Things Best Left Unsaid

Circumstances had kept me away from my blog.  Circumstances had me searching through the garage for Christmas decorations.  In the end, circumstances led me to a box of the wife’s books that had followed her from her old elementary school.

Staring back at me was this vintage school edition:

1456659_10151926346539425_1182880441_n

Me being me, naturally, this type of serendipity demanded that I post this to Facebook.  On a slow Sunday, I wanted to get the requisite immature giggles and silly innuendos from my friends.  After all this was a book written in 1959, using acceptable language of the time, and it would definitely generate the proper immaturity.

So I did.

And “Likes” I got.

I posted more from the book:

1476676_10151926564019425_1906795107_n

This book sounded like something I could milk for laughs throughout the afternoon and evening.

But then I started to flip through the pages of the book:

“This story takes place in 1781 in Newtown, Connecticut.  The main part of the story is true though Adam and his family are imaginary.  The golden cock is still on a steeple of a church in Newtown…”

Newtown.

And to find this book during this particular week, this particular anniversary…

Town_of_Newtown_seal_SMALL_FOR_WEBSITE_ONLY_6

I was getting laughs out of what is the symbol of the city of Newtown.

While I don’t shame very easily, I felt it now.  Nice timing, huh?

For someone who tries to take pride in his knowledge of American history, having spent the bulk of his teaching career teaching 5th graders about the nation’s foundation, this was a story I had never known:  that of Newtown’s small but critical role in the denouement of the American War for Independence:

By 1781 the war was about to wind down although it may not have looked that way at the time. The French, having seen that the Americans could actually hold off a British army in Battle and always looking for a way to annoy the British, committed four regiments of troops to aid George Washington.

These troops under the command of the Compt d’Rochambeau, landed in Newport RI, in 1780 and languished there until Washington devised a use for them against the British in New York at the beginning of the fighting season a year later.

The problem was getting the French force from Rhode Island to his headquarters, then in the Hudson Highlands. The solution was to march them across the middle of Connecticut where they were away from the coast and thus not subject to British attack.

Marching across the middle of the state brought them into Newtown, and it was here that they planned to make their 10th camp and rest for a couple of days before joining Washington.

On June 28th, the first of the four regiments consisting of 1,000 men arrived in Newtown and camped on Church Hill Road about where St. Rose Church is today. For protection, they placed their artillery park on top of Castle Hill where it commanded the southern approach against the possibility of approaching British soldiers.

The next day the second regiment of 1,000 troops marched in and also camped on Church Hill Road across from the entrance to Walnut Tree Hill Road. The third division arriving on June 30th, set out their camp on the plain alongside the Pootatuck River in Sandy Hook.

Even before the fourth regiment could arrive, Washington received word that the French fleet was in a position to bottle Lord Cornwallis in the Chesapeake Bay and so a fast messenger was sent to have Rochembeau hasten his march to New York. 

The poor fourth regiment had just arrived in Newtown where they were scheduled to stay and rest for two days when they were told they had to move out immediately.

And so on July 1st, the French in their splendid white uniforms and blaring French martial music, marched out of Newtown to join the American forces as they headed to the resounding victory over Cornwallis at Yorktown that effectively ended the war.

As it goes, this book, that I had been so determined to mock, was mocking me right back, in its own way.

The story itself is, in my opinion, ordinary, as children’s historical literature goes:  When French troops under General Rochambeau camp near the young boy’s town in Connecticut, the boy makes the acquaintance of a young French soldier and must face up to a questionable relationship with a friend whose father is a Tory.  The church’s weathervane, the eponymous “cock” of the story, makes it appearance in the story by appearing to Adam in a dream in the midst of his ambivalence towards his friend living so close to the French encampment.  In all seriousness, being what it is, the rooster gives Adam no real help in trying to sort through his dilemma.

In real life, the rooster weathervane still sits upon the steeple of the Newtown Congregational Meeting House.

If not for the events of a year ago today in Newtown, that weathervane—and the inevitable sophomoric humor that it derives for people like me—should have been the extent of Newtown’s notoriety.

But it’s not.

Circumstances had taken care of that detail.

Advertisements

Stuck in a Moment

Sphere for Plaza Foundtain from the World Trade Center, now located in NYC's Battery Park; the photo was taken in early 2007...

Sphere for Plaza Fountain from the World Trade Center, now located in NYC’s Battery Park; the photo was taken in early 2007–interestingly enough, the Sphere is desired neither at the rebuilding WTC, nor in plans for refurbishing Battery Park.  Once a symbolic memorial for 9/11, now it’s seemingly become a burden.

Sometimes you find the teachable moment.  Other times the teachable moment finds you. Sometimes, it seems you need to duck.

I made good on my promise to start more regular recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance, except for yesterday.  Which meant that of all days, today wouldn’t necessarily be the best day to not have the kids recite the Pledge for a second consecutive day.  I was trying to mutter under my breath something to myself about 9/11, but a couple of the boys heard me nonetheless, and while 29 of their classmates stood politely, waiting for my cue to start the Pledge, the two boys began to pepper me with questions about 9/11.  We met our Ed. Code obligations, and I turned towards the front of the classroom to pull down my map.  I started formulating in my head, how best to explain 9/11.

