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Faith

28 Jul

Lucas Cuartas was in one of my fourth grade classes in Medellín, Colombia. I think it was in 1992-93 school year, because Pablo Escobar was still on the run and times were crazy.  There were police searches, car bombs and assassinations by vigilantes, and paramilitaries on all sides.

Lucas Cuartas was absent one day. The Columbus School was a private school for wealthy families, and kids were rarely absent, so Lucas’ absence was notable. It wasn’t until someone official arrived – the counselor, our principal, I don’t remember who – arrived at our door that I knew his absence was extraordinary. Miss Vicky, the religion teacher, might have been there too.

My small class of 20ish students sat silently as they were told that Lucas and his family had gone out for pizza the night before. As they drove past a police roundabout, a bomb went off, blowing the roundabout to bits. The car was sent rolling. Lucas had a broken arm, but his mom was in very serious condition.

When I was in teacher’s college, no one prepared us to share this sort of tragic news with our class. Maybe they do now, but in Medellín, Colombia, though it was not an everyday experience, few families or classes had been untouched by the violence of that city and country in that particular period. In the class next door, a girl disappeared from one day to the next after her father had been found, assassinated and dumped in a hole by right wing vigilantes who felt they had proof that he worked for Pablo Escobar. Rumor had it that the girl’s mother had taken the remainder of her family and fled to Argentina.

But there were my fourth graders, facing their own tragedy that touched on our classroom family. I think there was a call for questions, I don’t really remember. I do remember, though that a sweet girl named veronica raised her hand.

“Can we pray for Lucas and his family?” was her simple question.

Chairs scraped on linoleum as every kid in my class, including the one Jewish student we had in a room full of Catholics, knelt on the floor to pray.

A few days later, I went with my principal to a mass for Lucas’ mom, who wasn’t doing well. She recovered some weeks later. Lucas returned to school in a cast, but my class felt so much closer than we had before.

I think often about the contrast between the formality of the mass and the simplicity of the prayers of my class. I don’t know if one had more impact on the outcome of the Cuartas family’s tragedy than the other. But I am still awed by the power I felt in that classroom as my students prayed. There is a verse from Hebrew that says that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” That classroom was filled with faith, hope and love for others. If we all had the conviction of those fourth graders and followed the guidelines and safety protocols public health officials keep repeating to keep ourselves and others safe, we will be able to go back to normal, sooner, rather than later. I have faith in that.

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Packing up the room

19 May

Two years ago, I was told on the last day of school that I would be moved to a different grade and team. I had anticipated this news and had started packing up weeks ahead.

Last year, on the last day of school, my entire hall was told we would be moving to a different hall. I packed my room in one day, fueled by frustration and anger.

This year. Oh, this year!

This year, we are being given three days to pack up. Only one teacher per team can be there on any given day. A spreadsheet sign-up has been sent out. The school will provide boxes and gloves. It will be a bring your own mask party.

I hope pack up 2021 is less eventful.

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Fear itself

7 Mar

“Is Outdoor School going to be cancelled?” asked several students when they arrived to school on Monday. The sixth grade teachers at my school have been reassuring them all week. The administrators and office staff have been reassuring their parents. A letter has gone home to parents from the Outdoor School coordinators And yet, a few students have decided they won’t attend Outdoor School next week.Oregon only has 3 confirmed cases of COVID-19. This are far more serious in Seattle, only three hours away, but we are holding steady. So, there really shouldn’t be anything to panic about. I’d heard about people loading up, preparing to hunker down in the face of a global pandemic. Stories of face masks, toilet paper,  and hand sanitizer disappearing from shelves are rife in the news and in the rumor mill. I was down to my last roll of toilet paper, so stopped to get some today. I was gobsmacked when I went to the bathroom tissue aisle.

I guess it’s not just 6th graders who are worried.I bought the amount of toilet paper I normally buy. I am washing my hands frequently. I am planning on attending Outdoor School next week. I believe cornoavirus is terrible, but I think, we will be OK.  I am washing my hands frequently and  living by Roosevelt’s idea that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.  

