My Letter to Governor Rick Scott

Dear Governor Scott,
We are a large group of students, who, like the majority, believe that the state should NOT base a Florida Public School teacher’s pay on the two or 3 days of standardized testing of their students.
Since you apparently have never had the opportunity to get a clear picture of who we really are or where we come from, we would like to introduce ourselves to you, as we gather this morning in the classrooms across our great state, to take the FCAT.
Hello Governor:
1) I’m a student who got 4 hours of sleep last night due to my parents fighting until 3am.
2) I’m a student who slept in my mom’s car last night, due to my uncle throwing us out of the house. We washed up at the McDonalds bathroom and I’m coming to school in the same clothes I wore yesterday.
3) I’m a student who stayed up texting my boyfriend all night because we had this huge fight and that is all that is on my mind now.
4) I’m a student who can’t process the paragraph I’m reading because I’m not on my ADD meds, because we lost our insurance and my parents can’t afford it.
5) I’m a student who is taking my little brother’s ADHD meds and selling them at school to the kid sitting beside me in testing.
6) I’m a student sitting behind the kid who is not on his ADHD meds and who is constantly trying to get my attention and making faces at me when the proctors aren’t looking.
7) I’m a student whose parents have locked me in my bedroom and taken everything away because I got caught sneaking out of the house. I hate them so much right now that I can’t even concentrate.
8.) I’m a student who is feeling so much anger and is about to haul off and beat on someone because I get berated every day by my mom’s boyfriend, who calls me a stupid little boy.
9) I’m a student who is hungry but gives my free school breakfast away each day, to a kid who says he’ll beat me up if I don’t.
10) I’m a student feeling nauseous and whose secret is about to be exposed because I have to tell my parents I’m pregnant.
11) I’m a student who was abused last night but can’t tell anyone for fear that my abuser will hurt me worse.
12) I’m a student that stayed up playing Farmville, downloading music, and talking on Facebook all night because my parents allow me to have my computer in my room.
13) I’m a student whose mom is dying of cancer and that is all I can think about right now.
14) I’m a really tired student who works 30 hours a week at Burger King, so I can help pay the bills my mom can’t pay on her own, even though she works full-time at Wal-Mart.
15) I’m a student who just doesn’t care about anything right now. My life sucks and this test doesn’t mean a thing to me. None of it does, I’m never going anywhere anyway!
16) I’m a student with a really bad cough and cold this morning, but my parents wouldn’t let me stay at home. I can’t even think straight, I took cold medicine but I am still hacking my head off.
17) I’m a student sitting next to the student hacking their head off. It’s really bugging me.
18) I’m a student who skipped a question that I thought was difficult and then I started bubbling in the next answer on the wrong line, so half of my test is all messed up. I don’t realize this, because I didn’t have time to go back and check.
19) I’m a student who just got placed in a foster home last night. My mother and father were both arrested. I’m worried and thinking about what will happen to them and me.
20) I’m a student who just got moved from one foster home to another and was immediately threatened by another foster kid there. I’m scared.
21) I’m a student who does try, but I simply have a low IQ and work very slow. I didn’t qualify for any exceptional student services or modifications because the state believes that we can all be mainstreamed and become high achieving, Level 5, students.
22) I’m one of many students who’s been distracted by the kids with behavior issues in my class, all year. I try to pay attention, but my teacher has had to spend a lot of time dealing with disrespectful students.
23) I’m one of the many students with behavior problems in my class. My parents don’t do anything when I get in trouble, so why should I come to class to learn, when I get so much attention for keeping everyone laughing? It’s fun!
