Wednesday, November 24, 2010

THE Movie

It happened.  We had to show THE movie.  THE movie that all TSC elementary schools are required to show to 4th graders.  THE movie about it.

No.  Not that it.  The other it.  The one that only happens to girls.

"Just Around the Corner."  That's the name of THE movie.  It's all about how your body is going to start changing and things that girls need to know about are going to start happening.  I've seen it every year for 10 years.  But never with my own daughter in the room staring slack-jawed.

It's not like she doesn't know any of the information.  (We don't even close bathroom doors at our house.)  It's just that she's never had to hear it from a talking head surrounded by 50 of her closest girlfriends.  And her mother.  And her mother's colleagues.

Bless her heart.

Every year around this time we teachers segregate the boys and girls into two different classrooms and show THE movies.  They both have the same title, but there's a different one for boys and girls.  Older siblings who've already been through 4th grade have warned younger ones, so word gets around the classroom that, as one older brother told his younger sister, "You're gonna need a barf bag, Maddie, 'cause that movie's GROSS."

Kinley was dreading it, but she watched from her desk without giggling (since I'd threatened the girls in my class within an inch of their lives).  Then afterwards, the school nurse passed out slips of paper to every girl.  "If you all write down something, even if it's just your name," she explained, "no one will know who has really written a question and you won't have to be embarrassed to ask something that you really want to know about."

I saw Kinley start to write furiously.  And it was all I could do not to peek at her slip when I walked around the room picking them up from the girls, but I somehow managed to restrain myself.  The nurse answered the questions with kindness and patience, and then the girls were sent back to their classrooms.

That afternoon, as we were driving home, I gingerly broached the subject. 
            Me:  What did you think of the movie today?
            Kinley:  The nurse didn't answer all of the questions.
            Me:  I know.  Some of them were similar to others that had already been asked and she told you that some of them were more appropriate to be asked in private.  Did she answer yours?
            Kinley: Yeah.
            Me (trying to sound nonchalant):  Oh.  What did you ask?
            Kinley:  Are you gonna post it on your blog?

             Shoot.  Busted.

            Me:  Well, do you have any other questions?
            Kinley:  No, not really.  The nurse said we could talk to our parents about this.  Does Daddy really know about all this stuff?
            Me:  Yes, he does.
            Kinley:  Really?  How?
            Me:  Well, he probably had to watch movies about it, too.    And, he's been married to me             for a long time.  So if you have any questions, you can always ask him, too.
            Kinley:  Oh.

Who knew that after watching THE movie, the realization that her daddy is in the loop about female pubescence would be the most significant revelation of the day?  Well, at least she got through it without a barf bag.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Kinley Gains Perspective

Each morning in Room 17 at Mayflower Mill Elementary, I sit with my class in a circle for Morning Meeting.  I've been doing this with my classes for 10 years, and it really helps to build a sense of community within the classroom.  The idea was first presented to me by my mother-in-law who was teaching 5th grade at the time, and she had read about it in a book titled The Responsive Classroom.

I have four main goals with Morning Meeting: 
1)  to help the students get to know everyone, not just their best friends,
2)  to help the students learn to take care of each other so that they all feel good about being in the class,
3)  to allow the students to share experiences and ideas together, and
4)  to have fun together.

Each day we begin by going around the circle and greeting each other.  I've spent weeks teaching the children the proper way to shake hands (no limp fish, grasp the palm instead of the fingers, shake from your elbow not your shoulder, be firm but gentle, etc.), the importance of eye contact, and what to do if you forget a name.  These are all life skills that extend far beyond the confines of Room 17 (and, by the way, they're skills that not even all the adults I encounter have mastered).

After greeting, we then have time for five children per day to share something that's on their minds.  Often they share details about their weekends or the latest adventures of their pets.  But sometimes they share about the death of a grandparent or their concern about an upcoming event in their lives.  I've spent weeks teaching them the proper ways to respond, both to fun comments and to serious ones.