Another mountain to conquer

6 Mar

Every year, my teaching partner and I think we have assignments perfectly timed out.

We never do.

You think we’d learn, but we don’t.  A few weeks ago, we were laughing and celebrating the freedom we felt because our grading was caught up and we could just concentrate on being good teachers. We complimented ourselves on the schedule we’d created and how well spread out assignments were.

We were fools.

Here’s what I brought home tonight so I can start chipping away at it.

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73  Teen activist books

73 Book reports

73 tests

You know what I’ll be up to for the next little while.

 

 

 

 

School’s out…there was some drama

18 Jun

Act 1

INT. Classroom – Last Day of school

Sixth graders are sitting on floor. Two girls are singing in front of room. Three teachers are huddled on one side of room. One stands alone on the other side. One of the three teachers is mouthing words to the lone teacher. She cannot understand so walks over to the group.

ME THE TEACHER: My lip-reading sucks. What’s up?

TEACHER 1: We are moving to Orange Hall.

ME THE TEACHER: What??? Are you joking?

TEACHER 2: No. Go check your email.

As Me the Teacher weaves through the mass of 6th grade bodies, Teacher 3 paces and mutters to himself.

Act 2

EXT. Later the same day on the playing field

Sixth graders are gathered on the field in various groups. Some are running. Some are signing yearbooks. A group is sitting in the grass playing with their Magic cards. A lone boy wanders, playing a harmonica.

ME THE TEACHER: The timing is bad, but there might be some perks to the move.

TEACHER 3: The locker room is bigger in Orange hall and, because we will be on the first floor, we will have direct outside access.

TEACHERS 1 & 2: I was thinking the same thing.

Act 3

INT. Classroom – Teacher’s Last Day of school

Me the Teacher is frantically packing. She is disheveled and her face is very red.

Act 4

INT. Classroom – Teacher’s Last Day of school

CUSTODIAN: Are you ready?

ME THE TEACHER: Yes. I didn’t think it was possible,  but I got it all packed up.

CUSTODIAN: This move means a lot of extra work for us.

ME THE TEACHER: I know and I am sorry, but have a great summer.

Custodian exits.

Me the Teacher does one last sweep of the classroom, turns off the lights and exits the room, closing the door behind her.

FADE OUT

 

 

 

 

How we roll

30 Apr

Once a month, my teaching partner and I sit down and formally plan out the upcoming month. We sit down together every day to talk over the day and eat second breakfast but this is our most formal of meetings.

As we sat to plan May, we realized how close the end of the year really is, so we decided to plan June as well, since it had only two weeks of school.  There was so much we still wanted to do – and we couldn’t make it fit. Outdoor School (ODS) had been moved  to June 4-7, taking out almost a week. We’d scheduled speeches for the week before ODS. We could wedge things in, but they’d start before and end, rather awkwardly, after ODS. we felt frustrated.

“What if we scrap it all?” I asked. “We could move the speeches to the last week of school and then plan backwards.” This was a radical concept for us. We always started on the first of a month and planned forward, knowing what we didn’t accomplish could spill into the next month. But there were no next months for us this time around. And so we boldly took the plunge.

And it worked. We are planned through June.

We always know our monthly plans are subject to change, but we have a roadmap in place and can face any detours because that’s how we roll.

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Pay Attention, Readers!

22 Apr

Some books are just fun to read aloud. There is a clear definition of tone when certain characters talk. There might be humor, or sarcasm. There is a theme or series of events that capture the interest of the audience.

Read aloud is one of my favorite parts of my day. I often joke that teaching is performance art, but reading out loud truly is. You will know this if you have ever listened to a poorly read audiobook.

Last week, I started reading aloud Pay Attention, Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt and the kids and I are hooked.