24) I’m a student whose family is moving back to GA tomorrow to live with my grandma. We lost our house when mom got sick and dad lost his job. I don’t want to move. I don’t want to leave my friends. I’m sad.
25) I’m a student who sleeps in a bed with my little brother and little sister. We all sleep together since there are no other beds. I stay awake half the night, with them crying and tossing around and kicking me. I’m so tired and very sleepy.
26) I’m a student who gets bullied every day because of my clothes. I haven’t had new ones in a long time since my dad had the accident and lost his job. The clothes I wear are usually holey and dirty, since we have no washer and no money to go to the laundromat. I try to wash them in the bathtub myself, but it doesn’t get them very clean.
27) I’m a student whose Dad was just shot 2 days ago in the war in Afghanistan. He’s been gone over a year and I am so worried about him.
28) I’m a student whose mom just got sent to Afghanistan as part of the Reserves. She is my rock and biggest supporter and I am so afraid she will die over there!
29) I’m a student whose parents just divorced and my dad moved away with my brother yesterday. I did not want us all to be split up and that’s all that is on my mind right now.
30) I’m a student whose grandmother died last night. My parents thought it would be good for me to come to school, to take my mind off that fact.
31) I’m a student who has skipped school so many times I can’t keep up with everything. I’m lost on this test.
32) I’m a student who just started at this school 2 days ago. It’s my 4th school this year. I was living with my aunt, while mom was in rehab, and then back across town with mom when she got out the first time. Then I had to move to Grandma’s house, and a new school, because my mom relapsed. Grandma said she couldn’t handle me, so now I’m at another aunt’s house and another school. Hopefully this will be the last!
33) I’m a student whose teenage sister ran away last night. I’m really worried about her.
34) I’m a student who is really smart, but is sick and tired of my delinquent brother getting all of my mom and dad’s attention. They’re trying to bribe him with money to make good grades, but I don’t get anything, because I have always made As! Maybe if I just Christmas tree this test and fail, they’ll notice me!
35) I’m a very smart student whose parents want her to go to the private prep school across town. You have to have a certain GPA and FCAT scores to get in. I do not want to leave all the friends I’ve had since Kindergarten, so I am failing this test on purpose!
36) I’m a student who just doesn’t care. Just for kicks, I’m going to Christmas tree this test and see what happens. It’ll be funny!
37) I’m a girl who started menstruating for the first time ever, this morning on the bus. Right before we started testing, I had to go to the clinic and get clean pants. My mom has never talked to me about this happening, but maybe she thought she had more time. I’m only a 4th grader. I’m really freaked out.
38) I’m a student who has test anxiety, big time! I can do great if you ask me a question aloud, or just on regular school work, but say the word “test” and I start sweating!
39) I’m a student who has to baby-sit my younger brothers and sisters every night while mom works. I’m 12. I cook supper and do everything else that a mom usually does. I don’t have that much time to study and am always tired and falling asleep in school. I want to do better, but I’m doing the best I can.
40) I’m a third grade student who just pooped a little, in my pants, right after the test began, but no one knows. I’m too afraid and too embarrassed to tell the teacher. It is all I can think about. I wonder if I smell bad. My mind is not on the test.
41) I’m a girl who is literally starving herself to death. I’m anorexic and of course I don’t think it’s hurting my brain, but it has and I can’t remember half of what my teacher taught me this year.
42) I’m a student who believes that teachers’ pay should not be based on a 2 or 3 day test taken by their students. I have started a petition and a state wide effort to convince everyone to invalidate the tests by leaving the answer sheets blank, skipping every other one, or just connecting the dots, in a really artistic manner.

