Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Kinley Blows the Whistle

Last night at the dinner table, I had one of those moments that would make the Golden Apple Award selection committee want to change their minds about me.  Kinley was reading as she ate, frantically trying to finish her assigned book so that she could earn the right to use one of the 15 NookColors I have for my class, when she informed me that the book I had assigned to her was "not appropriate for kids her age."

Oh brother.

Last school year I wrote a Public Schools Foundation of Tippecanoe County grant for $3615 to buy 15 NookColor ereaders for my classroom.  These ereaders would allow my students to read books on their own levels, and I hoped that the new technology would renew their excitement about reading. 

Last Tuesday, I announced to the class that it was time to begin using the Nooks.  The students would first need to finish the books they were currently reading and take the Accelerated Reader tests on their books.  Then they would be assigned paperback books to read that fit their specific Guided Reading levels. 

The Guided Reading system levels books from A to Z so that children can read books that are a "good fit" for their abilities in comprehension and vocabulary.  I spent several weeks at the beginning of the year testing each child individually for independent reading level, and I used this information to help the children find "good fit" books from my shelves.  My students fall in the Q-Z range, with the class average being about a V.  (V is roughly equivalent to 6th grade level.)

We would track how long it took for the children to read their assigned books and calculate the number of pages read per day.  Once finished with the paperbacks, the children were required to take the AR tests.  After they had completed all of these things, they would be rewarded with NookColors to use. 

Kinley is reading at a level Y, as are several other students in the class.  She and two other kids were ready to be assigned leveled books, so I went to my shelves to help them choose.  They all chose a Newbery-winning book titled A Corner of the Universe.  I hadn't read this book, but I knew that the winners of the Newbery medal are dependably high-quality literature.  I checked the books out to them and sent them off to begin reading.

So imagine my horror at the dinner table when Kinley begins to detail the "inapprpriate parts" of the book.  "First," she said, "there is a suicide.  One of the characters hangs himself."

"Well, that's not pleasant, but it could be worse," I thought.

"And also, Mom, there's the word B-O-S-O-M-S!"

Oh brother.  Here we go.  "Let me see the book," I said, reaching across the table.  She quickly flipped to the most offending section and triumphantly handed over the book.  Sure enough, it got worse.  One character walks into his love interest's room while she is, um, occupied with someone else.  Shirts are unbuttoned.  Bedclothes are disheveled.

An awkward silence followed, both in the book and at our dinner table.

"See?" Kinley says accusingly.  "I see," I admit. 

While Kinley is gloating over the fact that her teacher, her mother, has assigned such filth for her to read, all I can think about is the two other boys (one a 4th grader!) who were also assigned this book.  What would their parents think?  What would they think?  Oh brother.

So today at school, I lie in wait for the 4th grade boy to get to school.  As soon as he arrives, I accost him and practically rip the book from his innocent little fingers.  "Um, this book isn't really appropriate for you, so I'm going to help you find a new one today," I say with a look that negates the casual tone of my speech.

"Oh, good," he said.  "I hadn't gotten very far, and I didn't really like it anyway."  Whew!  One crisis averted!

When boy #2 arrives, the response is different.  He had finished the book the night before, in record time.  Oh brother.  I would have to go and talk to his mom, a paraprofessional at our school, during lunch.

She ended up taking it really well, and even gave me a hard time about assigning her son a NookColor with a floral cover.  Whew!  A second crisis averted.

Now I just have to make sure Kinley keeps this to herself so the Golden Apple Committee never gets wind of it.  And maybe I'll hide my award, just in case.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Year Two Begins!

Another year has begun, and the kids who were fourth graders in my class last year are this year’s fifth graders.  Since my class consists of half 5th graders who’ve already had me for a year and half 4th graders coming in for the first time, I depend on my 5th graders to help the new students learn my expectations.  But there are many summers that I worry about whether or not they’ll be able to rise to the occasion.  Usually an amazing transformation takes place over summer vacation, and last year’s silly, unsure followers become this year’s serious, confident leaders.
And, of course, this year my daughter is one of those leaders.  Our first day of school in August this year marked the beginning of our second year together as mother/teacher and daughter/student in a public school classroom.  To add to the fun, my son Knox has started kindergarten, so I get to have a single school year with both my children at school with me each day.

