Tuesday, January 27, 2009

All Hail the Power of Bauer


We watch too much 24.

My son-in-law got me addicted. Two years ago, he insisted I watch the two hour season premiere with him. Not being much of a TV-head, I politely declined. He persisted. I gave in, thinking maybe he was covertly seeking a mother-in-law bonding moment. I'll do this for Matt, I stoically said to myself.

Well, those of you who watch 24 know what happened. The Power of Bauer sucked me in. What's not to love about a man who can go a full day without eating, drinking, or going to the bathroom? Whose cell phone battery never dies?

After that season, we cancelled our cable service. I didn't watch Jack for almost a year. In a conversation with the S-I-L one day I admitted that I had not watched 24 for quite some time, and told him that some day he would have to get me caught up. "There is no Jack. There's a writer's strike." I had not missed a thing in a year!

The past few weeks, after buying an antenna so we can at least get the locals, we have been occupied every Monday night. It was tonight though that I realized we may be a little too addicted.

Jeremiah and I were sitting on the sofa, watching some some travelogue about Italy. Jere, suddenly startled, said, "What was that red light?" I had not seen it, so I, anxious to win that 2009 Mother of the Year Award, ignored him.

A minute later, there it was again--a bright red laser light shining on our living room blinds. We both screamed, "AAAAAGGH!" Jeremiah jumped over the back of the couch and crouched behind it, a la Jack Bauer himself. I ran to the side door and locked it, then slid along the walls, careful to avoid the windows. Jeremiah yelled, "Lock the other door too!" I sacrificed my life for his and dashed past an unshaded window ( in full view of the possible assassin ) to get to the door. Even though he doesn't know me, I could feel Jack's pride in me.

With the house securely in lock-down, we went to my bedroom to find Tim. He followed us to the scene. We pointed out exactly where the light was bouncing off the blinds. Like a CTU investigator, Tim determined which window the light had to have shone through.

It was probably just some kid playing around with a laser light. But I was thoroughly creeped out the rest of the evening. I mean, who stands outside someone's home, directing a laser beam through a window? The NSA, that's who!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Dissin' Aretha


I am a terrible teacher.

How could I have failed so miserably? I thought I was teaching them well, only to have it come crashing down around my head. I remember the day like it was yesterday.
Oh wait...it was yesterday.

It started though on that historic Tuesday, January 20, 2009. Nearly one hundred of us gathered together at the elementary school--teachers, high-schoolers and elementary students--in front of the big screen TV. The kids were excited because they got to watch TV instead of going to class. The adults knew there was something more going on.

For three hours we watched the ceremonies, then went back to class.

Yesterday, I told the kids that they had seen history being made on Tuesday. I asked them to write what they remembered about the inauguration of Barack Obama. For almost an hour, they put pencil to paper and recorded their thoughts.

It was last night, as I checked their papers, that I realized my grievous error. I had failed to properly teach them about Aretha.

Here are some excerpts-- misspellings and inaccuracies included.

"But my faverot thing was wen the lady named Aretha Franklin sang God Bless America she wore a gray hat with a big bow she sowended horible."

" Oh Oh i forgot to tell you about the dopey Aretha Franklin she sang horrible she sounded like a dying cow and she had a huge grey bow she looked like a dork and she sung god bless america."

"She was wearing a hat that was tiny and had a bow that was on her hat also it was a millon sizzes bigger than her head. Her name was Aretha Franklin. Randi told me that she was a world famous singer so I started to laugh. I will always remember how awful she sang. Maybe she will choose a better career next time."

" Aretha Fradan sang...her voes was kinda skuuy [her voice was kind of scratchy] but I liked it."


Her voice was scratchy? She sounded like a dying cow? She should choose a better career next time?

