Saturday, July 31, 2010

Child Life Refuges

We have all heard of wildlife refuges and the good they bring to plants and animals. We need more refuges for wildlife.

We need more refuges for child life.

The time and spaces for childhood are disappearing as quickly as wildlife wetlands of the once-wild west.

Children, like wildlife, need refuges from our crazed, rushed, and harried world.

Television, the Internet, car-shattered communities, video games, cell phones, and fractured families have changed the world so much that childhood is going extinct.

We are "adulterating" children.

Educational reforms under the current and the previous administrations are transforming kindergartens across the country into mean, but efficient, little literacy/numeracy mills. Kids learn to read and do numbers earlier than ever before, but these achievements have taken a tragic toll: long lessons in reading and math have displaced the time and play and places it takes for children to learn how to care, how to share, how to create beauty, and how to show kindness.

We urgently need to create child-life refuges. We need places where children and all visitors feel completely safe and deeply happy.

We need places where children learn all about kindness and caring. About wonder and beauty and mystery. We need free time for our children in our free country. For we sadly misunderstand freedom if we think it only means the freedom to get rich.

We need places where children know how to honor their feelings. We need places where children are encouraged and guided to cultivate pro-social behaviors of kindness, generosity, compassion, and empathy. We need time to practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty.  We need time to notice how happy they feel when we do kind and beautiful things.

For kindness and beauty are fertile wellsprings of happiness.

We need refuges from our stingy “free market” world. Children need many opportunities to learn deeply that sharing is more important and happier than owning. Too many adults grow up without knowing this. Our society is turning out a lot of "good" consumers as seen from the view of free marketeers, but we're a miserable and lonely bunch.

We need kindergarten refuges where clocks are absent and patience is present and abundant.

We need places where painting and singing and dancing and planting seeds and cleaning up after oneself are the first order of business, not subjects sneaked into the schedule on the sly between bully reading and math lessons.

I do not want to live in a world where only a privileged few are allowed to experience childhood.

We need, in other words, quality public kindergartens as they existed not too long ago. Real KINDERgartens where a a child's happiness and social development is firmly front and center.

A kindergarten like this is what I seek to create in my classroom for my students, for me, and for my community.

How I go about creating a KINDERgarten that honors safety, happiness, and kindness will be the focus of my next few posts.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I am a Teacher Essay

I share with you an essay written by Florida teacher Jamee Miller. It's a eloquent expression of how difficult it can be these days for many teachers:

Essay by Jamee Miller:

I am a teacher in Florida.

I rise before dawn each day and find myself nestled in my classroom hours before the morning commute is in full swing in downtown Orlando. I scour the web along with countless other resources to create meaningful learning experiences for my 24 students each day. I reflect on the successes of lessons taught and re-work ideas until I feel confident that they will meet the needs of my diverse learners. I have finished my third cup of coffee in my classroom before the business world has stirred. My contracted hours begin at 7:30 and end at 3:00. As the sun sets around me and people are beginning to enjoy their dinner, I lock my classroom door, having worked 4 hours unpaid.

I am a teacher in Florida.

I greet the smiling faces of my students and am reminded anew of their challenges, struggles, successes, failures, quirks, and needs. I review their 504s, their IEPs, their PMPs, their histories trying to reach them from every angle possible. They come in hungry—I feed them. They come in angry—I counsel them. They come in defeated—I encourage them. And this is all before the bell rings.

I am a teacher in Florida.

I am told that every student in my realm must score on or above grade level on the FCAT each year. Never mind their learning discrepancies, their unstable home lives, their prior learning experiences. In the spring, they are all assessed with one measure and if they don’t fit, I have failed. Students walk through my doors reading at a second grade level and by year’s end can independently read and comprehend early 4th grade texts, but this is no matter. One of my students has already missed 30 school days this year, but that is overlooked. If they don’t perform well on this ONE test in early March, their learning gains are irrelevant. They didn’t learn enough. They didn’t grow enough. I failed them. In the three months that remain in the school year after this test, I am expected to begin teaching 5th grade curriculum to my 4th grade students so that they are prepared for next year’s test.

I am a teacher in Florida.

I am expected to create a culture of students who will go on to become the leaders of our world. When they exit my classroom, they should be fully equipped to compete academically on a global scale. They must be exposed to different worldviews and diverse perspectives, and yet, most of my students have never left Sanford, Florida. Field trips are now frivolous. I must provide new learning opportunities for them without leaving the four walls of our classroom. So I plan. I generate new ways to expose them to life beyond their neighborhoods through online exploration and digital field trips. I stay up past The Tonight Show to put together a unit that will allow them to experience St. Augustine without getting on a bus. I spend weekends taking pictures and creating a virtual world for them to experience, since the State has determined it is no longer worthwhile for them to explore reality. Yes. My students must be prepared to work within diverse communities, and yet they are not afforded the right to ever experience life beyond their own town.