As I said in one summer post, I had been looking forward to paying my students for their summer work.  Kinley had accomplished very little in spite of her myriad of cultural experiences, and I couldn’t wait to make a point to her by passing out piles of Boyd Bucks to the kids who’d worked diligently all summer writing book summaries and journal entries, solving math problems and working on cursive handwriting.  I had daydreamed about passing out the money for weeks, slowly and deliberately calling student names and totals.  In my mind, it would go something like this.
“Justin – nine hundred Boyd Bucks!  How wonderful!  Way to go!  Kaycee – three thousand Boyd Bucks!  My goodness!  Weren’t you a busy beaver?  And you’re only a fourth grader!  And your mom isn’t even the teacher!  Abbey – eight hundred dollars!  Nice job, especially for someone moving in from the regular classroom!  Xander – twelve hundred Boyd Bucks!  My, my, my!  And I heard that your mom didn’t even have to yell at you once all summer to get your work done!  Geoffrey – two thousand Boyd Bucks!  And look at your thorough math work here!  No skipping steps for you!  All of your work is neatly shown! 
And now, who’s next?  Oh, yes.  It’s time for my daughter, Kinley Boyd.  Let’s see Kinley, how much have you earned?  You visited all the best museums of London, the National Gallery, the Victoria and Albert, the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Museum of Natural History…TWICE.  So surely you must have written up summaries of each of those to earn a hundred Boyd Bucks each.   And then, of course, surely you finished your math workbook since your mom hauled the dadgum thing across the Atlantic for you!  Let’s see.  What did you get?  Two hundred Boyd Bucks. Really?  Is that all?  You must be terribly embarrassed that all these kids who DIDN’T have their teacher with them all summer long still managed to complete so many activities!  I TOLD YOU SO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Insert evil laughter here.)”
It didn’t go quite as I had imagined, though.  As it turned out, Kinley wasn’t alone in her underachievement.  One incoming 4th grader took it all very seriously and earned a whopping $1,200, but most kids who brought in work had completed enough activities to earn only $400-$600.  Kinley really did earn only $200, but several of my 27 students had nothing to show for the summer.   And so (to my chagrin) Kinley actually seemed relatively conscientious.
Shoot.  There went my, “I told you so.”

Monday, August 15, 2011

Thank You, J.K. Rowling

I love to read.  I'm not very fast, and I only read for pleasure during the summer when I'm not working.  But I love it.

Kinley, however, has been a reluctant reader.  In fact, until she became engrossed in the Harry Potter series earlier this year, she would often say that she didn't like to read at all.  She would start a book and never finish it. She would check out library books that were far above her level, setting herself up for failure.

But her obsession with J. K. Rowling's fantasy world gave me hope and started what I hope will be a lifelong love of reading for Kinley. 

I was so proud of her when we went on a couple of Harry Potter tours in England.  Kinley proved how much she remembered about the books by answering many of the tour guide's questions about plot specifics, even winning a prize for her knowledge.

Kinley and I pose in front of Lacock Abbey where scenes from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone were filmed.

Kinley claims her prize of candy floo powder for correctly answering questions.

Kinley and her cousin at Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross Station.

Kinley asks the tour guide a question on our Harry Potter walking tour of London.

And then, when we got home to the U.S., something else happened that made me want to squeal with delight. 

Kinley was helping me chop vegetables in the kitchen on one of the last days of summer vacation.  She had been reading The Titan's Curse, one of the books in the Percy Jackson series, and she said, "You know, Mom, I think Percy Jackson is just like Harry Potter.  Grover is Ron, Annabeth is Hermione, and Kronos is Voldemort.  The author totally copied J. K. Rowling.  And I think the ending is gonna be really short since I'm already halfway through the book and they don't even know where they're going or what they're looking for!"

Wow.  It is every teacher's dream to find out that the skills they've tried instill in their students have really taken root, have grown into something bigger, something that will be plucked and used by the student later in the garden of life.  And there I was, standing in my kitchen, chopping literal fruits while my daughter harvested metaphorical ones.  Wow.

My reluctant reader had initiated a conversation comparing the works of two different authors, was beginning to recognize pattern in works of the same genre, and was making predictions and passing judgments on the author's pacing of the plot!