Respectfully submitted,

Anonymous But Real Florida Public School students

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Where Does All My Time Go?

I need 7 more hours in each day.  Notify the proper authorities, please.   An article teaser on my daily newsletter said I could find it somewhere, but I haven’t found  time to read the article.  Personal writing is sadly the activity I’m not getting to do these days! (dusting and mopping took a quiet slide off the list as well).    I must however take a few minutes to share some hopeful news !  The No-Name Wall of Shame has been highly effective and no nameless papers have gone up now for over 2 weeks!  My controversial approach paid off !

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The No-Name Wall of Shame

I slipped into a lavendar and epsom infused bath a little while ago and began my daily meditation. After several minutes of my engine choking and sputtering, my body and mind made peace and it wasn’t too long before I actually felt my scalp tingling! Self congratulations and accolades flitted through my brain and then it hits me- my headband is digging into my scalp and there you have it-the root of all tingling! So much for thinking I had reached a higher level of consciousness, but I won’t be daunted by the fact that I am not yet a yogi. In fact, the mere possibility that I had reached some tantric nirvana put me at ease, if only for a short while before I began to think of school, my kids, and the daily eurekas and dilemnas that fill my days with reasons to keep on doing what I do, in the face of all the reasons that a truly sane person would just call it a day.

Faced with an ever-increasing pile of student work that had been completed but had no name on it, I attacked it with possible solution # 10. Seriously, folks, I’ve tried at least that many other ways to deal with it! On a recent afternoon, I greeted the tenth hour of my workday as I sat grading papers while the custodian was sweeping my classroom. He kindly inquired about the source of my very vocal grumbling and I shared the extent of the problem and the solutions I’d already tried. I bemoaned what a shame it was for students to put forth the effort and go through the motions but then not get any credit for it. They’ve been in school for 7 years so this “name on your paper first thing” business is not a novel idea. He suggested that since it was such a shame, that I create a “No Name Wall of Shame” and hang all the no name work on it, in clear view, for the perpetrators to see. Surely that would be a reminder and would seriously cut down on recidivism. 

Let’s just say I’m glad I didn’t bet on it. The wall is close to being covered, concurrently with the zeros in the grade book.

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This week is Constitution Week.  Although I’d do it anyway, our state law requires us to teach students about our country’s constitution during this time period.  As a reading /language arts teacher, it provides an excellent opportunity to teach about primary sources and non-fiction text strategies.  As we broke the preamble down word by word and discussed the meaning of The Bill of Rights in the language of 6th graders, many questions arose about rights, freedoms, and perceived injustices existing in the face of the ideals envisioned by the architects of the constitution.  They were aghast when I revealed to them the many freedoms and benefits they take for granted every day, juxtaposed with the lack of those freedoms in other countries.  Of course, I wouldn’t have expected 11-13 year olds to know that North Koreans aren’t allowed cell phones or internet access, or that the ethnic Han Chinese living in urban areas are limited to having one child.  (Although one of my more cultured students was aware.) The majority were shocked to hear that children in third world countries actually starve each day or die from preventable diseases.  Most assumed that schoolchildren everywhere have schools with desks, books, and supplies, not to mention running water.  They had no idea that if arrested in certain countries for certain crimes, there’s a real possibility that one may never see the light of day again. 

Today also happened to be the day President Obama made his address to the schoolchildren, coinciding nicely with a lesson about our country’s most important document. Before, during, and after last year’s speech to the schoolchildren, there was outrage from factions who felt the president was using his voice and the media to indoctrinate the captive schoolchildren and brainwash them with Socialist subliminal messages. At our school last year, some parents actuallly kept their children home so they wouldn’t hear the speech.  Other parents called to complain when Johnny went home and told them what happened at school that day.  Non-confrontational people pleaser that I am (when I’m not secretly rebelling), I gave my students a non-judgemental out, giving them the choice to listen to the president’s speech or not. (An excellent concrete example of the kind of freedom they enjoy as citizens of the USA.)  Five of my nineteen students chose not to listen to the speech.  The only requirement I gave was that they, like their peers who were listening to the speech, write about it.  While students who watched the speech wrote about the messages they got from the president, the students who opted out were required to write about why they chose not to listen to the speech.  Our in-class post-speech discussion was meaningful and positive. It was evident that my watchers were engaged in listening and truly received the hopeful, affirming message the president delivered to them.  After school, I read the reasons my non-watchers gave for their choice.  “Obama sucks” was what 3 out of 5 wrote, with no supporting evidence or details.  One student cited his parents hated Obama and therefore wouldn’t want him watching the speech.  Another claimed Obama has not kept any of his promises and has hurt the country ( again with no specific supporting details).  

Tomorrow I’ll utilize a really cool animation I found that allows them to click and remove freedoms one by one, to see how life without those freedoms would change the look of a virtual town.  Our constitution grants us freedom of speech and press, and I hope that by providing my students with those rights today, I made a lasting and  positive impression.

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OWL in this case stands for older white lady (I am MOST CERTAINLY not old yet), and rap is what I did today to get my students’ attention in a multiple intelligence, differentiated learning kind of way.  For those of you who’ve been in education for a while, you’re familiar with those two terms, which just like everything else in the education world and life, are cycling back around as the new buzz words.  The topic was our prefix of the week, “post”, which means after, and the vocabulary words beginning with that prefix.   I think I did a fairly good job considering  who I am and my personal skill set, which does include pretty righteous rhyming , but in the musical arena, is sadly limited to barely able to keep a beat.  There were a few laughs and giggles, but I forewarned them about literally falling out of their chairs laughing.  I got huge rounds of applause and a few kind-hearted kids told me I did a really good job.  Hopefully the references I made with real life scenarios and events in popular tween culture made some solid gold connections to the words they needed to learn!  We’ll see on Friday, test day.  I challenged them  to use a variety of ways to demonstrate their knowledge to me, so we’ll see if I have any takers.  Last week, when given the choice of 7 different multiple intelligence activities, one brave little soul got up and sang “a cappella” summarizing  a story we’d read, one pair of students actually did a rap/mime combo, a few created game boards based on the story, some illustrated character, setting, and plot, while the majority of the students chose the easiest route, making a timeline of events.  The road not taken is certainly not for everyone though, so that’s ok.  As my biological children will attest, one of dear ole mom’s most frequently used sayings while they were growing up was “different strokes for different folks”.  

