It was the bed head.


I don’t always feel like I am doing this the right way.

I have the big boxed sets of Lucy Calkins reading and writing lessons, but I haven’t actually been able to make sense of them yet.

Our school is a “Teacher’s College” pilot school, or lab school, or something. I’ve watched the TC lady teach two “mini lessons” but I still don’t know what exactly it is that I’m supposed to teach them.

I have my big binder of rubrics, but I don’t use them very effectively. Or very often.  Truthfully? I’m still not sure what is means by “The student develops character, plot and setting through out the story, especially at the heart of the story.”

Um.

“Heart of the story”?

Ah…..they’re ten.

Yeah.

I mean, I sort of feel like I know how to help kids develop a sense of themselves as writers. I feel like I know how to help them think about the plot and all that.  But…..see……I look at them, and I see little ones. Kids.  Wicked young kids.  I don’t expect them to produce more nuance in their writing that I can manage in mine.

So last week, when my “evaluator/administrator” popped into my classroom for the first time in ten weeks, my heart sank.  We were in the middle of “writers’s workshop”, where kids were working on various pieces of writing, depending on what they had already completed.

It didn’t fit the kit.

Gulp.

I pretended to be calm, but I hated watching that man talk to my kids, asking them about their work.  I hated watching him take notes on his stupid iPad.

See, the problem is that when your “evaluator” doesn’t like you, its kind of depressing to know that he is popping in at a time when you have already set everything up, and have already done your lesson, and the kids have already gone on to work independently.  You know his view will be sort of skewed. He won’t get it.

How could he?

He hasn’t been here in WEEKS. Now he expects to evaluate my teaching in ten minutes.

I wasn’t feeling very happy or very confident when he asked me to meet with him the next day to go over his observations.

Gah.

So stupid.

He had talked to two of my students, and had a lot of concerns about their writing skills.

Really.

One of these boys goes to the Learning Center 7 times a week to address his learning disability in writing and math.  The other sees the ELA specialist twice a week because of his low reading/writing scores.  My boss didn’t bother to check in with the kids who have above grade level kills, of course. He only checked with my strugglers.

Gag.

So the day after I had my “evaluation/observation” meeting, I sat down with my struggling writers.  I sighed, feeling defeated because I had obviously failed these kids.

The first little guy sat beside me, chewing his lip as we looked at his “Mystery Story”.
“OK,” I began, “how are you feeling about your story?”    He shrugged.  I turned my eyes to his computer screen and began to read.

Wow!  Punctuation, capitals, dialogue marked by quotation marks.  I read about the crime in his story, saw how he described his detective and his criminal.  I thought about the first piece of writing he did for me in September. The one with no punctuation, no breaks in paragraphs and no actual logic to make it understandable.

I was thrilled with his progress!  Wow!    I thought it was probably the work of the learning center, but I didn’t care. Good boy!  Good work!

And I kept going. I reviewed story after story, comparing progress from September in one child after another. And I saw improved syntax, improved mechanics, improved story line, improved word choice.

I wasn’t sure what to think, but it certainly seemed to me that these kids were learning to write, in spite of my inability to figure out the boxed kits.

Finally, I called up a sweet little boy who is one of my favorites. He is gentle, funny, smart but not a scholar. He is good at math, but makes those tiny mistakes. He reads a lot, but doesn’t always think hard about the themes or messages of the books. As a writer, he is what we call “a minimalist”.  Why use a complete sentence when one word will do?  His writing thus far had lacked organization, clarity, sequence. It was rudimentary at best.

I called up his story, with a little sigh.  And began to read.  And my mouth fell open.

“No I won’t!”             

“Why won’t you, we could strike it rich?”

“I already told you, we’d get caught.”

“We won’t get caught.”

“You are planning to kidnap Liam Smeel, lead singer of ‘The Kings’ right before his performance. Do you think you’re not going to get busted?”

“Are you questioning my magnificent plans?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact I am. If you think I’m going to help you with your stupid plan, I’m not. Count me out.”

What???  My little guy had written this introduction to his mystery? Seriously?   I read on, following the events of the story, recognizing the “red herring”, wondering myself who did it. I got to the end, the logical, interesting, funny conclusion to the 5 page mystery story.  I looked at my little student, and I was speechless.

“I….wow…..I…..”  I took a deep breath. “Honey, this is fantastic!  Your introduction is amazing!”

He looked up at me with his gentle sky-blue eyes.  He was twisting his fingers with nerves.

“What do you think of this?”, I asked him, curious to see if he was aware of just how far he’d come in these few months.

He shrugged, his thin shoulders looking fragile as birds’ wings in his blue T shirt.  I wasn’t sure what to say to him.  I looked at his face, his elfin features and nervous smile.  I looked at his head, so close to my shoulder as we both peered at the computer screen.