So when Kinley signed up to share recently, I wasn't surprised.  I was curious about what she was planning to share (surely she wouldn't reveal some embarrassing family tidbit!), but I decided to wait and see rather than call her up to my desk for a preview.

Since she hadn't been the first child to sign up to share, she had to listen to two other classmates share before it was her turn.  One child shared about how he had spent his weekend and another shared about winning a soccer game.  When Kinley's turn came, she had decided to tell her classmates that our family will be spending the summer of 2011 in London where Josh will be teaching in a Purdue-sponsored study-abroad program. 

All eyes turned to me.  This was interesting to me since my students are usually very good about remembering to give eye contact to the speaker.  But, admittedly, the speaker isn't usually the child of the teacher.  Rather than giving their full attention to Kinley or even raising their hands to ask her a question, they all wanted to see what I had to say on the subject.  I smiled and then asked, "Are there any questions for Kinley?"  After all, the rest of the students don't have their parents present at Morning Meeting to steal their moments in the spotlight.

Immediately, several hands popped up.  One student asked, "Will you get to see the Eiffel Tower?"  Kinley stared at the child for a beat, and then said with only slight snarkiness, "Well, the Eiffel Tower is in Paris, not London.  And besides, I've already seen it."

Another student asked, "How long are you going to be there?"  Yet another asked, "Is your whole family going?"  After the maximum three questions per speaker had been asked and answered, I called on the next child who had signed up to share.

This child said excitedly, "I'm going to Michigan this weekend!"  The children politely asked three questions and listened intently to the answers.  Morning Meeting ended, and we went about the rest of our learning day.

On the drive home that afternoon, Kinley appeared thoughtful.  After a few silent moments, she said, "You know what, Mom?  For some people, going to Michigan for the weekend is a really big deal."

I had no idea that she'd been processing this all day, and so it took me a moment to respond.  I thought about how Kinley had gotten her first passport before she was a year old and had been to Hawaii, Thailand, Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, New Caledonia, and Malaysia before she was five.  She had lived in Italy instead of attending the second semester of kindergarten, had seen five continents, and had visited every Disney park in the world except for one (Tokyo Disneyland). 

But these trips, which to any other child would seem spectacular, were, to her, commonplace.  Routine.  Normal.  Suddenly, after one Morning Meeting, it was starting to become clear to her just how unusual her experiences were.  She wasn't feeling superior.  She wasn't looking down her nose at her classmate.  It was just that it was finally dawning on her that she was different.

I adjusted my rearview mirror so that I could see her in the back seat.  I said, "Yes, honey.  You're right.  Isn't that interesting?   You get to go on short weekend trips to Chicago and Nashville and other U.S. destinations all the time, but for some people, that's huge."

She looked pensive.  I could tell she was still processing.  I thought about asking her more questions but decided to let her think it through herself.  I readjusted the mirror and continued our drive.  She didn't say anything else, and I let it drop. 

No doubt this wouldn't be the last time in her life that she would notice a difference between her own life experiences and those of her peers.  Nor, I'm sure, will it be the last time that my daughter opens her mouth in my classroom and I have no idea what's going to come out.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Challenger and Challenges

Our class recently took a field trip to the Brownsburg Challenger Center in Brownsburg, Indiana.  This amazing facility leads school and civic groups in simulated space missions to develop teamwork and communication skills.  Before we go, the students learn about NASA missions (my step-father even comes in and talks about his years working for NASA on all of the Apollo missions), about the moon, and about the tragedy after which the center is named.  They learn about the jobs that will be avalaible to them on the mission and about the skills those jobs require.  Each child gets to work half of the day in the "Spacecraft" and half of the day in "Mission Control."  It's one of the top two learning experiences outside the classroom that my students have during their two years in my class, and I've been taking students there since my first year as the teacher of the Gifted and Talented class.

But I'd never done it as a parent of one of the participants before.