Their autobiographies are due on Friday and I’ve already read some rough drafts containing shockingly sad accounts of their young lives.  I give this assignment every year as a way of getting to know my students, and it’s always a mixed bag of emotions that are illicited in me.  As I read, some make me feel helpless, some sympathetic, and some I even marvel at and admire.  In the end, we do what we can.  We stay calm and carry on.

PS (that happens to be one of our prefix words this week-postscript)  I wonder if I could make money marketing my OWL Raps!

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Week 2 – The Real Gardening Work Begins

Today marked the beginning of the 2nd week of school for us. I overheard one of my peers comment on the fact that the “getting to know you stuff”  was over.  Of course, they weren’t inferring that we’ve already learned everything we’re going to learn about our students.  Just that those “intentional” activities were mostly over and the real curriculum, benchmark, and standards coverage now begins.  Procedures have been taught, routines established, momentum gained, and most importantly in the lower grades, relationships have been cultivated.  Like nursery workers, farmers, and gardeners, we’re  in the business of cultivating students, helping them grow, hopefully into productive citizens that enrich, nourish, and in their own individual ways, beautify our world.

Today, a child’s formal education often begins in preschool, but back in the day, kindergarten was the precursor to all formal education.   The word “kindergarten”, which originated from the German , literally means “children’s garden”.  Friedrich Fröbel (1782-1852) coined the word referring to his method of developing intelligence in young children.  The first kindergarten was established in England in 1850 by , a German Catholic priest named Johannes Ronge.   As educators, (and parents- beginning at birth) we plant the seeds, water, tend to, fertilize, prop up when needed, and display the fruit of the harvest when it is produced.   It is, in my humble opinion, extremely important work, second only to parenting on the difficulty scale. 

The first week was all about preparing the soil.  We went about the crucial work of tilling, turning the soil over, and examining what we had to work with.  We analyzed it through reactions, responses given, and stories told.  We added nutrients needed to build self esteem, commraderie, and feelings of safety and belonging.  We got a feel for the “lay of the land”, so to speak.  I personally learned that the majority of my students live in homes where there are NOT 2 parents.  Some eat dinner by themselves.  Some prepare their own dinners because parents and guardians are working.  On weekdays, some see their parents for fewer “waking hours” than they see me.   One student does homework and reads in the bathroom, the quietest place in the house.  Their letters to me revealed an overwhelmingly present theme, the desire to do well, sprinkled with varying amounts of self-doubt.  As a master gardener, it’s up to me to note which ones need more tending , which can grow next to another without overtaking, and which need some seriously strong stakes for propping up.

The heat index where I live was 105 today, but regardless of the temperature outside, before we reach the end of another school year, a full range of weather will permeate the walls of my classroom and affect my “plants”.  I will deal with droughts and floods, earthquakes and rainstorms, as well as calm and beautiful, “blue sky” days.  I will strive to protect and strengthen the plants in my care, while cultivating in them the necessary skills needed to be successful in their futures. Weeds will most certainly be a problem, as any long time gardener can attest to.  And let’s not forget that one strong wind can set the the tumbleweed of derision in motion.  Hopefully my stock of organic interloper solutions will curtail the growth and create an environment in which derision is “not cool”.    

So my fellow gardening aficiandos, it’s that time of day.  Time to hang up the hat, shake the dirt out of the clogs, and let the cool of the evening soothe the heat blanched among us.  Before we know it, the morning dew will kiss us awake and the business of tending the garden will begin again.  This master  gardener is headed to hose off and get a refreshing drink from the cistern.

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Day 1

19 kids.  Great first impressions.  One red flag.  With the new class size amendment, I actually have room to walk around the desks without sucking it in and holding my breath as I weave my way through the obstacle course of huge 6th grade bodies and their desks.   With the walk-ins we had today, our school now has classrooms that are over the mandated maximum though, so it will be interesting to see what happens as the week progresses.  I am uber tired from standing in “professional” shoes for 8 hours and hoarse from talking, talking, talking.  Looking forward to Day 2 and the growth I know I’ll witness as the year unfolds.

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