Today I went before the class to question them. "Are you serious?" I asked. This was Aretha Franklin we were talking about here. The Queen of Soul. The woman named Number One on Rolling Stone's list of The Greatest Singers of All Time. 21 time Grammy winner. The first female in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

To try to jog their memories I stood in front of them and sang R-E-S-P-E-C-T only to receive blank looks. "Well you sing better than she did," offered one girl.

I've got some serious educatin' to do.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sweet Love of Mine

Boys are cute.

Jeremiah had just spent the last half hour or so picking through the rocks in our driveway. He came in with three gems that he had mined.

One was a white rock, another was black, and a third was a teeny tiny lavender cube that had the letter "u" embossed on each face. It had a hole drilled through it as if it had once been a part of some child's bead bracelet.

Jeremiah: Mom, pick one of these rocks to keep.

Me, studying each one: Hmmm, they are all very pretty but this black one is flat on the bottom and kind of reminds me of a shoe. I think I'll pick that one.

Obviously, I had picked the wrong one, because Jeremiah shuffled away, shoulders hunched, head down.

Me: What's wrong, Bud? Did you want the shoe rock for yourself?

Jeremiah: No, I was just hoping that you would pick the one with my love in it.

Mothers--I swear we are clueless sometimes.

Me: Um, well which one had your love in it?

He handed me the bitty lavender cube. Then I knew. He had picked that one for me because my favorite color is purple and he wanted to please me. I had to make things right.

Me: Actually, that is exactly the one I really wanted, but I wanted you to have that one because it is so pretty.

He smiled, happy to know that I ended up with the jewel he had desired for me.

That teeny tiny bitty cube is just bursting with love.

P.S. Auntie M and Jill, does this remind you of anyone?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Jeremiah Update

I've had lots of well-wishes from people who were sympathetic to Jeremiah's move back to fourth grade. We are starting week three and all I can say is, so far so good!

He seems happier. My fifth grade class was overrun by children with Amazon genes and so poor Jere has always been the pygmy. Almost all his friends were a full head taller than he. Yup-even the girls for shame! His only consolation has been that one of his friends, a sweet little blond thing named Hannah, is shorter than he is. (She was one of the criers when he left.)

Last week he said, "Mom, do you know I am one of the tallest kids in my class now? And third from the oldest?" In fifth grade, he was one of the youngest--if he attended public school he would only be in fourth grade anyway.

His teacher has concerns about possible ADD. We are looking into ways to help his focus by changing his diet and adding vitamin supplements. I have strong feelings against drugging him up without trying everything else possible first.

I know there are a few teachers who read this site. I have a question for you, or for anyone else who has an opinion---have you ever dealt with ADD or ADHD children, and what success have you seen in diet vs. Ritalin or Adderall?

Thanks for any advice you can give.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What's Special About Today?


I have been involved in teaching for quite a few years, in various capacities. I’ve been a tutor to disadvantaged teen girls in a group home setting. As a manager at different jobs I was involved in training new and current employees. At my old church I held positions teaching children and adult women. In my current church I am the president of the Junior Sunday School, ages five through sixth grade. I even became a better cell phone sales person once I realized that selling was nothing more than teaching people about your product. Being a teacher has been my dream since childhood.

Even though I have been teaching most of my adult life in one way or another, I experienced my greatest teaching insight at the end of school last year.

Children learn best when they don’t know they’re learning.

That’s it. My great aha! moment. If I ever write a book about my experiences teaching children, it will be exactly once sentence long.

The process of discovering that profound truth began in August, 2007, shortly before my first day at the home school co-op. I received an email that I almost deleted---an educator’s calendar that listed some fact regarding each day. I looked at that calendar and thought how fun. As I skimmed over the trivia listed for each day of the year, I experienced a sense of joy. (Seriously—joy. I’ll admit my nerdish tendencies here without shame. Trivia gives me the rush that some people get when skateboarding out of airplanes.)

What if…each day at school, we took a small break to discuss the event-celebration-trivia item of the day? And since learning cool new facts gave me such joy, what if we named that break a break for joy? Thus began what eventually became known throughout the school as the fourth grade Joy Break.

