Thursday, June 30, 2011

Doors of Fame

When I was growing up we didn’t give teachers formal end of year gifts like people do today.  We brought a handful of flowers our mom said we could pick from her garden or an apple; small tokens of our appreciation.

Many years ago, fourteen to be exact, I taught at a small private school.  The clientele was a bit well-to-do and the teacher gifts were extravagant, in my opinion.  Higher end jewelry, gift cards with amounts of $50 and more(!), and certificates to spas that I had never hoped of visiting were all graciously given and received.  I’m grateful for all that was bestowed upon me but the best gift I received is still growing in my front yard—an azalea bush.  The cheery bright pink flowers help welcome spring year after year and remind me of the wonderful children I had the privilege of working with for those two years.

This years I received a few gifts—the fewest ever.  I hope it’s the economy and not a commentary on my teaching—much like you would leave a smaller tip for less than stellar service!  One mom made me the most scrumptious banana bread ever.  I wrote her a poem to thank her.  Along with the Dunkin Donuts and Michaels gift cards, chocolates, candles, Mardi Gras beads, and impatiens plants were my absolute favorite gifts of all:  letters of appreciation. 

There is a huge human need to feel appreciated and teachers are no different.  Many of us pour our hearts and souls into our daily interactions with the children we have been blessed with for 180 school days.  We go home drained only to put in another 2-3 hours correcting papers, planning and creating new lessons, making phone calls to parents, and more.  While I am thankful to be paid for a job I love, I really enjoy getting letters from grateful parents and students.  It’s like getting a pat on the back—it feels good and is very motivating.
These letters and cards go in a very special place in my classroom—on the inside doors of my cabinet.  I call it my “Doors of Fame.”  When I feel low and wonder if it’s time for me to “retire” I open those doors and read the affirmations of my efforts.  This recharges my batteries and I can then continue to do my best at this job/profession/avocation/mission:  creating lifelong learners.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Intelligence--Do You Feel Smart?

According to the Encarta World English Dictionary, intelligence is the ability to think and learn: the ability to learn facts and skills and apply them, especially when this ability is highly developed.

The good news is one can get smarter! Intelligence can increase! The bad news is that intelligence can also decrease. For whatever reasons, this is what we’re currently seeing in the classroom and beyond.

Many children are having a hard time learning lately. They seem to have difficulty remembering and/or applying what was taught. Logic and common sense are very rare these days. Problem solving skills are not the norm, either. Could this be linked to the lack of work ethic seen in children these days? Could the plethora of distractions, such as sports, video games, dance, etc. be the culprit? Some people argue that sports, dance, and other hobbies are important for a well-rounded child. However, they do take reading/homework time from children’s lives.

When I was growing up everyone had their IQ tested. This supposedly was a predictor as to future success. It also identified children who might need a modified education. I peeked at my school record once and saw that in first grade my IQ was 121! With average being 100, 121 is pretty high. According to the intelligence charts I’ve seen, it’s considered “superior.”

Well, nobody ever told me. I grew up feeling very dumb. I was a great reader but I thought everybody was. I had a hard time in math and I thought no one else struggled, just me. The memorization of basic math facts eluded me. Flash cards didn’t work. Now I know that I need to write things down and say them out loud to help them stick in my brain.

Back then (1960s and 1970s) education was “one size fits all.” Special education was in its infancy then so children with learning differences got left behind. They stayed back, sometimes developed behavior problems, and often when of age, they dropped out. More on the history of special education:

When I was in sixth grade, the grownups in my hometown came up with what they thought was a brilliant plan. They took all the highest ability students and grouped them in a separate classroom. They were called the “HI-HOs” (high homogenous). I was not selected to be part of that elite group. That further convinced me that I was dumb.

It wasn’t until ten years later as I graduated from Holyoke Community College that I finally realized that learning didn’t come as easily to others—that I was pretty smart—and also very fortunate. But here’s the kicker—recent studies show that we adults should not overpraise kids on how smart they are: That is counterproductive. Instead, we need to praise their efforts. Who knew?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Ice Cream Soup

When I was growing up ice cream was an extremely rare treat. My two sisters and I usually enjoyed it on birthdays and other special occasions. It was scooped out of a cardboard box at home, never at a restaurant (except when we visited cousins in California in 1973) and never from a cone. Our favorite part of ice cream: making ice cream soup! We stirred and stirred until the ice cream had melted and then slurped up the cold liquid with our spoons until there wasn’t a drop left—then we’d lick the bowls!

Not everyone thinks ice cream soup is a good idea. My dad’s mom, “Grandmama” we called her, thought ice cream soup was rude. On one visit she served us ice cream and we made our “soup.” Grandmama was appalled! She was disgusted! She vowed she would never serve us ice cream again and she was true to her word.

She was not our favorite grandmother to spend time with. Can you see why? My other grandmother, “Grammie,” was the fun grandmother. We had some great adventures with her. We’ll save those tales for another day. I’m going to go have some ice cream!

Do you enjoy ice cream? Do you prefer a cone or a dish? I’d love to hear from you! Please leave a comment below.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Turkey Monsters at Thanksgiving by Anne Warren Smith; A Book Review

Title: Turkey Monsters at Thanksgiving
Author: Anne Warren Smith
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
Imprint: Balzer + Bray
Pub Date: September 1, 2011
ISBN: 9780807581261
Category: FICTION - JUVENILE: Concepts: Issues of divorce, death, and friendship handled with love and humor
Readers: Intermediate
Reviewer: Patricia Bessette
Review Date: May 23, 2011

Nine-year-old Katie Jordan lives with her dad and three-year-old brother, Tyler. This year, instead of celebrating Thanksgiving in their traditional way by eating pizza in their pajamas, Katie wants to create the perfect holiday and be just like a "real" family. But by Thanksgiving Day, Katie has invited guests Dad didn't expect, festooned the house with what may be poison oak, set the sweet potatoes on fire, and forced her little brother to face a dreadful turkey monster by himself. At the end, however, Katie, her family, and her guests sit down to a most unusual dinner—one that succeeds because it comes more from the heart than from fancy decorations and elaborate menus (Albert Whitman & Company).

What an enjoyable read! Turkey Monsters at Thanksgiving by Anne Warren Smith draws you in from the very beginning of the first chapter and keeps you reading right through to the very end! Will Katie’s Thanksgiving be a disaster? Will she have a Thanksgiving like a “real” family? Who or what is the actual “Turkey Monster?”

Smith creates believable characters that readers can connect easily with. I was glad to learn that this book is the first in a series because it is evident that these characters have more to do and say!

The suggested grade/age levels varied between second and sixth grade, listed as an ATOS level of 3.2.

From a teacher’s perspective, I believe it would make a great read aloud for first and second graders. Turkey Monsters at Thanksgiving is only 112 pages, 13,964 words and judging by the vocabulary level, this book could be read independently by high second graders to very low fifth graders. Interest level range, in my opinion, is late first through early fifth grades. However, I don’t feel that savvy fifth and sixth graders would be drawn to Turkey Monsters at Thanksgiving.

Due to the topic of divorce and families in Turkey Monsters at Thanksgiving, it would promote discussion/conversation to help children process this subject matter and would be perfect for a guided reading group selection. I thoroughly enjoyed Turkey Monsters at Thanksgiving. I highly recommend this to parents dealing with separation or divorce.

My advanced digital edition of Turkey Monsters at Thanksgiving was received through NetGalley.