A few years ago when I took my class of 4th and 5th graders, one of my students was working alone in the clean room of the spacecraft.  This glass-enclosed room inside the spacecraft is where the students on the REMOTE team construct and "launch" a lunar probe.  Since the probe is sensitive, the REMOTE officers must wear protective gear and work in isolation from the rest of the class.  That particular year I had a very small class, and so one student was working on the probe in the clean room by herself.  She had a counterpart in Mission Control, and they were to communicate via headsets.  The problem began when the student in the clean room didn't notice the first direction on the flip chart:  "Put on your headset."  The poor girl wandered around inside the clean room aimlessly for 10 minutes wondering what to do next, eventually bursting into tears before Commander Krebs of the Challenger Center staff stepped in and reminded her to read her flip chart directions carefully.

Now, it was bad enough that the child was frustrated and that the other REM officer in Mission Control was trying fruitlessly to communicate with his Spacecraft counterpart over the headset.  But to make matters even worse, the parent of the child in the Spacecraft was standing outside the glass doors crying, too!  The poor mom was having a terrible time watching her frustrated, teary daughter, knowing that she couldn't intervene and come to her rescue.  I remember thinking, "Great day in the morning.  It's just a simulation!  Your kid is going to have to learn to be independent sometime!  Quit stepping in every time she has to think for herself!"

And now, several years later, here I was in a similar position.  Only this time, I'm the teacher as well as the parent.

Kinley was on the MEDICAL team and began her day in Mission Control.  I usually float back and forth during the day between the two rooms, observing my students and interacting with the parents who are watching from the back of the rooms.  But I had promised Kinley that I would hang out in the room where she was working.  When Commander Santner of the Challenger Center gave the instructions to, "Pick up your manuals and begin," Kinley sat there looking clueless.  She was looking around the room, checking out what everyone else was doing, and chewing her fingers (a habit she gets from her father).

I stared in disbelief.  "You've GOT to be kidding me," I thought.  "What is she DOING?  Why isn't she getting started?  Doesn't she realize that the MEDICAL team in the Spacecraft is waiting to receive instructions from her?  Didn't she hear the instructions from the Mission Commander?  Is she just going to sit there making me look bad all day???"

Half and hour before, when our class first arrived, Commander Santner had taken all of my 10 parent chaperones on a tour of the facility.  She had told them very specifically NOT to intervene during the mission, even if they saw the children struggling.  Learning to make decisions and take action while under stress is a valuable lesson, and at some point during the day, the kids would probably not know what to do.  But Commander Santner assured the parents that with communication and teamwork, the kids would be able to meet their goals and "Return to the Moon".

I knew this, so I knew I couldn't say anything to push Kinley in the right direction.  So I did the natural, logical thing and started sending mental vibes across the room.  "Pick up the manual.  Pick up the manual.  PICK UP THE STINKING MANUAL!!!"

Nothing.  Just more daydreaming and finger chewing.

So then I tried the "Teacher Proximity/Parent Evil Eye" combo.  Maybe if I stood near her and glared, she'd figure out that she needed to be taking this more seriously.

Instead, she smiled at me and waved wildly. 

Finally, Commander Santner noticed that the MEDICAL team wasn't yet illuminated on the mission status board, indicating that no action had yet been taken by the MED officer in Mission Control.  As she walked toward Kinley to help her get with the program, I decided I should probably spend the rest of the morning in the Spacecraft, far removed from my daughter's cluelessness.

In the end, Kinley finally instructed the MED team in the Spacecraft to begin scanning each officer's "radiation exposure badges" and then to begin "visual response tests."  She finished her shift in Mission Control and then got to work a shift in the Spacecraft (while I retreated to Mission Control). 

Our "Return to the Moon" ended in success.

But the next time I take my class, I'll have much more sympathy for the teary mom outside the clean room.

                                          Comander Santner intervenes after my "Vibe-Sending"
                                           and "Teacher Proximity/Parent Evil Eye" attempts fail.

                                          Kinley and her classmates enter the Spacecraft through
                                          the airlock.

                                          Commander Krebs helps Kinley figure out what she's
                                          supposed to be doing in the Spacecraft (and later gives
                                          me the you've-got-to-let-her-figure-it-out-on-her-own
                                          speech.)  I LOVE this woman!