Thank you, J. K. Rowling.  I owe you one.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Summer School

Our summer abroad was a kaleidoscope of historical, geographical, theatrical, and economic education.  And not only for Kinley.  I learned more than I had anticipated, too. 

The Boyds in front of Hampton Court Palace
For example, I memorized the fates of Henry VIII's wives in order (divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived).  I learned that Great Britain, England, and the United Kingdom are not all names for the same place.  And unfortunately, I also learned what to do when you lose your 10-year-old on London's subway system, the Tube.

You'll have to wait for a future post to hear about that one.

At the end of the school year, I had written a menu of activities for my students to do over the summer.  I hate to require my students to engage in educational activities over the summer, but I want to reward those who do.  I assigned a Boyd Buck reward amount to each item on the menu.  Visiting a museum and writing a one-page summary earns you 100 Boyd Bucks, reading a Newbery book and writing a summary earns you 100, finishing any unfinished pages in your math workbooks earns you 300, etc.

I had brought Kinley's menu and math workbooks with me to London along with a few Newberys for her to read.  But every time Josh or I brought up the idea of her completing a menu activity, we were rewarded with sullen silence or whiny protests.

"How embarrassing," I thought.  "My own child is going to show up on the first day of school with ZERO activities completed.  Lovely.  What a fantastic example to set for the rest of the class."

After several frustrating attempts to convince Kinley to spend some time completing activities, I decided that I should just let it go.  If she wanted to be the only kid in her class to start off the year bankrupt, that would be her problem. 

Still, she'd be learning a lot just by museum-hopping all summer. And that was the ultimate goal, right?  A well-rounded, educated young lady? Yes, I assured myself.  She'd be fine, even if her Boyd Buck bank account were empty.

So we went to the royal palaces to walk where kings have trod.  We toured the Tower of London (four times) to gawk at the crown jewels and shudder at the setting of Anne Boleyn's execution.  We sang along with Shrek, Dorothy, and Simba as we watched musicals in the West End.  We admired the work of Monet, Caravaggio, and Stubbs in the National Gallery.  We joined a school group listening to a presentation on Tudor apparel at the National Portrait Gallery. We marveled at the Egyptian mummies and the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum.  We spent all day in the Cotswolds asking for directions and traipsing across private property on a quest to find an ancient Roman ruin in the middle of a wheat field.  We went on not one but two Harry Potter tours.  We learned the difference between the London Bridge and the Tower Bridge.  And so much more.

Kinley inspects an antique Thai coin at the British Museum.
Kinley learns about Victorian fashion at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Kinley helps Knox record observations in the Investigate Center at the Natural History Museum.

And all along the way, Josh and I quizzed Kinley to make sure she was taking something away from it all. 

"What country was once ruled by Peter the Great?" 
"Which castle was built by William the Conqueror?"
"Which river runs through London?"
"What is the name of the United Kingdom's current reigning monarch?"
"What museum has the largest art collection in the world?"
"What book did King James I order to be translated into English?"
"When it is 8:00 a.m. in Paris, what time is it in St. Petersburg?"
"How many dollars are equal to 10 pounds?"

And Kinley dutifully recited the correct answers.  Mostly. 

So I guess she learned something after all.  But I have to admit, I'm secretly looking forward to making a huge production of passing out those Boyd Bucks to my other students on the first day of school while casting a don't-come-whining-to-me-because-I-told-you-so look at my daughter across the room.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Postcards from London

The Boyds at the Tower of London

My family enjoys travel. We work together on mission trips every other summer, helping people in places like Thailand, Fiji, Malaysia, or Japan improve their English conversation skills.  We work with a group called Let's Start Talking, using the Bible as our text and sharing our faith in Christ with our new foreign friends.  

Kinley with three new friends in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2010

These 6-week-long missions have enabled us to rack up the frequent flyer miles.  Kinley alone has 80,000 miles at her disposal right now. That's enough to take her to Egypt.  Or Timbuktu.  Or Disney, 3 times.

Whether we're going on a mission, following Josh as he represents Purdue, or traveling just for fun, I always send all of my students a postcard from wherever I am during the summer.  It takes a lot of time to write that many cards since I can't seem to stop myself from giving each child details about the far-away lands that they may never visit.  Plus, I like for them to know I'm thinking about them during the summer, and all kids love to get real mail. 