Each day, at 10:00 a.m., my students began asking, “What is special about today?”

Today for example, was Bald Eagle Day. I hung a poster of a handsome bald eagle specimen. We learned that eagles prefer fish and are not bashful about snatching a fish from someone else’s talons. We passed out yardsticks and measured the average 6-8’ wingspan. And of course the camera-happy teacher took a picture.

I passed out Hershey’s Nuggets with almonds on National Chocolate Almond Day. We read the Emily Dickinson story and learned a poem on her birthday. The scallywags in my class wore black hats and eye patches for Talk Like a Pirate Day (and learned some—ahem—interesting new words.) Glasses of apple juice were raised in cheer on Johnny Appleseed Day. They cried on the anniversary of Kristallknacht. I took advantage of them this week on Clean Out Your Desk Day. Sparks flew on National Static Electricity Day.

Joy Break. Free learning. No tests. Ever. And guess what? They remember everything.

I can ask them ten questions about what they learned in history last year and I will be greeted with blank faces at each of the questions. But they can tell me in detail all about Mae Jemison, Rosa Parks, Jim Henson, Hank Aaron, Mother Teresa, Anwar Sadat and Walt Disney. They learned about them during Joy Break.

If I ask them what they learned in language last year they still probably can’t pick out a noun over a verb. But they can tell me that Roald Dahl wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach and BFG. They can tell me that R.L Stine writes the Goosebump series and that Emily Dickinson could usually only be coerced out of her home by her brother’s children. You guessed it—Joy Break.

I doubt they could tell me what their favorite science lesson was last year. Why? Because instead they will tell me all about Galileo’s theories, facts about Neptune, why situating New Orleans below sea level is a bad idea, the prizes that Alfred Nobel started and why leaves turn red. Um, Joy Break again.

Being of a curious nature, and desiring to become a better teacher I of course have spent a lot of time trying to figure out this phenomenon. Why can they remember the most obscure factoids from Joy Break, but it’s like pulling teeth with mittens on to get them to study for a test?

The only thing I could figure out is exactly what I said before.

Children learn best when they don’t know they’re learning.

That’s it. The big secret. Don’t let them know they’re learning and they’ll remember it forever. Tell them they will be tested on it tomorrow and they will forget about it in a week.

Oh, and remember to celebrate National Strawberry Ice Cream Day tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

For Danny


Ok, Danny, here you go. After much searching, I finally found a picture that I was in! I remembered handing the camera to someone and asking them to take a picture of my friend Sandy and me. This is from a few months ago. I'm the one on the left. Ta da!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

I Cry Right in my Eyes

I teach fifth grade in a homeschool co-op. For those of you who may be new to the homeschooling movement, a co-op meets the needs of two different groups—-those parents who want their children to be taught at home and those parents who feel their children are better off in a school, but don’t want them stuck in the public school mire.

Our classes meet five days a week, in a very small make-do school building. The teachers are unpaid parents who agree to teach other children in addition to their own. I teach math, spelling, reading, language, science, geography and history. A grandma of one of my students is the art teacher. A high school girl, proficient in piano and harp, teaches music. Another mother comes in one day a week to read the kids a story. Together, we are all invested in the education of our own children, and the children of our friends.

The atmosphere is “homey” in that there is freedom in our days. Sure, we have four walls, brown desks, books, maps, multiplication charts, grade books and fluorescent lighting, just like your average public school. The kids have to “serve” 180 days in class. The difference lies in how I, as a teacher, can choose to run my classroom.

If a little girl loses her favorite pink mechanical pencil, we can stop the class to pray that it is found. If a young boy’s parents are going through a divorce and I happen to see him crying in the restroom, I can go give him a hug without fear of sexual harassment charges being pressed. If during the winter, the weather is uncharacteristically warm, I can take my class for a surprise afternoon walk, with no permission slips required. Try doing any of those things in a public school and see how quickly you would be looking for a new job.