Up to that moment, however, my earlier trip to the school’s office had had me find a printed list of my students’ collective birthdays.  The oldest of my students were born in 2002.  In many respects, trying to explain 9/11 to my kids seemed to me, at that instant, to be akin to explaining Vietnam.  While the adults and older siblings around them growing up might have some intrinsic understanding of the events of that day, it occurred to me how handicapped I was going to be, to try to build upon the student’s understanding of an event to which they had no context or background.

Osama bin Laden was merely the bad guy in Zero Dark Thirty, not much different than bad guy Loki in the Avengers, except that Loki wound up with way more screen time.

On the other hand, once I had opened up that can of worms, I sort of felt I had no choice but to deep-fry them and wolf them down.

This was not a teachable moment, this was that moment having a seizure.  I did my best trying to explain 9/11.  I was not going to merely dismiss the historical background as one in which we were attacked because “Americans are hated because of their freedom.”  Too much of that sentiment had gone down over the last decade, doing, in my opinion, a disservice to the proper teaching of America’s place in the International Community.  On top of that, teaching at a school that prides itself on a curriculum with an international focus, such an overly simple viewpoint was shortsightedly jingoistic.

As important as 9/11 happens to be, in terms of cultural and emotional touchstone for adults, for my kids, I honestly began to wonder how well they could emotionally connect and relate to something that did not occur within their living experience.  I thought back to the day itself, when I told the kids how myself and 3 colleagues watched the second tower fall on my classroom T.V. that morning.  I also shared a family friend’s experience teaching at a school site, essentially within the shadow of the Towers, that morning.  It still felt visceral to me, but reflecting back, 9/11 had to have been, for these kids, what the end of the Vietnam War in 1973-74 felt for me, when I was about the same age as these students are now.  I knew we had been fighting there, but I couldn’t tell anyone as to why we had been…

I also realized that the 5th graders who had been in my class later on, during that morning in 2001, were now in their early 20s.  An important milestone historically, yes.  But at what point does 9/11, in subsequent years, become even more removed from my students’ experiences?  Do we, as teachers, have to expect to address 9/11 every day on the anniversary?  I know I struggle enough each year trying to help my students differentiate between Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day, and that’s not even taking into account that many of my kids, having just come from our 4th grade, didn’t know that this past Monday, September 9th, was California’s Admission Day, nor could they likely tell me the meaning of December 7th, or even June 6th.

As I finished, having used up a half-an-hour of time this morning, I looked around the room, convinced I had lost a good chunk of my class.  I told my charges that history is never as complicated as it might appear, nor is it simplistically explained as many people would have us do.  In fact, I admitted that I felt that there was likely even more information about 9/11 that we are still learning, well beyond the practiced narrative that I had internalized over these past 12 years.  Instead, it was my job, I told them, to teach them well enough, so that, perhaps, one of them might grow up to be a historian, and one day be lucky enough to get access to the key missing information about that day, with the hopes that they could write the definitive accounting of the events  of 9/11.

If I could teach them how to pursue history, one day I might be lucky enough to have them come back and teach me something.

I Pledge a Lesson

In every public elementary school each day during the school year at the beginning of the first regularly scheduled class or activity period at which the majority of the pupils of the school normally begin the schoolday, there shall be conducted appropriate patriotic exercises. The giving of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America shall satisfy the requirements of this section.  — CAL. EDC. CODE § 52720 : California Code – Section 52720

Normally, I am one of those teachers least likely to be quoting the state’s Ed Code, unless, of course, my old colleague and I were complaining to our principal at my old school about another teacher, who used to leave her students running amok on the recess playground without credentialed adult supervision.

But given that this was a new school year, I had to admit that I wanted, and needed, a fresh start to go with it.

An iconic Dorothea Lange image, and my favorite. I have this hanging from the wall of my office at home.

An iconic Dorothea Lange image, and my favorite. I have this hanging from the wall of my office at home.

I had been lax in following through on doing this “appropriate patriotic exercise” over the years, although, as a 5th grade teacher, I did make sure that my kids learned about, as well as understood, the meaning of American symbols.  Still, at whatever school I find myself at, I quickly find myself as the resident “Pinko” on the staff.  For instance, the years up to, and immediately after the Iraq War, had, at my old school, led to a stratification amongst my colleagues, between those who supported the military action, and those of us who questioned it.  Naturally, in the early days, somehow disagreeing with a government that legally had to defend our rights to free speech, still, nonetheless, made us, somehow, unpatriotic.

Unpatriotic.  Yup.  Even though one of my signature lessons was my annual look at the historical basis for Longfellow’s Midnight Ride of Paul of Revere.

I guess teaching about William Dawes makes one hate America.

But in trying something new this year, I pledged to pledge.  But first, before we did anything, I told myself that I would, at least, give them some historical background on the POA’s history.  At least the idea was that my students would then realize what it was they were doing and why.  How this manifested in their own patriotic feelings going forward was up to them.

