I wrote a letter…

… to President Obama, after I read the text of his address to students that will be delivered tomorrow. We’ll watch it tomorrow morning in class.

Some school districts have been upset that President Obama will be speaking to students. I don’t like to talk about politics, because as a teacher, I believe we need to teach students to make their own decisions, but I think it certainly can’t hurt to be told,

“No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future. That’s what young people like you are doing every day, all across America.”

and

But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.”

and finally,

I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do. I expect great things from each of you. So don’t let us down – don’t let your family or your country or yourself down. Make us all proud. I know you can do it.

I love you all so dearly and I expect greatness from every one of you. It was very encouraging to hear the leader of our country say he expects the same.

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If I were going back to reporting…

… this is about the only job I’d consider!

Detroit News job posting:

Education Reporter: Candidates should have beat coverage experience and show an ability to cover the multitude of issues facing the Detroit Public School system and the city’s board of education. Coverage areas will include public and private school finances, budget, teacher and labor unions, and other issues related to classroom instruction. Candidates should be proficient at producing short- and long-form stories while identifying trends and spot news coverage opportunities. A knowledge of database and CAR reporting skills welcome. Interested candidates should contact Walter Middlebrook, ext. (313) 222-2429.
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Target Teacher Deals!

For my teacher friends out there, you must go to Target’s dollar section. They have the usual hall passes, stickers, name tags, etc., but a few things caught my eye.

There’s a TON of Dr. Seuss stuff! Buy now for Read Across America Day next spring! (Also, did you see that link connected you to ReadWriteThink, one of the best sites for literacy lesson plans and inspiration?)

There are also rugs, the perfect size for students to sit and read/work on (I think they’ll fit my kids too — so they’re not tiny rugs), for $2.50!

That’s all for the next few days. My parents are in town from Michigan, so I’m going to show them the sights!

My family!

My family!

Look, I can follow them en route!

Flight map
Now I must head out to Display and Costume to work for a while until they arrive!

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One Lovely Blog Award

Congratulations, Ms. Houghton’s Class!

We received a One Lovely Blog award from Jess, who writes about her life as a newspaper reporter and as a temporary resident of Germany! To be fair, Jess and I also lived on the same floor in the dorms at Michigan State, and we traveled to the British Isles together in 2003. (Remember what I told you about college giving you friends for life?)

Anyway, one of the terms of accepting the One Lovely Blog award is that we must bestow it upon 15 other bloggers. That seems like a rather large number, so I snipped it down to an even ten. I rely on the work of a lot of great teachers, writers and friends to help come up with ideas for making our class a great place to be! Without further ado, and in alphabetical order…

Art Projects for Kids. If only Kathy Barbro were our school’s art teacher. Thankfully, she makes her lesson plans available for gen ed teachers like me, who need to step into the role of art teacher.

Color Me Katie. I have no clue how she does it, but New York-based artist Katie Sokoler always comes up with whimsical, smart art that fits right into her community. Her work always makes me smile.

A Fuse 8 Production. NYC librarian Elizabeth Bird runs this blog for the School Library Journal. It’s always thrilling to hear from someone so excited, so giddy about books! Plus, she always has great suggestions.

Help Readers Love Reading! Brian is a Wisconsin teacher who shares books he’s had success with in his classroom. I love that his reviews have been test-driven by students!

Huffington Post. My Internet newspaper.

Life with a Little Dog. Many of my newspaper reporting friends write outside the pages of their home publication. I interned at The Gazette of Colorado Springs with Crystal, and we had a delightful time. I enjoy keeping up with her life (and the lives of her critters) in Kansas City.

Made by Rae. I find a lot of great patterns here, and Rae’s a teacher as well! I’m also always dazzled by the fabrics she’s able to find. This blog doesn’t necessarily help me be a better teacher, but it does help me be a well-dressed one… 🙂

Mo Willems Doodles. With such a busy touring schedule, raising a daughter, and continuing to write brilliant books for young (and old) readers, it amazes me that Mo has time to blog.

Planet Esme. I somewhat begrudgingly bestow this award, because although I think Madame Esme fancies herself to be quite the bees’ knees and I’m not interested in inflating her ego any more, I do discover quite a few new and exciting books on her site. Blast.

PS 22 Chorus. Is there a teacher (or human) alive who is not moved, excited, and inspired by this group of 5th graders and their fearless leader? I am so glad that they are getting the national recognition they deserve!

To our recognized bloggers: I understand how busy you are and I certainly don’t expect you to go through your blogroll and recommend 15 others (I know this whole award was probably started as a ploy to get increased traffic), but I wanted you to know we enjoy your work.

Thanks to everyone for being such a great inspiration to me (and to our class)!

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Big Orange Vehicle Blog!

I said a while ago that I’d share some more about my previous life as a reporter. Here you go!

Back in 2005, I had just finished my journalism degree at Michigan State.

Commencement speakers! (All from the Honors College)

Commencement speakers! Andy and Vinay are now doctors, Ron was the head of the Honors College, and I became a teacher.

I knew I was going to serve with AmeriCorps in the fall, but my summer was dedicated to cops and courts reporting at the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, Florida.

And also fishing.

And also fishing.

I learned a ton about reporting (including the fact that I never, ever, ever again want to call a man to tell him his parents were buried alive), interviewed some amazing people, and met some pretty incredible coworkers.

Jeff Brumley is one such coworker. I used to sit across the aisle from him in the newsroom, and he was always in good spirits, with nerdily interesting facts to share. He was also one of the members of the T-U softball team, the Hacks, to welcome me out into right field.