My math class began one day and most of the children entered the classroom unusually quietly. I asked them if something was wrong, and one girl responded, “There’s nothing wrong with me. I just feel like reading the scriptures.” One by one, several children voiced their agreement. “Yes, please can we read the scriptures instead of having math today?” There was no desire to get out of math work. There was no begging or pleading. There were just quiet requests to read scriptures.

How could I refuse? How rare is it to have eleven fifth graders asking to read scriptures? How many inner city public school teachers would rejoice in such a moment?

Because we are not controlled by the government, there were enough sets of scriptures on the bookshelves for every one of my eleven children. The books were passed out, and for the next 45 minutes I enjoyed a sweet spirit in my classroom as heads were bent over desks in study, or children were curled up in a corner or under a desk reading. I wish every teacher could have had that experience, or even the freedom to let it happen.

I first came to those students last year, as their new fourth grade teacher. The previous year, third grade, had been rough on them. There had been a lack of parents available to teach that year due to mothers having to go to work. As a result, they split the third grade in two, and gave each class a teen-age girl as their teacher. The girls did the best they could as teachers, but their inexperience as teachers, and as mothers, showed. The kids were devastated to be separated, especially since they learned that they were separated, for the sake of ease, into an advanced and a slower group. Over the year, the two groups competed with each other, deriding each other as they compared who had progressed more rapidly through the texts. One group had a teacher who liked to have frequent parties, and the other group felt left out.

When I was able to quit work in 2007, I was asked by the co-op to be the new fourth grade teacher in the fall. The principal explained the challenges I would be facing. The two groups saw themselves as adversaries. They would be combined back into one class and I would be responsible for creating a sense of unity in them. I was told that their third grade year was almost a waste and I would be responsible for catching them up to speed.

The first day of school, I asked the kids if they had ever seen the movie, Fantastic Four. They all had. I told them they from that time forward, since they were fourth graders, they would be known as the Fantastic Fourth. We also went over class rules. They were not allowed to degrade each other in any way. They were to help each other learn. They were to act as a team.

We had many memorable experiences that year. They all memorized their times tables and as a reward got to go on a helicopter ride over the mountains and out to eat at a fancy restaurant. They got to visit a local cattle farm. In April we took them to Northern Utah for a two-day field trip. They visited Antelope Island and saw buffalo cross the road. They saw the Great Salt Lake. They stayed overnight in a resort in Park City, in two huge suites that slept ten apiece. They splashed in the hotel pool and soaked in the hot tub. They walked downtown Park City and got to see the upscale stores. They visited Temple Square and This is the Place Monument. They ate dinner at a restaurant that featured cliff divers and a fire show. They fell asleep on each other’s shoulders on the way home.

I was lucky this year to be able to teach them again. On the first day of school we changed our name to the Figure-it-out-Fifth. For short, we are called F5, a force of nature to be reckoned with. I was happy to get my same class because I had grown to love them immensely, and of course because my own son is in that group.

Shortly after the “we want to read scriptures” event, our idyllic school life was disrupted.

One of my students came to me and confessed that he had been stealing after school. He had gone to a local grocery store and had made a habit out of putting things in his backpack and walking out. He said that he wanted to repent because he no longer wanted to be that kind of a person. He implicated another one of my students as his accomplice.

As the details came out, we learned that these two students had been stealing from other students, from other local stores, and from parents and relatives. Because of the seriousness of the situation, and because these were almost life-long habits of these two young men, the principal made the decision to expel them from our co-op.

It was a very emotional day for my students when they learned that now our class was down to nine. I took my students to an empty classroom to explain the situation, while the principal removed the two unused desks from our classroom. Many of the students wept openly, saying, “Do they still get to be a member of F5?” It was a rough day for all of them.

Over the Christmas break, we were faced with another difficult decision.