It was instructive for myself, as well, as I learned about things I didn’t even realize about the pledge…like this.

Thinking back upon my own nascent upbringing as a young American, I doubt that my own grade school teachers intended to teach patriotic lessons designed to turn their kids into raging liberals, but in understanding the history and meaning behind American symbols, they somehow allowed me to internalize the understanding that the phrase “more perfect” in the Constitution’s Preamble meant that America was, and needed to always be, a work in progress.  In many respects, my decision to finally become a teacher was part of long process where I, at last, understood that my love for my own country was birthed in a public school classroom by teachers who took the time to explain what it truly meant to be an American.  America’s great progress for me, then, was to try to replicate the same sort of patriotic instruction that I had received.

As an aside, however, it’s worth noting, even in passing, that the past several weeks of debate, involving possible American military involvement in the Syrian Civil War, certainly gives one the clear understanding of what such progress has come to mean.

Still, my goal was to put the background information about the POA out there for my kids, as unfettered and unbiased as I could, explaining the do’s and don’ts of respect for the process, and the expectations I had for them during the morning recital (i.e., hands over the proper side of the chest, hats off, etc…).

How they developed their American citizenship over the course of the upcoming school year will be entirely upon them.  But we did cover Jackie Robinson in class yesterday, and next week, we begin studying the Native Americans.  If nothing else, the latter subject has got to be understood as more than just the only misfire in Schoolhouse Rock‘s repertoire, “Elbow Room”.

For now, however, my students have engaged in their appropriate patriotic exercise this week.

I have no doubt, that there has to be a few of them, who, undoubtedly, feel like Shirley Temple Wong in Bette Bao Lord’s The Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson (a book we’ll read later on this year…):

“I pledge a lesson to the frog of the United States of America, and to the wee puppet for witches’ hands. One Asian, in the vestibule, with little tea and just rice for all.”

Trust me, there are other ways it likely gets fractured as well.

We will be working on that.

Change of Plans

BostonTerrierSheebaDogSleeping1

WAKE UP!!!

“I personally believe we developed language because of our deep inner need to complain.”  — Jane Wagner

In some respects, the need to blog fits this idea above about language.  Specifically, why wouldn’t one blog, unless they needed to get something off of their chests?  Or, for that matter, if they couldn’t find the language, where would the blog posts come from?

And sometimes, life happens so fast, that finding the time to reflect upon them becomes as scarce as the time it takes to blog those thoughts that arise from the reflection.

That’s kind of what happened.

As John Lennon expressed: Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.  

But plans have changed.  I can’t even begin to explain why, or how.

We are back.  Today I have to introduce my newest crop of 5th Graders to their Writer’s Notebooks for the year.  Part of the deal is that I have to share mine.  My “notebook” hasn’t had anything put in it since my last post in April.

It’s a good enough excuse to post something this morning then.  

Welcome back!

Morning Message

ss-130416-boston-aftermath-tease.photoblog900

And just when I think
That things are in their place,
The heavens are secure,
The whole thing explodes in my face! — Amber Di Lena & Peter White, “Just Another Day”

Just another day, just another American tragedy to explain to my students.

But hey, the flag at school this morning is not at half-staff yet.  Did this really happen?  Of course it did.  The district hasn’t sent out a memo yet.  But given the amount of time already passed by the time I’ve arrived at school for the district to make such a decision,  am I wrong to think that some sort of mention needed to be made today?  My original plan was to review complex sentences to start the day.  Somehow, trying to explain the events in Boston yesterday were going to be even harder.  Deciding how to go about it would be equally as perplexing.

Nevertheless, when my principal asks me “how’s it going” as I arrive at school and head towards my classroom, I admit to him I’m tired of having to explain this stuff.  He just shakes his head in understanding.  There were so many things I could find that I could discuss with my kids to start the day.  It was Jackie Robinson Day yesterday, after all, and I would rather talk about that.  Or, it was Patriot’s Day in Boston, and after we’d already been discussing the beginnings of the American War for Independence at Lexington and Concord, it made sense to make note that this Friday was that historic anniversary.  Or, we could just talk about last night’s episode of the Voice…whatever.

Nah, a bomb goes off 3000 miles away.  3 are dead, for now, and one is a 3rd grader.  One more light goes out in America.  My job, as I figure it today, is that I get to ask my students if they had any questions.

That was how my day started.

I chose to become a teacher because of my desire to have to figure out ways of explaining complex stuff to youngsters.  But even after making such a decision, I always felt I could fall back upon, and rely on, established points of view for virtually-settled historic events.  In other words, explaining the events leading up to, and after, Paul Revere’s Ride should be easy enough.  Little did I know, at the time, what I would have in store when you consider things that have gone down since September of 1997…Newtown was only the last in a series of…well, until yesterday in Boston.

That reality was ultimately enough for me to swallow hard and ask my kids this morning if they had any questions.

