning. In addition, I have an auditory figure-ground problem - I am unable to filter out the background noise and focus on what I am supposed to be listening to. No wonder I had problems learning in a school environment where much of the lessons were teacher lecture. Plus, even what I thought was my greatest strength, was still a deficit.
Some people rail at the concept of labeling, but to me, it was a tremendous weight lifted. There were neurological reasons that schooling (not learning - that is a very important difference) was difficult for me. This I can understand, can get my mind around, and work with. It wasn't laziness or a personality flaw. It is how I am wired. I have grown to love the way I am wired. It is the core of my creative drive, it is what keeps me interested in everything, it is the spark in my being.
I don't know what my 'Most Likely To' label would have been in my yearbook, but it wouldn't have been teacher. And yet, my schooling experiences are the very things that create my strengths as a teacher. I want no child to go through the schooling hell I lived through, and I know many children are living through today. I am fully aware that children have many avenues of learning, and many talents that may not have had time to come to fruition yet. And I never give up on any of them.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
People's expectations of children can have a very powerful effect on how they perceive themselves and how they develop. Many people think that some children are born with talents, in arts, sports, etc. - some have it, some don't. To some degree, that may be true, but most talent is nurtured and developed.
When I was in grad school, I learned about a study that was done to see how much influence teacher expectations had on how children achieved. In the study, teachers were given numbers (I recall locker numbers being used, but it's been a long time) that were supposed to be the children's IQs. Later, when the children's academic progress was evaluated, the children who had the higher numbers made greater gains, regardless of what their actual IQ was. This had a profound impact on me. Ever since then, I do not want to know information about the children's tested intellectual abilities, and also don't really believe in gifted classes which are based on IQ testing. Teacher bias can have too much of a negative effect.
My observation over 30 years of teaching is this: hold high expectations for all children (not pressure to achieve, but assumption of ability to achieve) and children will achieve talents that may otherwise have been suppressed.
I have been thinking about this because I am in the middle of the most intense part of preparation with the spring musical, and because I believe that how we treat children and other adults can promote talent and self confidence, keep it dormant, or squash it into oblivion.
First of all, the children select the musical, so that they are truly invested in its success. I give them the criteria for selection - appropriate for a young audience, enough juicy parts for a cast the size of the class, and I have to be able to find the script or score. From there, they brainstorm ideas and vote on what musical they would like to perform.
I cast the musicals in a very different way from most directors. I do not audition the children or select by who is most 'talented' or who looks the part. The children choose who they would like to be in the cast, the 6th graders getting first choice as it is more or less their senior project, then the 5th, then the 4th. If two people want the same part, they alternate nights. The point is, that every child who wants a lead role gets to have one by 6th grade, and gets his or her chance to shine as the star in a production.
Yes, sometimes, I have a lead who doesn't sing as well, or have the same acting skills are a child with a smaller part. But what I have found has been that children rise to the expectation of greatness. One of my favorite examples of this was a child who came to my class in 4th grade, from another school where he was having great difficulties. He had some learning delays, ADHD, and was in trouble all of the time. The first musical he was in was Mary Poppins. All he could manage to do that year, was try to read the lines of Mary Poppin's umbrella, off stage, and with my assistance. For the rest of the production, I made him my stage hand.
By contrast, when he was in 6th grade, he wanted to be the King of Siam in The King and I. He was really into it, even shaving his head for the performance. He memorized all of his lines and songs, and they were plenty. He learned to waltz. All during the rehearsals, in his anxiety he was a royal pain in the @$$, messing with props, and generally annoying people.
But when the lights came up on stage, he was ON! His performance was not only flawless, it was moving. For once, I was glad to have to watch the production from back stage because tears were pouring down my cheeks, to see how confident and strong he was on stage. The audience was also moved by this - few expected that he could rise to this challenge. When the King died, everyone in the audience was weeping. Afterwards, many people were telling him that he should consider a career in acting or singing or both.
He is not my only story like this, but I think his is my favorite story because he had come into my class so defeated, and by the time he finished his 6th grade spring musical performance, he was so self-confident and was recognized by many as a very talented young man.
I am not telling this story to toot my own horn, but to make a point about holding everyone to high expectations regardless of which skills they have or have not developed yet. Most often, the lead parts, the best positions in sports, the class recognition, is given to children who already developed those skills. The children who do not come to the table with those skills already honed, never stand a chance of developing them because they are shunted off to less parts, not rotated into the game, not highlighted on the recognition roster. We all have many talents, but they need to be encouraged, fostered, and given the time and opportunity to develop.
This is especially important with children, but adults thrive with the same kind of encouragement. So many times I hear things like, "I would love to play an instrument, but I have no musical ability." Or " I wish I could paint, but I have no artistic talent." We all do, folks. Someone, or many people told you along the way that you didn't have talent or ability; it was shunted off, belittled, or simply not recognized. If you want to do it, then do it! Don't let those musty old inaccurate messages hold you back from things that can bring you joy and fulfillment. For some, talent may be innate, but mostly, it is simply a matter of determination and practice.