Many of them come in on the first day of school proudly reporting that my card arrived "all the way from" wherever I've been that year.  I beam at them, happy that my investment in time and postage (which costs as much as $2 per postcard in some countries) has given them joy.

But this year, I intentionally left out one student.

We spent the summer of 2011 in London since this was our off-year for mission work.  On a visit to Trafalgar Square, I stopped in a touristy shop to buy cheap postcards to send.  I picked one that had lots of different scenes of famous places in London and bought 22 of them.  Back in our tiny flat, I plopped onto the bed to begin writing.  I started with the child whose name comes first on my alphabetical class list.  I always assign my students class numbers and memorize my class list this way.  Justin Asbill is number 1; Jacob Baber is number 2; Kinley Boyd is number 3; etc.

After I'd finished the first two postcards, I was having trouble remembering which child was number four.  Kinley said, "What about number 3?  Didn't you write that postcard?"

I stared at her.  "Um, no.  I only bought 22 postcards."

"You're not sending me a card?" she asked in disbelief.

"Well….no.  I mean, you're HERE…with me."

She gaped at me a moment, told me the name of student number four, and went back to what she had been doing.

I have to admit that I did feel a little bit guilty.  Here was yet another way that my child was getting the shaft because her mother is her teacher.  Of course, in this case, Kinley got to actually VISIT the places on the card, but I'm sure that most people assumed she might get PREFERENTIAL treatment from me as a teacher.  The truth is, usually the opposite is true.  She often gets the short end of the stick.

But I still didn't write her.  And I think she'll get over it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

My Class Goes International

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know that I use a mini-economy system in my classroom.  (If you want to read a post that explains this, click here.)  It not only teaches my students fiscal responsibility but it also helps me manage my classroom.

At the end of each school year, my students write letters to local businesses asking for donations for our end-of-year class auction.  The kids learn about writing persuasive, informative business letters and then get to spend their hard-earned Boyd Bucks on lots of fun merchandise. 

Some of our donations for this year's auction included a $25 gift card from Wal-Mart, free hats and t-shirts from Caterpillar, a $10 gift card from Dairy Queen, coupons for lots of free menu items from Arby's and Wendy's, discount coupons from Red Mango (a local frozen yogurt shop), books from Barnes & Noble, lunchboxes full of goodies from the Children's Place, passes to Arrowhead Bowl, and free games at Monster Mini-golf.  It's seriously good stuff, and I'm often bummed that I'm not allowed to bid.

This auction is the one big event that my students look forward to all year long.  The frugal ones save their money for 180 days just for this.  But because of her trip to London, Kinley would not be with us for our auction. 

She was really disappointed until Josh came up with a solution.  A few weeks before, every classroom in our school had been updated with ENO interactive whiteboards.  Many of the teachers in my school were wary of this new technology since we had been provided with little training and because a school system budget crunch made it hard to justify this new technology spending to parents and tax payers. 

But the boards had appeared overnight, as if by magic, so we may as well use them.  Besides, our school-issued laptops easily connect to them so that anything on my computer screen can be seen on my ENO board by the whole class.  With the help of Skype, Kinley would be able to see and participate in the class auction, and the whole class would be able to see her while she bid.  I wouldn't have to think about how sad her empty little desk and chair made me feel; I would have her larger-than-life smiling face projected right in front of me!

It worked out perfectly.  Below is a picture of Kinley sitting in our London flat bidding during the auction.

We started at noon (Indiana time), so Kinley had to log on at 5:00 PM in London.  She convinced her daddy that she ought to be able to share in the class pizza party, too, so she ate a supper of take-out pizza in London while we lunched on Papa John's in Lafayette.  The picture below shows her watching the auction and eating her pizza.

She ended up getting the DQ card, some almonds donated by Bradley Farms, a cap from Caterpillar, an insulated bag, a camo necklace and bracelet, several Red Mango coupons, a free taco from Taco Bell, and a $20 gift certificate to Spageddie's.  Bidding in a real auction from 4500 miles away would involve import taxes, foreign currency exchange rates, and expensive auctioneers' fees.  But we'd made it work for our class economic system without any of that red tape.