What questions they had, surprisingly, were few.  Most already had enough of a sense of what went down yesterday that bringing up minute details would approach overkill and might cross some sort of line.  Nevertheless, the conversation wandered over to the definition of shrapnel.  And, for good measure, I reminded them of the significance of Patriot’s Day in Massachusetts.

(I chose not to go into the significance of Patriot’s Day elsewhere, and for other tragic reasons…)

Fundamentally, once we began to discuss it, I had to bring them back to reassure my students that they were safe, in addition to suggesting due diligence if they’re ever out and about and see a backpack or briefcase unattended for a chunk of time.   This wasn’t Newtown, I offered.  Of their reaction, I could tell already that they knew that.  Either they were bored, or now just inured to this sort of stuff.  The latter seemed more plausible.

Or, maybe not.  K., my class leader, for all her precociousness, got genuinely annoyed and raised her hand:

After this, do you think we’re finally going to start practicing lockdowns like we were promised?

It’s Authentic.

misspelled-school-_1660803c

It is the day after A.K. has lost Roanoke Colony.  But while he’s anxious to reestablish an English presence on the North American mainland, the problem is that we’ve got other priorities ahead of us as a classroom.  Through no fault of his own, we’re behind in our pacing with respect to the two other 5th grade classes, and we are in a frantic effort to catch up.  Naturally, it’s messy, but we’ve begun to close the gap.

So it goes that I get skittish when I look up from the ELMO document camera in the front of the classroom.  It’s a consequence of the “battered puppy syndrome” that I suffered at my old school site that I assume any and all entry into my classroom of an adult was the result of something I’ve idiotically done;  even if I *know* that’s nothing has gone wrong, I’ve come to assume it.  Catholic CCD as a child has done that to me.

Instead, it’s one of the PTA moms, who’s come to ask me if I’ve made birthday cards for the school’s secretary.  Imperceptibly, I am taken aback.  Quite frankly, it never occurred to me that I would need to take instructional time to make such a greeting card.  I mean, despite the cut-and-paste nature of the canned Roanoke/Jamestown map, I could at least point to the 5th grade California State History-Social Science standards–we’ve not been wasting time on anything not curriculum-based.

“Were we supposed to?”, I begin to respond, but then I dial it back.  I don’t need to come across as a jerk, at least not right now.  Still, I think to myself, really?

“Is this something that has to be done right now, or can I work on it after lunch?”

I am trying to buy time, primarily because my kids have computer lab/library/Spanish rotation in a bit less than an hour, and I’ve timed today nearly down to the minute to finish a critical chunk of work before I lose the kids at 9:40am.

“No, that’s fine,” is the reply.  “I will come back”.

I then make a mental note to return to this, regardless of whether or not I think it worth the loss of instructional time.  Later on, I scan my e-mail for any notice that we were supposed to do this.  Nowhere do I find any inkling that this was supposed to be done.  I had no idea that it was the secretary’s birthday.  The only birthdays I remember in January are Jackie Robinson, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

But it is my nature is to avoid unnecessary punishment–again, thanks to time spent at CCD–so I will do this to avoid getting busted, not because of the sentiment–at this point.  I don’t need someone going off to complain that I won’t do this.  I have fought that battle countless times during my old stint at “Sunnyside Daycare” and I have the scars to prove it.  Besides, the time to bring up this sort of complaint is not now.  I wind up telling myself that I am sure the kids can come up with something cute and kid-like if I can put this off to the last 15 minutes of the day.

Mercilessly then, I manage to force down the day’s remaining material to get that window of time clear.  I ask the students to clear their desks, such as they can.  I try to grab their attention…

Me:  “Ok, we need to make birthday cards for Miss A.!”

“Isn’t she married?  It ought to be Mrs. A…”

Me: “Uh, good question, I don’t know.”

“Why not?”

Me: “Uh, dude, I just got to this school in September.  Y’all probably know her better than I do?”

“Do you know what she likes?”

“How old is she?”

Me:  “Did you miss the part about me just getting here in September?”

“Yeah.”

I brush off the questions, as I dig through my construction paper supply to find 9×12 colored construction paper.  I finally have to head off to the supply room, as I only have 18×24.  When I return, some of the kids are clearly agitated, D. in particular.

D.:  “Why are we making cards for her?  She’s just going to throw them away!”

Me: “How do you know this?”

D.:  “My mom does that.  She told me. Miss A. will do that too.”

Me:  “We don’t know that Miss A. will do that…and how does your mom *know* that Miss A. will toss the cards?”

K:  “Isn’t it Mrs.?”

At this point, I don’t care if she’s a Mr.  I am trying to supervise a card making project all while my classroom aide and I are overseeing the kids getting their homework packed away at the same time.  I then remember that I have to fill out a behavior contract, which I am reminded that I have to do.  As I walk to my desk, I overhear another student sharing his “finished” card with my aide.  He’s scribbled over his initial attempt to write “Happy”, because he started too close to the edge of the card.  My aide, Mr. F., asks him if he wants to redo it, given the total lack of artwork accompanying the text.