                                          Kinley checks the COM officer's radiation exposure
                                          in the Spacecraft.

                                      The class debriefs after a successful "Return to the Moon."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"Am I your favorite student?"

Last night as I was making dinner, Kinley was sitting at the kitchen counter.  As I was stuffing basil (homegrown!) under the skin of the chicken (local, organic from Thistle Byre Farm!), Kinley asked, "Mom, am I your favorite student?"

Oh dear.  I had already spent countless hours preparing my answer to this question for wary fellow parents who might be concerned that I would cut Kinley an undue amount of slack in the classroom or offer her extra homework help after school.  (My first line of defense, by the way, is to share this blog!)  I hadn't even thought about the possibility that SHE might be the first to ask this question at all!

Other potential questions, however, I was prepared to handle.

Her:  "What's going to be on the economics test tomorrow?"
Me:  "Check your notes."

Her:  "Why are you so much harder on me?"
Me:  "I know that you know the rules and have the capacity to follow them.  Plus, I expect you to be an example to others."

Her:  "What did Maddie make on her test?"
Me:  "None of your beeswax."

But this one?  Geesh.

As the long silence that blanketed our kitchen grew even thicker, I thought about our first 19 days of school.  I thought about how she'd already cried in class three times.  About how she had been so goofy, so giggly,  so annoyingly nine years old when she made a group presentation for Junior Achievement.  About how when asked at Morning Meeting what she'd do to bring peace to the world, she'd replied, "Marry a President."  About how she got so frustrated when she couldn't immediately figure out how much 100 hundreds is, but then pushed herself on her own after school to figure out 10,000 hundreds.  About how she wrote "I love you, Mom," at the top of her spelling paper.  About how her favorite mornings are Tuesdays and Thursdays because she gets to ride to school with me.

And I turned to her and said, "Yes, Kinley.  Yes you are."

Monday, August 30, 2010

"Oh yeah! You're my teacher!"

I experienced yet another first today.  Kinley had a momentary lapse where she forgot that I was her teacher.  Seriously.  All I've been thinking about for months now is this whole mommy/teacher thing, and Kinley is able to block it out after just 10 days together.  Unbelievable.

Here's what happened.  After school, Kinley was working on her spelling homework.  In my class, the students have individualized spelling lists that are totally based on what words each individual child needs to work on.  That means that the children can have anywhere from 0-15 words to learn each week depending on their prior knowledge.  Generally, no two students have the same list, and it's a really big deal for the kids to have fewer than 15 words.

Kinley looked up from her homework and said, "Hey, mom!  Guess how many spelling words I have this week!"  I mentally flipped through my stack of student lists and replied, "Uh, nine, right?"  She gave me a how-could-you-possibly-know-that look, and then said, "Oh yeah!  You're my teacher!"  She really had forgotten for a moment.  How does she do that?

I'm constantly reminded of our unique situation.  Last Monday, I was making breakfast when I noticed a letter on the counter that hadn't been there when I went to bed.  Kinley's Aunt Kelsey had emailed a letter of recommendation to Josh since Kinley was applying for a class job.  Josh had printed it out after I went to bed and left it on the counter for Kinley to take to school the next day. 

I decided to sneak a peek.  As I read Kelsey's words, I felt the tears coming yet again.  She described in detail Kinley's best attributes and even managed to make me forget the faults that I so often notice and pick apart in my daughter.  It was Day 5 of school, and the Cry Count was 3.  Not good.

Later that morning, I heard Josh helping her get dressed for school.  "Remember, today is your job interview.  You know Mommy likes your hair best in a bow, so be sure to wear one in your hair."  I do love a good bow, and Kinley didn't disappoint.  During her interview she was poised and pleasant.

I wasn't very worried at first about assigning her a job since I know she is often careless in her work.  I assumed her application would have several mistakes, and therefore it would be easier to eliminate her from the top classroom jobs.  Wrong.  She only had one mistake (a missing comma between the city and state), and she made some compelling arguments about why I should hire her for the jobs she wanted. 

