Friday, November 20, 2009


From the Apple

Today we celebrated Pow Wow at my school. I've been doing Pow Wow since 1990 when Courtney and I started our first year at Alimacani Elementary School together. The school opened the year that Courtney started her school career and I returned to teaching from several years of mommy leave. I had taken several years off after Courtney was born. Finances were tight and I really needed to return to work. It was hard at first but Alimacani was the perfect place for both of us. I got reacquainted with all the reasons I had fallen in love with teaching in the first place and Courtney had a string of talented and dedicated teachers who loved her and nurtured her. Pow Wow was started as a tribute to Chief Alimacani of the Timucuan tribe - a tribe that had the roamed the land where the new school was built. The school was named for the Chief.

Back in those days we prepared our brown dyed pillowcases and our grocery bag head bands with feathers. We dyed over sized macaroni noodles to string, and war paint was added to every child's face! Back then I didn't know that this was insulting to Native Americans and trivialized their history.

Things have changed a lot. At my school now each kindergarten class represents a different tribe from a different part of the country and the clothing is so much more authentic and different depending on the tribe and part of the country. There is a real effort to respect the native ways and the native life. We learn native songs and dances and listen to native music. Our fifth graders even get involved by studying the same tribes and working on a presentation for the kinder kids. All of that is different from those early days.

What has stayed the same, however, is our goal behind the event. It's hard work teaching all those songs and dances, getting little ones ready for a performance and trying to do it in an honorable way, making costumes, and teaching facts about a people that are so foreign to many of our children. But... it's so worth it. Courtney remembers Pow Wow as one of the high points of her elementary years. She may not remember the countless worksheets she completed or the many assessments that she took or the incredible books she read, but Pow Wow always brings a smile to her face. And so, I keep a picture of Courtney on my desk throughout this season to remind me that it all really is worth it. I even wear a medallion every single year in her honor that she made from bread dough that first year. Each year I get it out I expect it to be molded, cracked or broken, but every year it looks good as new! What I know for sure is that while we are learning to respect our diversity, we are also making memories and that makes it all worth it.

Friday, November 6, 2009

My First Surprise Observation

From the Star

So let me tell you about my day on Monday. I get to class and my team decides that we are going to have a read-a-thon. For those of you who don’t know what this is, it is a time where the kids read for about 30-45 minutes and then you meet and talk about what they have read. I have also noticed that it also seems to be a "I need to catch up" time for the teachers. I wouldn't say this would be something the school leadership would see as strong instruction because it feels more like a "keep them busy while I get something done" kind of lesson. So my kids get comfortable and they are sitting on the carpet reading their books, and guess who walks in? Oh I am sure you guessed it - the Principal! Oh and boy was it my lucky day. She was not just coming to walk through but decided to do an observation that day. Oh yes, she was there to observe my lesson. OH CR@P!! I was not prepared for this one at all. So what did I do? As quickly as I could I chose a book that we had already read and reviewed with the class the main idea and setting - skills we had been studying. As the principal sat through my lesson she took notes and stayed for about 15 minutes. She left as my lesson ended. While the class had performed adequately, it certainly was not my BEST effort. I felt guilty that I let my team suggest a plan that I knew wasn't really my best effort or something my kids really needed that day. On a side note, when the Principal came in, the rest of the teachers quickly abandoned their read-a-thons and started teaching! I was angry with myself and worried about what the Principal might be thinking. When she left my room she didn’t say a word. Maybe she didn’t want to interrupt my lesson (on a hopeful note...). Maybe she’ll just give me some tips later when I see her (still on a hopeful note) Well, I did see her three of four times that day and she said NOTHING. I was horrified - stressed out about what she was thinking. She probably didn't give it another thought but I had a pit in my stomach for the rest of the day. The truth of the matter is, I would probably have had that same pit in my stomach even if I thought I had done a fantastic job! I really want to do well and I want my Principal to feel good about what I am doing. It really does made me nervous to have someone sitting in the back of my evaluating my work - especially when it's someone I care about.

Finally, on Wednesday the Principal called me into her office. Oh boy- this was the defining moment. I was thinking to myself - she is absolutely going to tear me to pieces because I was so unprepared. I was wrong. She started by telling me how she understands how stressful it is to be a new teacher, but that she really feels that I am working through it all okay. Then she went on to talk about all the resources that I have available to me at the school and how much more training will be available to me as the year moves along. She said she would love to see me implement more next time she comes after I finish my trainings. At that moment I was thinking how much training is offered during the first year and how hard it is to go through the year knowing that other people get it, but you are still waiting on training in a certain area. I did use the "excuse" to help myself feel better that if I had been trained in all the parts, I would probably have known more about what she was looking for. You know, just another one of those moments as a new teacher where you feel alone and lost, even when lots of people are offering you support. She ended by telling me to have a great day and if I have any questions that I can come anytime.

All I can say is that I am glad that the first observation is over. It is just so intimidating to have your principal watch you teach. As a student, it didn't bother me near as much but I think I was always better prepared for what the expectation in the class was. As a teacher, your boss is expecting you to know it all! I do wish I had been better prepared. That is a good lesson for me! I still have two more observations and two more meetings with the principal, but at least next time I get to choose the date and I will know she is coming so that I can be better prepared. For now I am going to take in what she said and work on it. I am looking forward to the next training and feeling more confident with what I am doing! Maybe I'll even learn to look forward to the observations... maybe not!