At one point during the bidding, Kinley asked me to adjust my computer's camera so that she could see her classmates better. I thought it was pretty sweet that she wanted to really feel as if she were there in the classroom with everyone else.  But the sweetest part was the way that the rest of my class responded.  They were quick to notice Kinley's bidding, even when I was focused on the bidders who were actually in the room with me.  They would yell, "Mrs. Boyd!  Mrs. Boyd!  Kinley's trying to bid!" so that I would acknowledge her.  A couple of times, kids even stopped bidding early so that Kinley could win an item.  It was precious.

And I was really grateful for that new classroom technology.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Josh Takes Responsibility for His Daughter's Education

Every year since I've been teaching the High Ability class at Mayflower Mill, I've had to deal with students who take extended vacations during the school year.  I've had students who've jetted off to Costa Rica for two weeks, students who've gone on cruises that didn't even begin until school had already started after Christmas break, and students who simply couldn't take their annual week-long trip to Orlando any time except smack in the middle of October. 

Our school system has a policy that allows this as long as the parents are willing to write a letter stating that during the time that the students will be missing school, the parents will take responsibility for their child's education.  Of course, the child is expected to make up any missed work, but that's pretty much all it takes to get a week or two off of school, scot-free.

It's always a real pain for me when my students miss class since so much of what we do can't be replicated at home or made up with extra homework.  It's hard to have a class discussion about whether or not Sal in the novel Walk Two Moons is a reliable narrator while on the airplane with your family on the way to Disney World.  So I end up having either to decide that the student can skip the missed assignments altogether or having to write new assignments that can be done by the student without my instruction or their classmates' input to use as a sounding board.

And then, of course, I have to grade it all.  Yuck.

I've always thought of parents who exercise their right to take their kids on mid-school-year vacations as just a teensy bit irresponsible. Just what kind of message are these people sending to their kids about the importance of school attendance?

Well, this year, I became one of those parents.

Josh was given the opportunity to teach in Purdue's study abroad program in London, England, this summer, and our whole family decided to tag along.  Since the program in London started on May 18 and our school wasn't over until May 27 for students, we had initially planned for Josh to go over without us.  Kinley, Knox, and I would follow on June 1.

But then Josh and I (with some encouragement from my assistant principal) decided to give Kinley an early tenth birthday gift – a ticket to fly over with her daddy instead of waiting until the end of the school year.

We wrote the requisite I-take-responsibility-for-my-child's-education letter, which is kind of ironically redundant since she was already being taught every day in a public school by her mother.  Now that I think of it, maybe our letter should have been more of a I-hereby-relinquish-the-responsibility-for-my-daughter's-education-and-pass-the-baton-on-to-my-husband type letter.

At any rate, Kinley was heading to London.  She'd miss field day, the traditional 5th grade walk, and our end-of-year pizza party and auction.  But she would trade those activities for learning to deal with a new currency, visiting two Welsh UNESCO World Heritage Sites, straddling the Prime Meridian in Greenwich, watching Wicked from the front row of the Victoria Palace Theater in London's famous West End, and getting a new stamp in her already impressively-decorated passport two weeks early. 

It was a good trade.  Even if it was a little bit irresponsible.

And besides, it wasn't a mid-school-year trip to Disney.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Josh Gets His Way or Mrs. Boyd Sets a Dangerous Precedent

Our school corporation has Parent-Teacher Conferences twice a year, once in October and again in March.  One of the first pronouncements I made upon learning that Kinley would be in my class was that I refused to hold a parent conference for her.  Conferences, while incredibly beneficial, are draining.  So if Josh wanted to know details about Kinley's performance in the classroom, he could ask me at home.  (Actually, I'm adamant that Kinley show him her graded papers and homework herself, without my prodding.  After all, none of the other students have me at home constantly nagging them to keep their parents informed.)

I held firm in October in spite of Josh's playful chastising.  "I'm going to call that principal and tell her that my child's teacher flatly refused to meet with me," he joked. 

I replied, "You absolutely should.  The nerve of that wretched teacher to deny a father his right to discuss his child's progress!  It's a disgrace to the profession."