The main character, Carter Jones, talks in long run-on sentences and I think the kids like seeing how long I can go without taking a breath. The Butler speaks in very proper English. I wish my English accent were better, but I get the point across. And even though everyone in the book is very white, my majority minority class is hooked because of the witty battle of wills between Carter and The Butler, but also because of the way cricket is woven throughout. Cricket in the sense of the precursor to baseball. I have kids who actually know about cricket. This might be the book I use as the first read aloud of next year.

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Publisher’s Summary: Carter Jones is astonished early one morning when he finds a real English butler, bowler hat and all, on the doorstep—one who stays to help the Jones family, which is a little bit broken.

In addition to figuring out middle school, Carter has to adjust to the unwelcome presence of this new know-it-all adult in his life and navigate the butler’s notions of decorum. And ultimately, when his burden of grief and anger from the past can no longer be ignored, Carter learns that a burden becomes lighter when it is shared.

Be quiet, we’re testing!

16 Apr

As much as I loathe standardized testing, I take it very seriously.

I post messages on the board reminding students to bring their fully charged Chromebook, but leave their phones behind. I put a box of kleenex on each table so students have no need to get up and wander to get one. I faithfully read the script everyday. I wear my serious face.

It was the fourth and final day of testing and students had just logged on. I was sitting in front of my computer, having clicked “approve” for most students and awaiting the last few who were still jumping through the log-in hoops. The room was silent as it should be. A few phones and smart watches sat in the testing box beside me. All was well – and then it happened.

A tiny squeaky little fart.

It happened at the table to my immediate right. You could see the eyes of everyone at the table grow large. They looked from one to another. A student at the adjacent table whipped their head around. The rest of the room sat in oblivious silence – a silence that hung in the air for a millisecond – until I made eye contact with a student.

We started to giggle. I tried to maintain my serious testing face, but the harder I tried the greater I failed. Before too long, I was laughing harder than any one – a silent body shaking laugh I was trying to control because this was a serious testing day. I closed my eyes. I squeezed them tight in an effort to get myself under control. I scooted my chair back so I would look at the floor when I finally opened my eyes.

Gradually, my laughter ebbed. Once more I was in control, a serious test proctor.

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SBAC Math

9 Apr

Even though I was administering the ELA test, yesterday’s first session of state testing was all about Math for me.

Six sets of headphones. Until a student pulled one set out of the bag and the headphone jack fell off. 6-1=5. Five sets of headphones.

I teach at a more affluent school than I used to. At my old elementary school, we tested in a lab and each computer had its own headset. We wiped them down between tests.

My current school – a middle school – most kids have earbuds and everyone has a Chromebook, so we test in our rooms and kids are supposed to bring their own earbuds. Of course they didn’t. They’re middle schoolers and it was a Monday! Hence, my SBAC Math test.

Five sets of headphones + 8 students with hands up needing to borrow a pair = lots of juggling and wiping of earbuds for me.

I hope they all remember their headphones the rest of the week.

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What to wear

27 Aug

I can’t say that I’ve spent the whole weekend thinking about what to wear today, the first day of school. I can say that I have given it more than just a passing thought. I was planning on wearing a skirt, but it looks as though I will have tp participate in a game at the “Welcome 6th graders” assembly. Although there is little chance I will fall @$$ over teakettle and expose myself, I believe it is better to be safe than sorry.

A teacher’s first day outfit needs to send a couple of messages:

  • I am professional
  • I know my stuff
  • I am fun
  • I care about you

I am sure there are students out there, getting ready for their first day of school thinking thoughts similar to mine. There are some who have given it no thought at all. There also others whose mother will make the decision for them.

First day of school clothing gets me thinking about Counting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan. This is the book I snorted over at the TCRWP institute two weeks ago.

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Willow, the main character, makes a poor choice about her first day outfit, although she uses flawless logic to come to her decision. To her mother’s credit, although she knows Willow’s choice is a poor one, she lets her wear it.

Another book that gets me thinking about back-to-school is All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson. Imogene’s descriptions of her teachers on the first day made me crack up.

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Happy first day to students and colleagues starting today, to those who have already started, and to those who have yet to start.

Randy Ribay

YA author, teacher, nerd

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