I am a teacher in Florida.

I accepted a lower salary with the promise of a small increase for every year taught. I watched my friends with less education than me sign on for six figure jobs while I embraced my $28k starting salary. I was assured as I signed my contract that although it was meager to start, my salary would consistently grow each year. That promise has been broken. I’m still working with a meager salary, and the steps that were contracted to me when I accepted a lower salary are now deemed “unnecessary.”

I am a teacher in Florida.

I spent $2500 in my first year alone to outfit an empty room so that it would promote creative thinking and a desire to learn and explore. I now average between $1000-2000 that I pay personally to supplement the learning experiences that take place in my classroom. I print at home on my personal printer and have burned through 12 ink cartridges this school year alone. I purchase the school supplies my students do not have. I buy authentic literature so my students can be exposed to authors and worlds beyond their textbooks. I am required to teach Social Studies and Writing without any curriculum/materials provided, so I purchase them myself. I am required to conduct Science lab without Science materials, so I buy those, too. The budgeting process has determined that copies of classroom materials are too costly, so I resort to paying for my copies at Staples, refusing to compromise my students’ education because high-ranking officials are making inappropriate cuts. It is February, and my entire class is out of glue sticks. Since I have already spent the $74 allotted to me for warehouse supplies, if I don’t buy more, we will not have glue for the remainder of the year. The projects I dream up are limited by the incomprehensible lack of financial support. I am expected to inspire my students to become lifelong learners, and yet we don’t have the resources needed to nurture their natural sense of wonder if I don’t purchase them myself. My meager earning is now pathetic after the expenses that come with teaching effectively.

I am a teacher in Florida.

The government has scolded me for failing to prepare my students to compete in this
technologically driven world. Students in Japan are much more equipped to think progressively with regards to technology. Each day, I turn on the two computers afforded me and pray for a miracle. I apply for grants to gain new access to technology and compete with thousands of other teachers who are hoping for the same opportunity. I battle for the right to use the computer lab and feel fortunate if my students get to see it once a week. Why don’t they know how to use technology? The system’s budget refuses to include adequate technology in classrooms; instead, we are continually told that dry erase boards and overhead projectors are more than enough.

I am a teacher in Florida.

I am expected to differentiate my instruction to meet the needs of my 24 learners. Their IQs span 65 points, and I must account for every shade of gray. I must challenge those above grade level, and I must remediate those below. I am but one person within the classroom, but I must meet the needs of every learner. I generate alternate assessments to accommodate for these differences. My higher math students receive challenge work, and my lower math students receive one-on-one instruction. I create most of these resources myself, after-hours and on weekends. I print these resources so that every child in my room has access to the same knowledge, delivered at their specific level. Yesterday, the school printer that I share with another teacher ran out of ink. Now I must either purchase a new ink cartridge for $120, or I cannot print anything from my computer for the remainder of the year. What choice am I left with?

I am a teacher in Florida.

I went to school at one of the best universities in the country and completed undergraduate and graduate programs in Education. I am a master of my craft. I know what effective teaching entails, and I know how to manage the curriculum and needs of the diverse learners in my full inclusion classroom. I graduated at the top of my class and entered my first year of teaching confident and equipped to teach effectively. Sadly, I am now being micro-managed, with my instruction dictated to me. I am expected to mold “out-of-the-box” thinkers while I am forced to stay within the lines of the instructional plans mandated by policy-makers. I am told what I am to teach and when, regardless of the makeup of my students, by decision-makers far away from my classroom or even my school. The message comes in loud and clear that a group of people in business suits can more effectively determine how to provide exemplary instruction than I can. My expertise is waved away, disregarded, and overlooked. I am treated like a day-laborer, required to follow the steps mapped out for me, rather than blaze a trail that I deem more appropriate and effective for my students—students these decision-makers have never met.

I am a teacher in Florida.

I am overworked, underpaid, and unappreciated by most. I spend my weekends, my vacations, and my summers preparing for school, and I constantly work to improve my teaching to meet the needs of my students. I am being required to do more and more, and I’m being compensated less and less.

I am a teacher in Florida, not for the pay or the hardships, the disregard or the disrespect; I am a teacher in Florida because I am given the chance to change lives for the good, to educate and elevate the minds and hearts of my students, and to show them that success comes in all shapes and sizes, both in the classroom and in the community.

I am a teacher in Florida today, but as I watch many of my incredible, devoted coworkers being forced out of the profession as a matter of survival, I wonder: How long will I be able to remain a teacher in Florida?

Thanks for Teach 5 for passing this essay along to me.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Competitive Kindergartens

I'm proud to be a PUBLIC SCHOOL teacher. I believe in public schools. They are an important foundation, I think, of a democracy.

We're now seeing the emergence of competitive elite schools for the extremely wealthy. I find this trend troubling. Here's an excerpt of an article sent to me by Alan Wood about elite kindergartens. It's called 10 Unbelievable Facts About Competitive Kindergartens. Here you get only 8 of those facts, edited down slightly. For the whole article see the link below.