But he never made that call, and I got away with having to schedule one fewer conference.

When March rolled around, I didn't even think about it this time.  Scheduling a slot for Josh to meet with me was simply not on my radar.  Not going to happen.  No way.  Why even discuss it?

But I was outsmarted.  Josh came to pick Kinley up after school on Thursday the week of conferences since hanging around school for four extra hours while I met with other students' parents wasn't her idea of a good time.  He waltzed in and cavalierly asked, "What time is my conference, Mrs. Boyd?"

The next day, my colleague Andrea told me that I should have responded, "I would love to meet with you, Mr. Boyd, but I see you haven't arranged for childcare for your four year old.  You'll have to make other arrangements since we can't have your son running willy-nilly around the classroom while I try to discuss your daughter's strengths and weaknesses." 

Too bad my wits weren't at their quickest that day.  Instead I just snapped,  "You want a conference?  Fine.  Your slot is now.  Sit down, Mr. Boyd."

He proceeded to back track, noting my annoyed tone and no doubt anticipating that I would hold this against him for who knows how long.  "I was just kidding!" he said.  "You don't have to!"

"No way.  Sit down.  I'm sick and tired of your giving me a hard time about this over and over, and you won't hush until I do it. So sit down."

He sat, and I spewed forth edu-babble about online assessments, Accelerated Reader scores, individual reading strategy goals, and projected ISTEP+ scores for the fifteen minutes allotted to other normal parents.  The whole time, Kinley sat wide-eyed while Knox drew on the white board.

At the end of my spiel, I said, "Well, Mr. Boyd, do you have any questions?"  Undaunted, he leaned over into the personal space of his child's 4th grade teacher, and laid on a big, fat, sloppy kiss.  "I've been wanting to do that all year!" he said, incredibly pleased with himself.

Kinley, no longer wide-eyed but now, instead, snarling, just said, "Gross.  That was TOTALLY inappropriate." 

She's probably right, but her teacher kinda liked it.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Bad, the Ugly, and the Uglier

Well, it happened.  The day that I had just about decided was never going to arrive swept in and took me by complete surprise.  Which day? 

The day that I considered calling it quits and putting Kinley back into a regular 4th grade classroom. 

And the precipitating event means that Kinley is in the biggest trouble of her life.

I've been avoiding blogging about this whole thing for several weeks (note the absence of any posts in February) because it's been so difficult personally and professionally.  But then I find myself avoiding blogging about other things that have happened since then, just because I feel like I need to tell this story first.  So here it is.  The bad, the ugly, and the uglier.

I got an email from the parent of a little girl in my class on a recent Friday morning.  The parent was understandably upset about something that had happened in my class the day before while a substitute teacher was in my room.  Unfortunately, Kinley was at the center of the whole thing.

It seems that Kinley and the little girl were having trouble getting along.  I knew that this had been a bit of a problem for a couple of weeks since Kinley had come to me in class one day to tell me that the little girl was "whispering about her at the lunch table."  Knowing that girls can be mean but also knowing that I have daughter who tends to be, um, a bit dramatic, I told her that she needed to go straight to the little girl's desk and ask what she should do to help things get better.  She reluctantly went, and I didn't think another thing about it.

Until that fateful Friday.

I read the email in horror as the parent detailed what had happened.  Kinley had been standing in line with the little girl and some other children.  A little boy (we'll call him Franklin) began pestering the little girl by trying to step on her feet. 

Now this may come as a shock to you if you haven't been in an elementary classroom in several years, but I'll let you in on a secret.  Kids pick at each other for no apparent reason.  Franklin is not a bad child.  He's not even an annoying child.  He was just bored.  And he had the misfortune of being bored and getting into the middle of something that grew to be a much bigger deal.

As Franklin was pestering the little girl, my daughter, my firstborn, my favorite student, flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone, said - in a tone that could not be mistaken as just boredom or pestering - "Get her, Franklin!  Kick her in the shins!"

And that's just bad.  Here's the ugly.

The little girl then said, "Franklin, you'd better stop or you're going to get into trouble."  And MY CHILD says - cue ominous music here - "No you won't.  My mom's the teacher, and I'll tell her not to get you in trouble."

Yeah.  Just reread that one a couple of times.  I told you it was ugly.