Overheard reply: “No, I need her to see that it’s authentic.”

Meanwhile, D. is trying to convince the kids around him that the secretary is going to throw the cards away.  I decide to tell him to incorporate that as part of his birthday wish:  “Before you toss this, I just wanted to say, etc…”

D.:  “Can I?”

Me: “NO! I was kidding, don’t do that.”

D.: “So was I.”

Over in their corner, J. and G. have hit upon the inspired thought to make an Acrostic poem from Miss A.’s first name.  J.’s thinking is that with a name having only three letters, it ought to be easy to come up with something.  I again get distracted trying to organize another student’s backpack.  When I glance back at J., he’s given up.  He’s come up with “Awesome” for the A., but then quits.  He’s come up empty for the other two letters.  At this point, the bell rings, ending the school day, which is punctuated by I. mistakenly announcing that she was going to take her finished card up to the office.  Immediately, the rest of the class is dumping their cards, finished or not, on her desk.

I feel badly for I., particularly given that the parent who had touched off this card-making madness–never came back to collect them!

D. is standing at the door, still insisting to anyone who will listen that Miss A. was going to throw out the cards.

The only certainty was that I basically threw out 15 minutes of instructional time for a curious task, over which I had no forewarning, that was questionable in terms of its necessity, particularly given the ultimately inorganic way in which the kids were told to make a card.

Ideally, PTA could have come to me much earlier, and asked me to talk to my kids, and I would have gladly sent home art supplies and had the kids do something for Miss A.–at home!

But of even greater concern to me resonated today, the day after the card incident, when at my monthly Union meeting (I am my school site representative), we discussed some initial reactions to today’s news about the possibility of California’s budget surplus. Suffice to say that the union made it clear that their goal, at least with respect to my school district’s chapter, was to see an end put to the furlough days that cuts to the state budget had made necessary in exchange for saving jobs of current teacher and office staff across the district.  We are currently taking 4 furlough days, but other districts, such as my wife’s old district, are taking far more.

Had California’s Proposition 30 not passed, raising the state’s sales tax, among other things, the amount of furlough days across the state would have been increased amongst all districts, regardless of budget circumstances.

Fact is, for me personally, eliminating furlough days would lead to a salary increase of 2.17%, back to its contracted level.  That’s a nice thing, I will admit.  But more importantly, When you consider it though, a furlough day is not only a pay cut for me, it’s instructional time taken away from the students, who are not going to be in classrooms on days in which we’ve taken a furlough day.

I’ve got colleagues who are enamored of this idea, nonetheless, wanting that unpaid day off, even though it’s costing salary.   But similarly, I’ve got colleagues as well, when given the instructional time, complain loudly about the need to have standards-based instruction, when they’d rather be carving pumpkins in class, singing Christmas songs, or generally not using instructional time in any manner that advances them further along the pacing guide and curriculum benchmarks.

Stopping teaching to make a birthday card would also fall under this category.

Furlough days also do not absolve us of our responsibility to teach the same amount of accountable standards over less time to prepare for state-mandated testing.

Neither do birthday cards.

I wonder if D. wound up being right about those cards…

My Lost Colony

"Dude, where's my colony?"

“Dude, where’s my colony?”

Chaos is the score upon which reality is written. — Henry Miller

Getting back into the normalized rhythm of the school year after 15 days of Winter Break is a more syncopated composition than it is picking up where we left off in December.

Entropy was what passed for order in my classroom today.

The kids have a project on plant and animal cell models.  I have assigned this work over Winter Break, not so much for homework over break, but because I know some of my kids will wind up working on their project…well, most of them.  Shortly after I arrive at school, L.’s mother is waiting for me in my classroom.  L. has managed to lose the project packet, but L.’s mother is relieved that I will be extending the deadline by a few days, if only because I know I would be unlikely to grade cell projects over the weekend.

As L.’s mom is getting ready to leave, with a replacement assignment packet in hand.  A. comes stumbling into class, trying to balance two cell projects, along with her backpack and band instrument.  She’s misread the assignment; rather than doing either the plant or the animal cell, she’s done both.  I can see L.’s expression change–he’s thinking.

“Gee, L., I’m sure A.  will gladly sell you the extra project.”

I stop him before he can run over to A.’s side of the room, evidently convinced of the sheer beauty of my suggestion, given the lack of work he’s done on his project–given that he’s just had to have his mother ask for a new assignment packet.

Meanwhile, our school secretary wanders into my classroom, accompanied by a new student, and his mother.  I was already aware of the plan to put the new student in my class.   In the meantime, L.’s calculating how he can buy A.’s surplus project, I’ve got the other kids scurrying about, as I have moved seating arrangements around to find a good spot with which to put the new kid.

K. wanders into the classroom, just making it to her seat as the bell rings to start the day.  She’s excited about all of the kids who are moving seats, until she realizes that she isn’t moving.  Her sadness then immediately dissipates when she learns about the new student.  She asks the new boy his name.  An instant later, referring to a youngster who arrived in our class at the beginning of December, L., K. asks me:

“What’s the new girl’s name?”

