Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Just in time for the holidays! Tech is making me stupid!

My latest post over at Silicon Valley Moms blog seems to have touched a nerve with a lot of people. It's called "Technology is Making Me Stupid" and it's about losing my car -- a friend's car actually -- at the mall and having to call my family to come rescue me.

The craziest thing about this post is that I vowed two weeks ago to stop parking and simultaneously erase from all memory where I put the car. Except that I did it again yesterday. Yesterday! How quickly we forget. So I'm crafting my New Year's resolution early. This year I resolve not to be an idiot about parking my car.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Reflections of a public school newbie

My kindergartner has been in public school for fewer than 200 days, and I've already been thoroughly "schooled" in how little I know about elementary education. Having taught at a university for the better part of a decade, I think of myself as an educator. But this fall has taught me that the differences between teaching highly motivated adults at graduate school and teaching 4, 5 and 6 year olds (all in the same class!) are enormous. If adult students are from Mars, kindergartners are from a galaxy far, far away.

I volunteer in my son's class 5-6 times a month. Every time I leave the classroom, I'm in stimulus overdrive. Five cleansing breaths and a brisk walk later, my nerves are only slightly less frayed. The reserves of patience I try to tap into when I work with a challenging kindergartner never seem quite deep enough. The teacher often asks me to work with a boy in class who truly can not sit still, who runs away from the classroom, who won't make eye contact, and who generally says "I can't do it" about every task he faces. I try to teach him to count to five, but it's as if he doesn't know what numbers are. We work on writing his name, but he rarely makes it past the first two letters. After 15 minutes or so, the teacher usually takes over. I go find another table of smiling, wiggly, eager kids to work with. I breathe easier. I smile and help them. I feel useful.

As I leave the classroom, I often wish I had been more creative with the challenging boy. Could I have worked with him longer, if only to give the teacher a longer respite so she could focus on the other kids?

The teachers in my son's classroom are wonderful. Kind, patient, creative -- and they are both female. So are most of the parent volunteers. Sometimes I wonder if the boy I work with would react differently to a man? Would he try harder? Make more of an effort? Perhaps not, but it's interesting to note how few male teachers there are at our school. From my own experiences co-teaching courses with women and men, I know that adult students often respond very differently to male professors than female ones.

Phillip Done is a third-grade teacher at a local Silicon Valley public school. He's one of those beloved teachers who has been teaching for twenty-plus years and has received several national teaching awards. Mr. Done recently published a book of his thoughts about teacherhood called Close Encounters of the Third-Grade Kind. I just finished reading it for the SVMoms Book Club, and as I read it, I often wished I could be in Mr. Done's classroom. Many of the chapters are light and funny, like the one about gifts in which he talks about "Mug Week" (right before Christmas) when all teachers receive their "#1 Teacher" mugs from their students. Or for the male teachers, their novelty ties that play Christmas carols. (Note to self: perhaps we should just give gift cards to the teachers this year!)

The book's serious chapters shed light on the humanity of a caring, loving teacher. There are tear stains on at least three pages in my copy of the book. Reading about a girl named Rebecca, I was reminded of the boy I try to help in kindergarten.

Rebecca had trouble reading and lacked confidence to read aloud in class. Her mom was in jail and she was being raised by her grandparents. She fought at school and cried because she missed her mom. Worrying about her one night, Mr. Done hit upon the idea of having her read to the dog that comes to school a few times a week with the school secretary. He pitched it to the girl as a way she could help out the secretary, who was too busy to read the Max, the school's beloved golden Lab. After a few weeks of reading with Max, Rebecca's reading and confidence had improved. She chose books that she thought Max would love and got excited to read to him. Wiping away my tears, I kept wondering if there is a similar way that I could help the boy in my son's class. I haven't thought of any yet, but I have resolved to keep trying.

Even though I'm a newbie parent at my son's school, I know how vital it is to have caring, creative, kind teachers for all children. I'm grateful that my son has such a teacher and that great teachers like Mr. Done are sharing their stories so the rest of us can learn a thing or two about how it's done.

Erica also blogs for SVMoms. She received a copy of the book Close Encounters of the Third-Grade Kind for free as part of the SVMoms Group Book Club. She had hoped to give it to a friend as a Christmas gift but had an incident with some hummus while reading it.

Kids Say the Darndest Things!

Art Linkletter used to host a show called "Kids Say the Darndest Things". I don't think I realized how right he was until I had two kids of my own. I once read a blog by a Mom who was lamenting that now that her kids were older, they either didn't say so many unintentionally funny things, or if they did, they were too embarrassed to let her share the stories with friends and family. Apparently the window for maximum verbal cuteness is from about 2 to about 6.

Since my two don't care (and Rainman likes it when I tell funny stories about what he's said), I'm going to make this an annual end-of-year recap of the funnier moments we've shared.

1. "Dat beazer was SOOOO dead!" -- Red's take-away from seeing a dead beaver on a hike with her preschool and learning that when animals die, they don't ever wake up.

2. "Mama, does Hanukkah or Kwanzaa come first?" -- Not so inherently funny, except that Rainman woke us up at 6:30 this morning NEEDING TO KNOW THE ANSWER to this burning question. We celebrate neither of these holidays, mind you.

3. Rainman dipping his toast into his egg yolk, eating a fried egg: "I'm getting my toast and my egg together for a playdate in their swimming pool".

4. Red noticing the cat's rear-end, "I don't like she's belly button!"

5. Rainman after weeks of rain keeping us indoors in February: "It's no fair that the plants get to play outside in the rain. I wish I could bring everything inside -- all the plants, houses, cars, sky, planets, universe, Milky Way galaxy, and even the rain. Then I could go play outside."

4. Red, after getting buckled into Grandmommy's car announced: "OK, babycakes, let's go!"

3. When asked what he was thankful for last Thanksgiving, Rainman answered "You, hearts, myself, water, milk, juice and stuff like that. Oh and car smoke!" ( I'm pretty sure we had the only four year old who was thankful for tailpipe emissions. )

2. Red, getting ready to sing for us: "Everybody make some noise!" (She saw a cartoon version of a Kiss concert and has learned a few choice heavy metal-isms.)

1. "Mom, I've always wanted Christmas to be every day".