I was stunned at the email I was reading.  But at the same time, I feared that it was true.  I immediately forwarded the message to my principal with, "Read and come see me ASAP!" in the subject line.  I was out of my league, and I wanted to be absolutely transparent in this whole process.  As you all know by now, my biggest fear is that other parents of children in my class will feel their children are treated unfairly because of Kinley.

While waiting for Mrs. Fitzgerald, my principal, to appear at my door, I decided to do a little investigating.  I called poor Franklin into the hallway.  The pallor that his face took on when I asked him to give me details about the day before was all I needed. Imagine how much courage it took for this little boy to tell his teacher that her daughter had indeed done exactly what she had been accused of doing!  He tried to make it sound better than it actually was until I recounted the events from the email.  He reluctantly admitted that Kinley had said exactly those words.  He was terrified.  I gave him a hug, told him he had nothing to be afraid of, and sent him back into the room.

I was near tears when Mrs, Fitzgerald showed up moments later to tell me how I should handle the situation.  She was just certain that Kinley was innocent and that the little girl had exaggerated.  I told her about what Franklin had said and begged her to handle the whole thing.  Bless her heart, she agreed.

Kinley was called to the principal's office for disciplinary action for the first time in her life while I regained control of my sobs in the hallway outside my classroom.

Kinley came back several minutes later with red, blotchy eyes that matched mine and an obvious sniffle.  Mrs. Fitzgerald called me out into the hallway again to tell me that she had fined Kinley and had read her the riot act.  She also told her to apologize to the little girl.  I thanked her and also apologized for my child's actions.  I also asked her to email the little girl's parents to let them know that Kinley had been punished.  (I know.  I'm a coward.  I own it.)

In my opinion, Kinley had gotten off relatively easily at school.  So at home, Josh and I chose to levy some serious and hopefully meaningful punishments.  We reminded Kinley that as a Christian she is to be a reflection of Christ.  We told her that she had not been a positive reflection and that we wanted her to understand how God felt about our words to others.  To help her learn and remember, she was going to lose TV and electronics for a minimum of two weeks during which time she was to learn five Bible verses related to harsh words (Colossians 4:6, Psalms 19:14, Ephesians 4:29, James 1:19-20, and Colossians 3:12-13).  She also had to write a letter to be mailed to the little girl apologizing for her actions.  Finally, she would be required to pray for her relationship with the little girl each night during our family devotionals until things got better.

And, of course, we told her that if she EVER did or said something that used her relationship to me as a weapon or bargaining chip again, she would be moved back into a regular classroom with no discussion.

The next week at school was tense, but I felt we were reaching a new normal.  Kinley and the little girl were a bit strained, but I assumed that was normal and that our fervent prayers for their relationship would aid in the healing process. At home, Kinley had begun to draw pictures for the little girl and to talk about how she was trying to include her in conversations and recess activities.  Josh and I were actually pleasantly surprised by the sincerity Kinley showed when reaching out to make ammends.  But the uglier part was yet to come.

The following Monday, seven school days after the incident, I got the news that the little girl was leaving my class.  Her parents decided that placement my High Ability classroom (which is optional in our school system) was not working for their daughter, and they pulled her out without saying goodbye.  She didn't even clean out her desk.  She just didn't come back.

Kinley, of course, asked if it was her fault.  To be fair, the parents had been unhappy with a few of my classroom policies and the incident with Kinley had been the last nail in the coffin. But Kinley was really worried.  I did my best to reassure her without shying away from the serious nature of what she had done.

But I haven't stopped worrying about it.  And it's not getting any prettier.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Misstep in our Mother-Daughter Dance

It's been a whole semester since Kinley and I started this little dance that has us spending each and every school day together.  And, generally, our dance has been surprisingly graceful.  Most of the time we waltz through our day hardly even realizing that our situation is unusual.  As was evident in my last post, though, we have experienced the occasional stumble. Here's another example.

I should have known better.  I should have listened to the little voice in the back of my head whispering, "Don't do it!"  I should have just put her to bed.

But I didn't.  I let her stay up until 9:30 to watch Dancing with the Stars.  And then I paid for it the next day in class.