You probably thought it was a lot of work and stress applying to college, didn’t you? But you weren’t the only one scrambling around to attend interviews, finish your application or find the cash for processing fees. There’s a whole group of toddlers and nursery schoolers getting initiated into the rat race, too, as they — and their parents — try to get accepted into the nation’s most elite kindergartens. Find out just how competitive it is.

    1.    It’s your key into the world of private school: If you can get into the right high school, you have a much better chance of getting into the right Ivy League school, many parents believe, and you can’t get into the right high school if you didn’t go to the right elementary school. A New York Magazine article points to some convincing statistics: Hunter College Elementary School students who make it in as kindergartners (it’s extremely competitive) and last through 3rd grade gain automatic acceptance into the high school. "Since 2002," the article explains, "at least 25 percent of Hunter’s graduating classes have been admitted to Ivy League schools," which is why parents are so obsessed with securing their kids’ future early on.
    2.    Admissions consultants make a killing: Amanda Uhry, an admissions consultant in New York City referenced for a story on, charged families $15,000 in 2008 to help their kids get into kindergarten.
    3.    Nursery schools matter: Some admissions officers actually go to the trouble to visit the preschools of the children who are applying to the kindergarten to watch them in action. Others seem to require that their applicants attended the "right" nursery school and ask parents to submit that information with other paperwork.
    4.    There’s a standardized test: New York Magazine recently published a story about the city’s exclusive kindergartens, explaining that many of the elite private schools require prospectives to take the ERB intelligence test to get in — even at the kindergarten level. Many New York City-area elementary schools won’t even consider children who score below the top three percent.
    5.    Applications at some schools are barely looked at unless they’re submitted within the first couple of days: Forget the race to the top: you’ve got to be first, too. In New York City, some of the top kindergartens won’t even look at applications if they aren’t filled out and turned back in just days after they’re made available.
    6.    Application strategy starts at birth…or before: Parents who are truly serious — or crazy — start competing when their children are really still just infants, researching schools, saving for the high costs, and strategizing for the eventual application process.
    7.    Student candidates audition in play groups: The prospective kindergartner has to be watched as he or she participates in an audition-like play group. What are they watched for? "Somebody who is compatible with our philosophy of education," according the San Francisco school’s assistant headmaster.
    8.    It’s not just American schools: This summer, parents in China camped out for days so that their little ones would have a chance to attend the Changping District Industry Kindergarten, a state-run school. Parents prepare their nursery school-aged children for months so that they can ace the interviews for the state-run schools, which charge tuition, and research donations, although the parents have to sign a piece of paper saying that the donation was voluntary.

You can read the entire article online here: 10 Unbelievable Facts About Competitive Kindergartens

Thursday, July 22, 2010


"You've achieved success in any field when you don't know whether what you're doing is work or play."

–Warren Beatty (1937 - )

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Important Book--Dylan

The Important Thing about Dylan is... he loves his family and friends.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


This summer I bought a second-hand much-neglected canoe. It wanted someone to love it and use it. So I restored to usable condition.

I like to take it out on the Russian River.

And to local lakes.

Last Friday, July 9

I went out

on Spring Lake

for a little exercise and relaxation.

I saw Gavin and his brother out with his Grandparents on a pedal boat.

That's Gavin in the back of the boat.

It's important to get out and enjoy time with family.

I hope everyone is enjoying their summertime.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Important Book--Gavin

The Important Thing about Gavin is that he always keeps us on our toes wondering what he'll say next.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Lobbying in Sacramento

 That's me in the back row to the right of State Senator Simitian, 
the author of Senate Bill 1381.

I joined a group of about 30 kindergarten teachers from around California to advocate for changing the minimum age for starting kindergarten. Right now, California is one of only 4 states that allows four year-old children to attend kindergarten.

For at least 20 years, the California Kindergarten Association (also known as CKA, of which I am a member) has been trying to change California State Education law so that a child must be 5 years old by September 1 to start kindergarten.

Raising the entry age for kindergarten students makes a lot of sense. Over these two decades the kindergarten curriculum has come to resemble the first grade curriculum of yore. Most four year old children are too young to benefit from such "academic" instruction required by the state standards of our era.

Even though you'd think that changing the entrance age for kindergarten would be a "no-brainer," we have not been able to bring California into line with the rest of the country.

This year, however, it appears that—for the first time—we might be able to get something on the Governor's desk.

I carpooled over to Sacramento Wednesday, June 30 to support SB 1381 in the Assembly Education Committee's hearing of the bill. We were successful. The Senate Bill received unanimous support in the Assembly, a minor feat these days.

There are, of course, still many hoops yet to negotiate. Given the state of California politics, even the most sensible bills can fail to become law. This time, I'm hopeful.

I have my fingers crossed.