Oh dear.  What now?  If I gave her a good job, everyone would assume it was because she was my child and not because she really nailed the application without my help.  If I intentionally gave her a job that wasn't on her list of three choices, I wasn't being fair to her.  How did I get myself into this?

In the end, she got her third choice - Substitute.  She gets to do the jobs of anyone who is absent.  She was happy, and I got to avoid a confrontation from fellow parents and the guilt of my conscience.  At least for now.

So how can my being her teacher slip her mind when so many of the decisions I've made at school the last 10 days have required me to focus on just that?  Maybe this is one more way all those prayers are working.  Maybe one day soon I'll say to her, "Guess what happened at school today?"  But so far, I doubt it.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Meet the Teacher Night at Mayflower Mill Elementary

Tonight was "Meet the Teacher Night" at my daughter's school, but it certainly wasn't the first time she had met her teacher.  Of the 24 students in her 4th/5th combined class, she is the only one who has known the teacher since the moment of her birth.  Her teacher is me.  Her mother.

When I found out in June of 2009 that Kinley had been accepted into the 2nd/3rd Gifted and Talented class, I was a little stunned.  She hadn't been accepted at the end of 1st grade, and then, at the end of 2nd grade, she was scheduled to be in a regular 3rd grade class.  When the call came informing me that she had been moved into the GT class, I didn't know how to react.  I had already made my peace with her placement and had decided that God knew best.  And now, I was not only going to have to face the changes of having a child in an accelerated class, but I was going to have to prepare to be her teacher for the two years following 3rd grade since there is only one 4/5 GT class at our school.  And I teach it.

I quickly started thinking of options.  A)  We could decline.  Her 2nd grade year had been great, and I was confident in the skills of the teachers in the regular classrooms at Mayflower.  B)  We could accept but move her to the GT class at another elementary in our school corporation.  C)  I could move to teach another GT class at another school in our corporation.  D)  We could *gulp* accept, and I could be her teacher for 4th and 5th grades.

After much reassurance by my principal, we went with option D.  I immediately began asking for prayers from my friends, usually accompanied with an eye-roll and lots of sarcasm.  I should have been more sincere.

It wasn't until this summer that I began to pray in earnest for God to guide me through this process.  I know that my dear mother-in-law has been praying for the situation, too, and the results of those prayers have been evident over the last two weeks.

While tonight was the official parent meeting at school, classes actually began last Tuesday.  That was the day that Kinley requested that we take her traditional "first day of school" picture together this year.  I choked back tears as she skipped ahead of me to pose in front of our house with her bookbag.  I was so touched that she would think of marking our first day as teacher/student this way.  As we perfected our pose she whispered, "I am so excited about today, but I'm going to try to act just like every other student."  The tears now refused to be stifled.  Day 1, and I'm already crying.

The first day went really well.  Kinley chose a seat across the room from my desk.  (Actually, she first chose the desk closest to me until I explained that those seats were usually reserved for students who needed my attention most.)  She excitedly shared about her day with her daddy when we got home, and I retold him the highlights from my perspective after she went to bed.

Day 2 started with student presentations.  Each child was to bring in three items --small enough to fit in a lunch sack -- that represent themselves.  Josh had helped Kinley choose her items since I felt strongly that she shouldn't get extra help from her teacher on assignments.  So during her presentation, when she pulled out her items, I was curious to hear her explain how they related to her personality.  When, at the end of her presentation, her classmates began to ask her questions about her world travels, I was so filled with pride to hear her intelligent, well-thought-out answers that I started to CRY!  This was certainly an unexpected consequence!  This year was going to be full of surprises.

So tonight when I made my traditional parent-night speech, I shouldn't have been surprised when my daughter was one of the first to raise her hand with a question.  And afterwards, when her daddy critiqued my spiel (granted, I asked for his opinion), it should have seemed normal.  But it doesn't.  Not yet anyway.