L. sat directly behind her.

Later on, along the same lines, as we pick up the previous days’ work, I notice that V. has done her math homework on 2 index cards rather than on notebook paper because she didn’t want to break open a new ream of paper at home.   A moment later, A. is getting out her permission slip from her backpack for our field trip this Thursday.  She hands it to me, telling me that water spilled in her backpack.  I open up the slip, and see a water stain on the paper that closely resembles the chalk Batman logo from The Dark Knight Rises.  S., seeing the “logo” from his seat, doesn’t miss a beat when he breaks into appropriate movie dialogue:

“Do you think he’s coming back?”

My answer:  “I don’t know…”

Finally, art begins to imitate life.  Before break, we’d spent a day learning about the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island.  The morning before break began, the kids begin to work on 3-D map of both Roanoke and the Jamestown Colonies.  A number of the students had already finished their project, but several hadn’t, and as we finish up a math test, I ask the kids to keep busy by finishing up these maps.

A.K. can’t find his map.

“When I left for break, I swear I left it on my desk.  Now it’s gone!”

Knowing the story behind the colony’s real-life disappearance, I have to apologize to A.K. for laughing.  He’s now experienced what John White might have felt.  Sometimes art really does imitate life.   And sometimes the best lessons aren’t planned.

Shortfall

6724_classroom_desks_empty_bla

I have this habit, whenever I send my students out to break, of telling my kids to make sure to come back safe. It’s really only a habit, since I’m trying to sound profound for some reason. I can usually count on each and every student to be in their seats come the beginning of January when classes resume. Sometimes though, this isn’t the case.

When I return to school tomorrow, I will be one student short.

C. had already shown herself to be a natural student leader, with her humor always just under the surface, but also with a seriousness about her when it came time to get down to the business of book learning. She isn’t going to be in my classroom any more. At my staff’s holiday gathering, I learned that C.’s family had moved out of the district. So, in a year in which I have been blessed with a not-so-normal amount of students (32 is our contracted maximum, but I’ve only had 26, at most, this year.), I will be back to 25 students.

I will miss having her in my class, even if it had only been for what turned out to be 3 months. I wish her well and the best, since she made nothing but good impressions upon me during her time in the class. It is a facet of being a teacher that sometimes kids leave in the middle of the school year.

Sometimes they leave, and move on. Sometimes they leave and don’t move on.

Last week, as the winter break began across the area, this went down locally.

Coming as it did, a week after the schools shootings in Newtown, CT., the manner of these two boys’ death seemed more *routine*, but not less tragic.

2 less youngsters in the world. 1 less student in each of two classrooms in an elementary school and middle school. These boys were local products, students during my wife’s time as their school principal. It is this loss that’s made it personal. For a teaching colleague who is also a family friend, the pain of losing a student who looped for two years. For another teaching colleague, also a family friend, who will return to her own 5th grade classroom tomorrow short a student when she calls roll. It would be so much easier if her student had left her class simply because his family moved, much like C.’s family did. Because it didn’t, I can’t even begin to imagine what that will feel like.

As I finally catch up on grade work that I managed to avoid through most of the winter break, I was reminded every so often about how C.’s absence would affect the makeup of the classroom going forward for the remainder of the year. At one point, I joked to the wife: “There goes my test scores!”. Still, her new teacher will be ecstatic to have her.

On the other hand, what will the hole will be like in my colleague’s classroom? I feel terrible that I am actually relieved, probably because I wonder if I could find the right thing to both say and do, when, and if, any discussion of the youngster comes up. Sadly, I don’t know if I can. I wonder if I could find words, if any, to properly console the students in the class to help them get through the loss of a classmate, and quite likely for a number of them, a friend. This is a teacher’s role that, unfortunately, doesn’t get dealt with in a credentialing class. I’d probably come up short.

Maybe this is where I need to sit down with O., when things settle down, and ask her what she did. This would be an impromptu in-service. Or, if I didn’t, is there some place a teacher can go and ask? It’s a reminder to me that my role might sometimes ask me to move beyond simply delivering instruction.

The wife, who attended the funeral, and who played the unofficial role of community leader, because of the years she spent there as these boys’ school principal, already told me how hard it was to get through a family visit and the subsequent funeral. We’ve talked about it at length ourselves, given how it’s brought her back to the school families she served for so long, but in a completely unenviable way.

Finally, driving home in the late afternoon on New Year’s Day, we near the intersection where the accident occurred. Kate announces to the wife that we saw the crash site, and then our resident parrot recites the account of the accident that I had told her about when I had driven by the accident site and its resultant street side memorial the previous week. The wife asks to see it.

When I finally turn up the street, I struggle to find the exact location. Everything had been taken away. In the late afternoon sunlight, there was nothing but empty street on either side of us.

Meanwhile, across the country, in Connecticut, the community in and around Sandy Hook Elementary are dealing with their own set of memorials:

“We knew the memorials can’t stand forever,” she said. “And after being weathered… I mean, we had bad rain, we had a storm, we had wind, we had snow. So I knew the time was going to come where we really had to move the memorials. Not only because the tributes themselves start to look unkempt and start to communicate a message that wasn’t part of the honoring that the donor intended; it also signifies a moving on, a readiness for the community to go to that next step.”