So if there are children in your life, hold out the expectation that they have the ability to achieve greatness, even if it is not readily apparent at the moment. Encourage them to pursue their interests (and I'm not talking video games) and to try new things. But do the same for other adults was well. And most especially, do that for you. Take on those things you always wanted to do, but held back from because you 'didn't have talent' or were afraid to try. Your life will be richer, and as a result will also touch other people in a positive and encouraging way.
Learning bass guitar over 50, and having fun!
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Mike took off for his annual Go-Fishing-and-Hunt-for-Morels camping trip with his buds today. I'm single-parenting it until Sunday... Stella, Emmitt, Tex, Vash, and the chickens. I enjoy the quiet and having my own time frame to do things in, especially when life gets as hectic as it does around the time of the spring musical production. I love vacations together, but I also treasure separate vacations. At the moment, I am basking in the quiet of no TV, enjoying the view of approaching dusk from the living room window, as I write today's blog. Stella is stretched out near my feet, Emmitt is muttering parrot-speak, and the chicks are chirping merrily away in the bedroom.
Mike gets antsy in the winter when business is slow. He was in the SeaBees during the Vietnam conflict, and still loves building and working with his hands. For many years, he enjoyed restoring vintage cars, but as he got older, crawling around under cars became just too hard on his body. He enjoyed fixing up a camping trailer for us quite a few years ago, so I suggested that he might enjoy restoring vintage campers.
He has fixed up a few and resold them, but this one is his baby. The style is called a 'Canned Ham' - I think this one is from 1953. When we got it, the insides were almost all rotted out, so he had to tear out the insides and reconstruct it.
Sadly, the old furnace wasn't really an option. When Mike rebuilt the camper, he did so with attention to detail. He used as much of the old cabinetry as possible and stayed as true to the time period as he could. However, he also subtly incorporated a solar collector, so the electricity is generated from solar gain. It can be plugged into an electrical outlet, but that hasn't been necessary.
Now a girl can sit pretty in front of it.
There have been a few additions to the restoration work since I took these photos. Mike has put in a reproduction vintage radio which houses a CD player/radio, and installed a curtain for the bathroom. We have vintage material for the window curtains, but haven't sewn them up yet.
Mike likes to take the camper to blues festivals, on camp outs with friends, and to the Vietnam Veterans' reunions. This weekend, off to hunt the elusive morel mushrooms with our dear friend from Brooklyn.
Last summer we went to the RV Museum in Elkhart, Indiana. This vintage camper looks a lot like ours, although it is made by a different company. In its hay day, ours would have been this shiny.
Monday, April 26, 2010
Lots of news to report today, along with my cloud and bloom journal.
First of all, my MIL, Glenna, had a good sleep last night and is doing much better today. Hopefully, she'll be moved out of ICU and into her own room on Wednesday. Mike is going camping with his buddies on Wednesday, but will only be 3 hours away in case he is needed. It looks like all is well at the moment.
The spring musical is progressing nicely. The leads have their lines memorized and are singing beautifully and sets and costumes are under construction. We get into the theater for rehearsals next Monday; our opening night is Friday, May 7.
I had to go out and buy materials for costumes after school today, making this another 12 hour work day. Tomorrow I have a Personnel Committee meeting and Wednesday, a faculty meeting, so the next few days promise to be at least 10-11 hour work days. Didn't I just blog about finding balance? Balance? Not, apparently, this week.
The chicks are getting to look like miniature chickens. They are so darn cute! I can't wait to get them out of the house, though - my house is starting to smell like a barn. They are dusty little things. I was hoping to have them in their coop this week, but it got too cold out; I have to wait for it to warm back up before moving them outside.
The blue birds do not have so happy a tale to tell. I checked their nest this afternoon to find that something had destroyed it. The nest looked smaller and there was not an egg left in it, no shells, no feathers. The babies would not have had time to hatch and fledge since the last time I checked on them, so I am afraid that disaster struck.
We have gotten some much needed rain over the last couple of days. The foliage is already becoming dense and lush. With the cold front coming through, the skies over Ohio are full of drama.
The old blooms have been floating down with the breeze and the rain, the redbuds making a flurry of pink petals in the wind. The new blooms of late April and early May are making their debuts. In the woods, the mayapples have begun to blossom...
and the ferns are unfurling along the shady borders of my yard.
Iris and tulips are coming into their own.
O thou with dewy locks, who lookest down
Through the clear windows of the morning, turn
Thine angel eyes upon our western isle,
Which in full choir hails thy approach, O Spring!
The hills tell one another, and the listening
Valleys hear; all our longing eyes are turn’d
Up to thy bright pavilions: issue forth
And let thy holy feet visit our clime!
Come o’er the eastern hills, and let our winds
Kiss thy perfumèd garments; let us taste
Thy morn and evening breath; scatter thy pearls
Upon our lovesick land that mourns for thee.
O deck her forth with thy fair fingers; pour
Thy soft kisses on her bosom; and put
Thy golden crown upon her languish’d head,
Whose modest tresses are bound up for thee.
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