Kinley and I have a deal that she can sleep in my bed whenever her daddy is out of town.  Since Josh was in San Francisco that night, I had a 9-year-old snuggle partner for the evening.  When she turned on the TV at 8:15, I didn't give it a thought since she never watches network TV in the evenings.  It didn't occur to me that she'd actually find something we'd both want to see.  It's not like we'd been watching the entire season of DWTS.  Heck, we'd never even seen a single episode in its entirety!

So when she stopped surfing on channel 6 and we both got sucked in, I wasn't that worried.  But then we REALLY got sucked in, and she convinced me to let her stay up to see the end of the episode.  I mean, who can resist sparkly dresses and Jennifer Grey's new nose, right?

And so there I was the next day.  Stuck in a classroom with 22 kids staring uncomfortably at my daughter who was weeping hysterically at the injustice of life as a student in her mother's classroom.  She'd had to pay a 20 Boyd Buck fine for forgetting to put her completed homework papers in the basket and another 10 Boyd Buck fine for forgetting to put her name on both papers. 

And that $30 was apparently more than she could handle on only 9 1/2 hours of sleep.  The poor Homework Checkers who'd had to collect her fines were huddling in a corner, apparently afraid that I might blame them for making my daughter fall to pieces before 9:30AM.

Thanks a lot, Jennifer Grey.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Surprising Mean Streak

My classroom runs well.  This is due, almost entirely, to my mini-economy system which ensures that each child in my class has some degree of responsibility for management-type tasks that need to be done daily.  Changing bulletin boards, checking homework, running errands, stacking chairs, erasing blackboards, vacuuming up messes, watering plants, passing out supplies.  Each child earns a salary of Boyd Bucks which can be spent in a classroom store or at our end-of-the-year auction.  The kids learn responsibility, and I have time to focus on more important things like teaching my students how to add and subtract fractions with unlike denominators.  Or checking Facebook. 

Just kidding. 


Anyway, one of the jobs in my class is the Remote Controller.  This person gets to keep the TV/DVD/VCR remote in his or her desk and is responsible for turning the TV on and off each day for morning announcements.  Announcements usually start at about 9:05 each day, and this semester my Remote Controller has a bit of a tardiness issue.  In case the Remote Controller is late or absent, it is the job of the Substitute to get the remote from the Remote Controller's desk and turn on the TV.  And, as you know from reading my second post of the year, Kinley is the Substitute.

When Kinley was in kindergarten, there was a little girl on the playground who – how do I say this tactfully? – drove Kinley nuts.  Kinley complained about being antagonized by this child all that year. 

So when Kinley found out that The Antagonizer was going to be in her class this year, she wasn't very excited.  And, The Antagonizer is also our Remote Controller.  (From this point forward, we shall refer to this child as RC.  That's for Remote Controller in case you're confused.)

Recently, Kinley has had to turn on the TV several times because RC has been late.  But then, because RC usually comes in before announcements are over, a sort of power play ensued because Kinley wanted to finish the job she'd started.  One day, I even had to speak to RC because she had jerked the remote from Kinley's hand when she came in and saw Kinley doing her job.

So imagine my surprise when the other day I tell Kinley to turn on the TV (since RC is late again) and I witness my daughter turn equally nasty.  During announcements RC arrives at the doorway, tardy once more.  She politely stays put during the "Mayflower Mill Pledge", and I see Kinley turn and look at her.  At this point announcements end.  I expect Kinley to put down the remote and walk back to her desk, allowing RC to finish the job and turn off the TV.  But no.  She looks directly at RC, turns of the TV, and then turns and smiles a VERY deliberate, nasty smile at RC before sashaying back across the room to her desk. 

I was stunned!  I had just witnessed my daughter antagonizing The Antagonizer! 

So I marched right over to her desk, squatted down beside her and said, "I can't believe what you just did!  Pay a 10 Boyd Buck fine RIGHT NOW!  That was just MEAN.  Nothing but MEAN."  And I stalked away.

Of course she started sobbing, but that was fine with me.  Give some people a little responsibility and they act like dictators.  And the last thing I need is a Substitute with a mean streak and ambitions of being Class President.  Et tu, Kinley?

I may not be able to "knock" the meanness out of other people's kids, but I certainly can my own.  Or at least I can bankrupt her.