The end of winter break is, in and of itself, a “next” step. So, tomorrow morning, I will inform my class about C. moving on. But honestly, my thoughts will undoubtedly be thinking about another 5th grader, and another “next” step several miles away.

It’s the Thought that Miscounts

Posted on a local wine shop's website, I found this a curious way to celebrate Veteran's Day...

Posted on a local wine shop‘s website, I found this a curious way to celebrate Veteran’s Day…that and the fact that “english” is a proper noun and ought to be capitalized…

I know it’s not my friend S.’s fault…he’s a fellow Cal grad and should know better, right?

S. is re-posting warmed-over Bill Gates platitudes (which are actually an urban legend) from the King Glock website. (The text is also accompanied by a disconcerting photoshopped picture of Gates holding a weapon while pointing to an iPod.)  There you find this sentiment posted underneath the purported speech:

If you agree, pass it on

If you can read this – Thank a teacher!

If you are reading it in English – Thank a soldier!!

Wow.  So many things to consider here…

For starters, why just a soldier, why not a sailor, marine, or airman?

Separated from the bulk of the world by 2 major oceans, the United States needs to rely on its Navy and Air Force just as much as its Army.  Especially if the Army needs to get anywhere, it’d need the other services to help it get transported where it has to go.  Of course, I don’t know where the military comment even comes from anyway, since the military exists to defend the country, not a specific language.  Members of the military take an oath to defend the President and the U.S. Constitution, and the last time I checked the U.S. Constitution, there was nothing in the founding document which determined that the United States had an official language.

Perhaps though, the author of the above “Thankful Thoughts” was referring to invasions of U.S. territory?

Well, one immediately thinks of the Second World War and the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, but the December 7th attack was not accompanied by an invasion force.  The American territories of Wake Island, Guam, and the Philippines, were all attacked and subsequently invaded at around the same time though, so I suppose this technically counts as invasion of American territorial considerations, even if these areas weren’t a part of the contiguous 48 states.  Japanese soldiers did land upon and occupy the Aleutian islands of Attu and Kiska for a time in 1942-43, but again, Alaska was US territory at that time, and not a state.  Japanese master plans for conducting military campaigns though, show a country that meant to keep the Americans at bay on the Eastern side of the Pacific, during which time the Japanese military sought to consolidate its gains in China, the rest of eastern Asia, and the Pacific Island rim.  They were never foolhardy enough to honestly believe they could carry out and occupy huge swaths of land either in Hawaii, or on the mainland.  It was simply too far and not part of their overall strategy of a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

Perhaps the “Thought” author meant the Mexican War?  Honestly, it was the Americans who invaded Mexico and its territory, not the other way around.

American forces in Mexico during the Battle of Veracruz in 1847, the first large-scale amphibious invasion ever conducted by the American military.

American forces in Mexico during the Battle of Veracruz in 1847, the first large-scale amphibious invasion ever conducted by the American military.

Maybe the War of 1812?  The United States mainland was invaded by British forces, who managed to do this to Washington DC:

The War of 1812:  still influential in America today because it gave us our National Anthem, thanks to a British drinking song!

The War of 1812: still influential in America today because it gave us our National Anthem, thanks to a British drinking song!

When you think about that war’s outcome however, you begin to wonder how a British victory in the War of 1812 would have affected the choice of our country’s language, since, after all, the British do, in fact, speak English.

And I’m very sorry, but if the “Thought” author was thinking about the Cuban and North Korean invasions of the United States, that’s only occurred in movies.

As much as I am supposed to be proud that someone is recognizing teacher efforts to educate students on a daily basis, whoever specifically taught the “Thought” author their historical foundation for the above sentiment, ought to really have their teaching credential revoked.  And quickly.

Action/Overreaction

teachertrainingHere it comes.  This is just one story of what I’ve seen beginning to happen across the country since the Newtown, CT.  shootings.

Gun advocates to give classes to teach teachers how to come to school armed:

Ohio-based Buckeye Firearms Foundation has launched an Armed Teacher Training curriculum to offer gun training to teachers and school workers. According to Ohio’s Fox 19, “As of Wednesday, the Armed Teacher Training Program has attracted more than 600 applicants from several states including Ohio, Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and West Virginia.” More than one-third of the 600 applicants are female.

I am wondering if any of these gun training applicants have taken time to be aware of the ramifications of coming to school packing a firearm each and every day?  This is not the same thing as bringing a laptop or iPad, or making some other teaching tool is available and accessible for the day, although advocates for arming teachers are trying to make this argument.  This choice carries something into a schoolhouse that can make a significant difference in how a teacher approaches the day in his or her classroom.  It also forces us to truly consider the real likelihood of a school shooting occurring in any given day.