He’s still holding down the fort as religion reporter at the T-U despite the craziness in the newspaper industry, and he’s still excited about the shuttle launches that happen a few hours south in Cape Canaveral at Kennedy Space Center.

With reporter Dawn Klemish at Kennedy Space Center

With reporter Dawn Klemish at Kennedy Space Center

Jeff also runs a neat blog called the Big Orange Vehicle Blog, which celebrates orange modes of transportation. Orange is the color of his college, the University of Tennessee. (See, ladies and gentlemen, you notice that I talk about going to college even during the summer. Remember that I love you and want you to go to college so you can have a job you love. Going to college gives you a community that you are a part of for the rest of your life!)

Jeff in college and Jeff now.

I found two orange vehicles in Seattle on my way home from a hike yesterday, and Jeff featured them this week! He also said some awfully nice things about me.

The moral of this story is the same as many I tell you during the school year: work hard, be nice, go to college, do awesome stuff, get recognized for your hard work. I love you and miss you!

(Jeff, I hope it was OK that I snagged those pictures…)

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Postcards from Tomorrow Square

James Fallows is brilliant. I first heard about this book on Fresh Air, and it has been a thoroughly investigated, thoughtful account of life and business in China. And of course, it was a great read because Fallows is an irreverent, fun writer.

All of Fallows’ essays are online, but I enjoyed reading them all in one place.

I was saddened to discover many of my bookmarks fell out of the pages I marked for quotes. The ones that remained wound up not being the quotes I was looking for. Here’s an important, one, though, which I pull for my friend who said, “You’ll have to tell me what you think of China, because I hate China.”

Almost everything the outside world thinks is wrong with China is indeed a genuine problem. Perhaps not the most extreme allegations, of large-scale forced organ-harvesting and similar barbarities. But brutal extremes of wealth and poverty? Arbitrary and prolonged detentions for those who rock the boat? Dangerous working conditions? Factories that take shortcuts on health and safety standards? Me-first materialism and an absence of ethical values? All these are here. I’ve met people affected by every problem on the list, and more.

But China’s reality includes more than its defects. More people are far better off than they were 20 years ago, and they are generally optimistic about what life will hold 20 years from now. This summer’s Pew Global Attitudes Project finding that 86 percent of the Chinese public was satisfied with the country’s overall direction, the highest of all the countries surveyed, was not some enforced or robotic consensus. It rings true with most of what I’ve seen in cities and across most of the country’s provinces and autonomous regions, something I wouldn’t have guessed from afar.

One of Fallows essays, “China’s Silver Lining,” which is about pollution in China, is directly related to an article about climate change in this week’s Economist. I love when the books I read actually help me understand complicated current events!

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I’m not quite ready to reflect on the school year yet, in case you’re wondering why I’m not writing about my kids. That post is coming, and I wish my students in summer school all the best! (Today’s their first day)

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Release Time!

Some of the most invigorating and inspiring experiences I have had as a teacher have been when we visit other schools. Last week, our third grade team had a half-day of release time to visit Adelaide Elementary. Former Wildwood teacher and friend Jake works there now, and I interviewed with Jason back in the day when I was first applying to be a teacher (I dare you to find a more passionate, driven leader — he’s great). They are an incredible bunch.

The school is calm, and you can tell the kids are excited to be learning there. Here’s their behavior rubric that’s posted in each class and in the halls.

Behavior Rubric

Behavior Rubric

Sondra Maier, one of the school’s literacy coaches, showed us around their Teacher Resource Center, a kind of uber-book/supply room that goes beyond just function to be a place that’s truly inspirational.

Holy cow, leveled books

Wall-o-leveled-books

All their books are leveled so they can be pulled for guided reading groups. Each book set is in a bag with an index card, so teachers can check out an entire bag of books at a time.

A book bag

A book bag

The leveling is done based on AR level, but I think we’re looking to level our book library by Guided Reading level.

DRA books

DRA books

Intervention materials

Intervention materials

Professional development books

Professional development books

I loved that the TRC seemed like a place where teachers were really being motivated to improve their practice, not just taking care of business.

Note the sharing board, where teachers can post ideas, new graphic organizers, blacklines, etc. (sorry the image is rotated funny)

Note the sharing board, where teachers can post ideas, new graphic organizers, blacklines, etc. (sorry the image is rotated funny)

When we were there, a team of 1st grade teachers were meeting to put together their reading preassessment for next fall. They were focused and working thoughtfully. I wanted to join them!

This is a board where staffers can see thumbnail sketches of how students are doing.

This is a board where staffers can see thumbnail sketches of how students are doing in reading (and math).

I’m a visual person, so I love that each pocket shows an approximate level of where each student is currently performing. That way, intervention specialists can make sure that no students are slipping through the cracks.

Sample focus board, so students know what they're expected to know and why.

Sample focus board, so students know what they're expected to know and why.

Sondra took us into two 3rd grade classrooms to observe their reading block. Adelaide uses this framework as a bit of a guide/backbone for their literacy program during the school year:

K-5 Reading Strategies

K-5 Reading Strategies

And Adelaide’s TRC doesn’t just help teachers with reading materials. Oh, no. Last year, they collected all math manipulatives from the teachers, organized them, cleaned them up, and stored them all in a central location. That way, no one winds up hoarding anything, and intervention specialists always know what materials are needed.

Holy cow, manipulatives.

Holy cow, manipulatives.

...and more maniuplatives (with a cart of shared reading texts)

...and more maniuplatives (with a cart of shared reading texts)

I’m dying to show you the organizational systems we saw in the classrooms we visited, but I’m waiting to get the teachers’ approval. Fingers crossed!

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