It was his head that got me.  The swirls and tufts of little boy bed head that formed the delicate halo around his face. My eyes filled with tears as I realized just how young, and how tender, and how fragile he is.  I put my arm around him, at a loss for words. I gave him a gentle hug, my eyes still resting on the golden crown of his head.

“I’m so incredibly proud of all of you guys today!”, I said to my class as I struggled to control my voice.  They looked up in some surprise as they did their everyday work.

“You are my heroes”.  My voice was a little bit thick, so I took a drink of water.  I checked off the boxes in the rubric, and got ready to meet with the next little tiny literary hero.

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10 responses to this post.

  1. Some day you need to sneak in part of “As I lay dying” or “The Sound and the Fury” and let the idiot ‘evaluate’ that.

    What do you bet he’d say, “That person will never be a writer with that sort of disorganized mind!”?

    Reply

    • Ha! I’ve thought of that before! When I read the rubric that said something about “increasing the action at the heart of the story”, all I could think of was Vonnegut!

      Reply

  2. Posted by 2old2tch on April 12, 2015 at 12:33 am

    I don’t know why anyone thought that popping in and interrupting and speaking to students at random is a good way to evaluate what a teacher does or for that matter what a student is doing, can do or has done in the past. It’s kind of like that experiment where they have someone run through a classroom followed shortly thereafter by someone who is obviously chasing them. Students are then told that the first individual stole something and is being chased. When asked to describe what they saw, there is little agreement in accounts. So a guy walks into your classroom at one point in time for ten minutes and thinks he has enough information to tell what you and the kids are doing? Ridiculous! I never minded administrators walking into my classroom who did so with a reason and did not unnecessarily disrupt the class. Having unannounced virtual strangers “pop” in and proceed to interrupt the kids with his/her little preconceived agenda/checklist accomplishes nothing. My condolences. You obviously have helped your students grow over the year. It’s too bad a fool with a clipboard has any power to make you question yourself. I hope Lucy Calkins would still have the integrity to agree with me, kit or no kit. What is this love of prepackaged pedagogy?

    Reply

    • Thank you for your support in this! I actually think its a good idea for evaluators to come in unannounced just to take a look at how the class normally functions. Its the idea that he could just their writing in that little glimpse that gets me.
      And I have NO idea when we came to the ridiculous conclusion that teaching can be done with a “cookbook”!!!!

      Reply

      • Posted by 2old2tch on April 12, 2015 at 7:50 pm

        I don’t mind the unannounced. I mind the unannounced evaluative visits by strangers (once every ten weeks(?!). From my point of view, the next step in that situation would have been for the evaluator to sit down in a private meeting and have a discussion with you about what was happening in the classroom. I got told once that I had an answer for every observation that the evaluator made as if that were a bad thing. It seemed like a no brainer to me that I should have a reason for what and how I did things. It seemed reasonable to me that he could help me more if he made suggestions based on what I was trying to do. My past evaluations in another district had been a collegial process where my evaluator and I discussed what was working or not. It was not an uninformed critique; the teacher’s input was essential to the process. In the new district I even participated in a pilot peer review process that was extremely helpful to the teachers involved; we observed each other and focused on a question or problem that the observed teacher had. As you can see, I brought a lot of my own baggage to my reply to your experience, but I really can’t think of a profession where an uninformed evaluator would come in and tell a professional how to do their job without input from that professional.

      • Oh, I agree with you wholeheartedly! But in all fairness, it isn’t our school or our district that has come up with this stupid evaluation system. It is the state (maybe the nation??????) My evaluator is also not a stranger: although I have a lot of issues with him as an administrator, he has ten years of teaching fifth grade in his past, and he knows my students and my classroom fairly well. He did meet with me to talk things over, but I haven’t yet seen his formal write up of the lesson.
        I guess i just hate the whole “evaluate you to trip you up” mindset that has replaced, “supervision to help you become better at your job” philosophy of the past.

      • Posted by 2old2tch on April 13, 2015 at 11:31 pm

        “I guess i just hate the whole “evaluate you to trip you up” mindset that has replaced, “supervision to help you become better at your job” philosophy of the past.”

        That is exactly it. And yes it is all over the country.

      • Oh, me too. Me too………Got my write up today. Too pissed of to write my thoughtful “Teacher Response”, which at this point would read, “Fuck you, you jerk. You couldn’t teach a damn dolphin to swim!”

      • Posted by 2old2tch on April 15, 2015 at 12:30 am

        Chuckle. Oh, to be able to say it out loud.

  3. You should be alone in the bathroom unable to stop grinning at yourself in the mirror for being such a magnificent teacher.

    Reply

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