I am the worst type of person to be doing this type of math, but you start to wonder if this could be quantified as some sort of rate of expectations with respect to the likelihood of a school shooting occurring on a given public school campus at a given time.  Consider that there have been 31 school shootings since Columbine.  Over 13 years (1999-2012), that’s roughly 2.3 school shootings per year.  If you then take the number of public schools across the United States, 98,817 (as of 2009-2010), and divide 2.3/98,817, the statistical insignificance of the resulting number calls into question this sudden fear of violent gun-related terrorists coming onto our campuses.  There seems to be a more reasonable and rational fear of preparing California school campuses for a major earthquake, given that the likelihood of a major 6.7+ temblor striking the Greater Los Angeles area is far higher than that of a school shooter arriving on a given campus.

But my fuzzy math also doesn’t take into account the fact that an mentally unbalanced individual who decides to shoot up a school will be far less stable and unpredictable than the various faults and geographic terrain factors in the Southern California area.  It is that very unpredictability that is undoubtedly behind this sudden desire for fearful teachers to start packing.  Would it therefore help?

Since the days after the Newtown shootings, another argument I’ve seen expressed, involves some sort of assault weapon fantasy involving Sandy Hook principal Dawn Hochprung, and how arming her would have ended Adam Lanza’s life before he had a chance to take the lives of the Sandy Hook students and staff members:

[L]et’s assume that if part of Hochsprung’s job were to protect the school from an armed assault, she would have to be trained in counter-attack tactics. She would have wanted to wear body armor. She would have wanted to clean and fire her M-4 regularly, to make sure it was ready to go at a second’s notice in the highly highly unlikely event that the school was attacked. And she would have somehow trained herself to remain on high alert every hour of every day for all the years and decades that she worked as a teacher and administrator, all the while also being an excellent educator and manager.
And then, the morning of the attack, Hochsprung would have had to have reacted perfectly — hearing the gunfire and shattered glass from her conference room, unslinging the M-4, releasing the safety, crawling silently toward the door of the conference room, and then taking aim at a highly alert gunman and shooting him in the head before the gunman noticed that she was there or had fired a single bullet at anyone.
(In other words, she would have to assassinate Adam Lanza on the assumption that he was there to kill kids, and not wait for him to do it. Or was she supposed to wait for him to kill someone, on the theory that he might just be a dime-a-dozen crazy person who didn’t actually intend to kill anyone? There are lots of those, too.)

In other words, Hochsprung would have had to have acted and reacted like a soldier in a war zone. All day. Every day. For decades.  

Are these 600 applicants prepared to act and react militarily, all while maintaining the appropriate empathy and understanding for the very idiosyncratic nature of what we teachers do with our students in a classroom each and every day?

Even if these teachers have the capability to do their jobs and that of an armed constabulary:

There is no evidence indicating that arming Americans further will help prevent mass shootings or reduce the carnage, says Dr. Stephen Hargarten, a leading expert on emergency medicine and gun violence at the Medical College of Wisconsin…

Armed civilians attempting to intervene are actually more likely to increase the bloodshed, says Hargarten, “given that civilian shooters are less likely to hit their targets than police in these circumstances.” A chaotic scene in August at the Empire State Building put this starkly into perspective when New York City police officers confronting a gunman wounded nine innocent bystanders.

But back to this fantasy of arming Principal Hochsprung, even then, that wouldn’t be enough.  The entire school should be armed:

And what if Hochsprung had been on the other side of the building when the attacker shot through the door? Principals do, occasionally, leave the vicinity of the front door.

Well, to eliminate that risk, Gohmert and others who want to keep giving almost all citizens unlimited access to military weapons will presumably want to arm every teacher and employee at the school. So they’ll all walk around all day with M-4s and bullets strapped to their shoulders. And they will all have to be trained and act and react in precisely the same way — all without someone ever making a mistake and shooting a kid instead of a bad guy.

And, in the rare event of a school shooting, in the ensuing chaos, would police officers know who to shoot?

Sadly, calm reassurance was the one consistent component that my daughter’s school district hoped to convey to its parents and students in the days immediately following the Sandy Hook shootings.  It was what I tried to do with my own classroom of kids.  Calm and reason, rather than irrational fear, should be how we moved forward from such a terrible experience.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t play into the minds of those people who have manufactured some sort of post-Newtown gun revenge fantasy wherein the staff members rise up and take out Adam Lanza before he can take them out.  Weaponry apparently trumps calm reassurance.

In the end though, it reminds me of one of my students, years ago, whose mother chose not to allow him to go on a overnight school field trip to the Ocean Institute in Dana Point in the weeks after 9/11, because of her real fear of a terrorist attack occurring there.  While I don’t necessarily mean to belittle her decision to not allow E. to go with us, I was left wondering how the Institute would have moved so high up Al Qaeda’s list of high-profile targets.  Seeing teachers fleeing to gun training classes calls to mind how I felt then.  We’ve allowed the fear to overtake our reason.  We should know better.  Teachers, who must incorporate rationality into their lesson planning, should be even more aware of this than anyone.

The real terrorism is not from forces outside, but rather inside of all of us.