My own son, Jeremiah, never did catch up from third grade. He has struggled mightily to keep up, only to get further behind. Recently I showed the principal some test scores. On three different tests, my son scored Fs while everyone else got As. The principal and I discussed options. Should we keep him in fifth grade and have him keep feeling like a failure? Should we move him back to fourth grade where maybe he will feel some success? As it stood, he would be failing every class on his next report card.

After to speaking to Jeremiah, we decided to place him back in fourth grade when school started again after Christmas. I would no longer be his teacher. He would no longer be a member of F5. But maybe he would stop feeling like he was always at the bottom of everything.

When I told my class that Jeremiah would be going back to fourth grade, there were tears once again. One little girl asked me, “Why does it feel like we are being slowly ripped apart?” Another girl said, “I wish we could go back to our fourth grade history trip when we were all back in the hotel having fun together. We were a team then.”

It’s been a week and he has survived, though it has been difficult. He has run to me happily proclaiming, “I got four As this week!” He has also hugged me in the hall at school saying, “Mommy, please can I come back to your class?” He has a gem of a teacher who has made him feel welcome.

Have I survived? It has been hard to see my son struggle. I have shed a few tears myself. I think Jeremiah summed it up for me after school on Friday after I asked him how he thought his first week went.

“Mom,” he said, “sometimes I cry in my mind and other times I just cry right in my eyes.”

Sunday, January 4, 2009

December Fun


Mr. Napkin Head (Tim)



The Truth



It's an obsession...I must have more than one tree




Happy Kid!




School Snowman Contest




You need lots of cake for a three day bash!




Levi enjoying hot chocolate at Grandma Randi's house




Snow boys--Jeremiah with Megan's stepboys, Chase and Jordan




Jeremiah at Senior Dinner escorting Levi's other Grandma, Jeannine




Before the Senior Dinner




Making Gingerbread Men for the Senior Dinner





On to the next level--new belts!




Tim's granddaughter Juliah as Rudolph

What Did Wii Do?



Wii kept it! But, in order to keep the Wii, wii had to make some changes. Our TV apparently broke during our move. Luckily wii had a spare. But that TV was so old, it did not have Wii hookups, nor sound that would come through our speakers.

You know what wii did next, don't you? Wii had to go buy a new TV, one that was compatible with the Wii. But then our old DVD player no longer worked with the new TV! So wii had to buy a new DVD player too, and a new antenna so wii could get the digital channels on our new TV. Needless to say, wii spent another $500 to avoid wii-turning the Wii.

Wii got invited to Megan's house for New Year's Eve. "Could you bring your Wii with you?" she asked. Of course wii were happy to bring it along. See the video of grandson Levi, playing.

After wii got home from Megan's, around 12:30 a.m., my husband (the non-addicted one) played Wii for the next two hours.


video

Thursday, January 1, 2009

To Wii or not to Wii...

...that was the question.

We were surprised this Christmas with a Wii playset. It was obvious to us that the giver (who wished to remain anonymous, but we found out anyway!) had spent a lot of money on us. Tim checked out all the components online and found that together they were valued at almost $500.

Instantly, we had a difference of opinion.

Tim--It's a video game set. Video games are addicting. We don't want Jeremiah to become a mush-head. We should take it back and get a new TV instead. I've told my kids for years that video games are not good. They will feel that I am a hypocrite if I keep this gift.

Randi--It was a well thought-out gift. The giver obviously thought we needed a little more fun in our lives. Also, he spent a lot of time making sure everything was compatible. I would not want to cause offense if he found out we took it back. Most places want a receipt on returned items anyway. How can we go to the "anonymous" giver and ask where he got the Wii, and could we please have the receipt? I say keep it. We can regulate Jeremiah's time on it.

Jeremiah--Is there anyone out there who wonders what Jeremiah's opinion was? Remember, he's ten.

What do you think we did? Did we keep the Wii, and become jello-heads? Did we take it back and buy something else really cool like an encyclopedia? What happened, what oh what?
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