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March 2011 entries

Guardian Angels, Reporting for Duty

Last evening, Michael and Liam's guardian angels were on duty, full force.  On the way home from Lock Haven, they were traveling in the truck on the highway, and came upon a construction zone.  Michael slowed down accordingly as the traffic in front of him came to stop.  The driver behind him, however, neglected to slow down in time.  Michael thought ahead and was able to pull the truck off to the side a little bit to avoid a straight-on hit.  The other car hit the back of the truck at a speed of approximately 35 mph.  That's when Michael and Liam's guardian angels took over.  Both of my guys are fine, and the truck (obviously, a lesser concern) was hardly damaged.  The woman's car, though, was totaled!  When she saw that there was a baby in our vehicle, the driver burst into tears and apologized profusely. 

After the accident report was filed and the insurance information was exchanged, Michael and Liam headed home.  Slightly shaken, Mike was glad to be home, and Little Liam was oblivious -- he was smiling and cooing like it was a normal day.  And we all thanked God for keeping them safe!

Mixed Messages

As Gabrielle and I were walking into the YMCA tonight, she said to me, "Eww...Momma, look -- a cygnet."  Not really expecting a swan, I looked where she was pointing -- at a cigarette on the ground.  I told her, "That's a cigarette, honey.  They're gross."

She said, "Yeah.  They are icky because they make people put them into their mouths and then they spit them out on the ground, and that's licorce."

"You mean littering, dear."

"Oh, yeah.  Littering."

I told her, "Smoking cigarettes is bad because it can make you really sick."

She thought this over and added, "Yeah, because if we are in a house that is smoking and on fire, we have to die."

At this point, we were passing another YMCA patron who gave us quite the look. Nothing like a candid conversation with a four-year-old to raise the hairy eyeball of strangers passing by.

Performance Pay in Education

Recently, PA Governor Tom Corbett said that he would like to see a performance pay system in use for teachers in PA's public schools.  A plan is currently in place in Pittsburgh, and the Governor would like to see it implemented throughout the state -- along with his "grading system" of schools.  One source indicates that teachers receive a bonus of up to $1000 if their school achieves AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress -- measured in PA by student performance on the PSSAs).  Additionally, this plan links salary to teacher performance in the classroom.  If a teacher is evaluated and deemed "exceptional", then (s)he earns another bonus.

I can see the genesis of this iniative.  There are far too many lazy, mediocre teachers out there.  And, with our current system of tenure and longevity protecting teachers from being disciplined or fired, these mediocre and complacent teachers fall under the radar and milk the educational heifer for far too long -- until they retire and collect an ill-earned pension.  Additionally, despite our being the most developed nation in the world, we rank far too low on education.  Why aren't our kids performing better? many want to know.

While I agree that exceptional teachers should be honored and supported in their endeavors, I am not convinced that a merit-pay system will work in education.  The business model is simple:  A salesman will work harder to sell his product in order to earn a commission.  But -- the product (a car, for example) in these two cases couldn't be more different.  A car is an inanimate object, a hunk of metal designed for the task of driving.  A student's education is dynamic, individualized, and influenced by many factors -- important ones include parental support and self-motivation.  The student must be a willing participant in the merit-pay equation.  The car has no choice, nor can it sway the results of the sale. 

I'm not alone in my doubt.  A recent study from Harvard debunks the use of a merit pay system -- New York City recently spent $75 million on a performance pay model that did nothing to improve student achievement.   I think that, unlike the salesman with the car, teachers have to accommodate and differientiate instruction to advance student learning.  That kind of work can't be quantified into dollars and cents.   

I'd write more about this topic (and I promise, I will) but my prep time is over, and I need to get back to work!

Awkward Pause

Last night, Aidan was completing his homework, which was to write two facts he learned from a book they read in class called Wonderful Worms.  The children are cursed, by the way, with two teachers as parents, so as he worked on his sentences, we asked him questions like, "What is the difference between a fact and an opinion?"  He proudly announced to us a sentence he was preparing to write:  "Worms eat dirt so that they can POOP it out and make enriched soil."

Michael and I looked at each other.  Our little genius, just wanting to use POOP in a sentence.  Our hearts warmed with pride.  Aidan protested, "What?  It's true!"

I replied, "You just chose that fact so you could write the word "poop" on your homework paper."

An awkward silence followed.

Aidan then said, "Cheeeep...cheeeeeep....cheeeeeep."

Michael asked, "What is that?"

Aidan:  "Crickets."

We laughed hysterically -- our six-year-old is precocious enough to fill an awkward pause with the sound of crickets.  What has the world come to?

When I Grow Up

Yesterday, as I drove the "big kids" home from school, this conversation took place:

Aidan: "I wish boys could have babies."

Me:  "Why?"

A:  "So that when they leave their mommies, they can live in their own houses and have a baby when they want to."

M:  "What about getting married?  You can have babies when you get married."

Gabrielle:  "Yeah, Aidan.  You are going to marry me."

A:  "No, I'm not.  I have a girlfriend, and I'll probably marry her."

 [Editor's Note:  This said "girlfriend" is the eldest daughter of our friends in the development, a good upstanding Catholic girl with nice parents.  :)]

"Besides, marrying your brother is against the law," I offer.


A:  "Actually, boys can marry boys, so maybe I'll marry a boy."

M:  "Oh really?" 

A:  "Yeah, I'll dress up like a girl and the boy will think I'm a girl and then we'll get married and he'll say, 'Why aren't you getting us any babies?  You are a girl!' and then I'll rip off my wig and my dress and say [Aidan changed his voice to sound like a girl here], 'Actually, I'm a [another vocal change, this time a deep throaty voice] BOY!'" 

Aidan collapsed into laughter at the prospect of duping some unsuspecting boy into marrying him, thinking he was girl.

Gabrielle considered all this and offered:  "You know, Aidan, you could borrow my clothes to pretend to be a girl.  I have a lot of dresses."

Fortunately, we pulled into the driveway before further details could be mapped out.  :)


Tell Me a Story

Last week, after reading "Godzilla and the Giant Scissors" by Brent Staples, my AP students read a brief interview with the author in which he discussed influences on his writing.  I assigned the follow-up, which was to write a brief narrative of their lives as writers, considering their influences and any positive or negative attitudes they have about writing.

And, as usual, I thoroughly enjoyed the responses I received.  Many students spoke fondly of reading with parents, grandparents, siblings.  Others spoke of learning to write, physically -- letter by letter.  Still more discussed their experiences in school, citing influential teachers and courses -- including the current AP English Language and Composition course.  It did my heart good to hear that my students feel they have become better writers because of our work together.  One particularly skilled student said, "Writing is no longer a tool sitting awkwardly in my hands of inexperience; it has become an instrument that I can wield to carefully craft a sculpture depicting words being inundated inside paragraphs, and paragraphs conceding defeat to a single word.  Kinetic." 

[Editor's Note:  I cannot take much credit for this student's success.  Self-motivation and keen perception and a willingness to use the knowledge I offer are far larger factors than any one personality.]

The stories of these intelligent and motivated students were enlightening and fun to read -- and they helped me remember why I love to teach, even when the profession seems to constantly come under fire in the media, even when our success as educators must come under duress, even when the intellectual well-being of our students comes last on the political agenda.  I find in these stories the promise of a better time ahead.