Monday, September 12, 2011

Group Posters From Our Study Skills Unit

Remembering NINE11

For me, September 11, 2001, is simply unforgettable.
*Note: Times are all on Central time, since it follows my personal timeline.

7:46 AM               Flight 11 hit the first tower.
It was a beautiful Tennessee morning, and time passed without incident. We were about five weeks into the new school year, and I was in the middle of a low key literature lesson in first period. My students and I had finally settled into a routine My biggest problem that morning was the drained feeling I had as a result of my new pregnancy.
I could see the big airplane coming straight toward us. ~Connie Labetti, AON, South Tower, 99th Floor
Hi Jules, it’s Brian. Listen, I’m on an airplane that’s been hijacked.~Brian Sweeney, passenger on Flight 175.
At 8:59 am, Flight 175 passenger Brian Sweeney, 29, leaves a message for his wife Julie. He then calls his mother, Louise, to report the hijacking, telling her that the passengers are considering storming the cockpit to wrest control from the hijackers.
8:03 AM               Flight 175 hit the South Tower
I hear a knock on my portable door around 9:00. As I open the door, I’m told to lock up. He doesn’t tell me why, but it’s safe to assume that somebody must have robbed a gas station, and is still at large. Slightly irritated at the inconvenience; nonetheless, I do as I am told.
Within minutes of Flight 11’s crash, the FDNY raises its mobilization to the highest level.  Many firefighters are already responding to the World Trade Center when hijacked Flight 175 hits the South Tower.
8:37 AM               Flight 77 hit the Pentagon
I’m still completely oblivious as second period begins. I’m making sure Sam is on the right page in his novel, and Loren says she needs a pencil.
The Pentagon's on-site firehouse responds immediately to the crash of Flight 77. Firefighters from nearby National Airport (with a foam truck designed to fight jet fuel fires) and Virginia's Arlington County Fire Department arrive within minutes.
Many civilian employees and military personnel evacuate the building shortly after the impact, while others felt compelled to rush into the burning building to rescue trapped and injured colleagues.
It’s another hour before I’m aware my country is under attack. The shock and disbelief only proliferate as the teachers gather to eat lunch and watch the news coverage. We are asked not to discuss anything with the students. That is easy. What do I say to my students anyway? New York is a long way from Tennessee. It might as well be on Mars. Can this generation actually grasp the seriousness of terrorist assaults? As of THIS moment, our lives are forever changed.
Mark Bingham is one the thirteen Flight 93 passengers who succeed in placing a phone call to authorities or loved ones on the ground. 
Mark calls his mother, Alice Hoagland, a former flight attendant, via GTE Airphone, and alerts her to the hijacking.  Hoagland immediately turns on the television and learns of the recent attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.  Realizing that Mark’s plane is part of the suicide hijacking mission, she calls him back on his cell phone and leaves two messages, informing him of the other attacks and counseling him to do whatever he can to stop the hijackers.
[Mark never receives the messages. His flight crashes in Somerset, Pennsylvania.]
10 Years Later: September 11, 2011
Ten years later, my daughter, who was born in February of 2002, is nine years old. She and I were in Wal-Mart a few days ago when the latest version of People Magazine caught my eye. The title read, “The Children of 9/11: Their fathers died on that terrible day, before they were born.” The article features the personal account of each of the ten children and how their lives have been affected by the 9/11 tragedy. That’s when it hit me.
Those children are her age. <Gulp> What if SHE never knew her daddy? He’s such a huge force in her life. What if SHE never had a picture made with him holding her? She would have never truly seen how much he loves her. What if he was absent for that “first day of school” picture? There are too many questions with no conceivable answers.
I want to explain. I want to tell her that I lied about the “monsters” not being real. They DO exist...just LOOK! But...not today. One day.
I want her to be exposed to the stories these children tell in the article. She must not ever take her family and friends for granted. But...I choose to protect her innocence for as long as I can. She’ll learn about the monsters soon enough. 
There are moments when my personal and professional lives truly collide. A lot of things happened that fateful day in September. Daddies died. Mommies died. Sisters and brothers died. Wars started. Gas prices became preposterous. Airports security became ludicrous. Ultimately, my daughter and these 9/11 kids started their lives under the observance of the National Homeland Security Advisory System.
Now fourth graders, Liz and the 9/11 children will be in middle school in two short years. Middle school is a fragile time of development. After teaching 11 year olds for 17 years, I am anticipating the pain that will inevitably surround them as pre-adolescence dances into their lives.
I’m not sure parents realize how much their adolescents need them, because their children seem to be pushing them away. However, the “push” is like a game of hide and go seek. Today, they’ll hide their immature, childlike ways, to go seek who they are apart from their parents. Tomorrow, they’ll return to childhood for reassurance that they are on the right track. The lost will look, and sometimes ask for direction again. My daughter will be able to do that, but where will these children go when Dad is the only one that will do? Just thinking about the uncertainty of this time unnerves me. They will figure it out eventually, and be better people for it, but that will be an uphill dirt road. God, bless the strong people in each and every one of those children’s lives.
Parents, may we never take for granted how fragile life can be. Every game of hide-and-go-seek takes that child one step closer to adulthood. Cherish the trial-and-error that is necessary for that development. Finally, when you do get frustrated, because you WILL, just remember the 9/11 children and enjoy even life’s most childish games.  

*Special thanks to the 9/11 Interactive Timeline for the information in red.  This site was designed and engineered by Archetype for the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Giants, Wizards, Dwarfs...and Mermaids?

Robert Fulghum is a writer, philosopher, and public speaker. You may remember him as the author of the popular poem "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten." He also wrote a book with the same title that contains lots of mini stories. I read the following story, "Mermaids," to my Exploratory class this week. When I finished, I asked them to tell me about the little girl. Their answers, written below, might surprise you. Read it and think to yourself how you would describe the mermaid.

By Robert Fulghum
Giants, wizards and dwarfs was the game to play.
Being left in charge of about eighty children seven to ten years old, while their parents were off doing parenty things, I mustered my troops in the church social hall and explained the game.  It's a large-scale version of Rock, Paper, and Scissors, and involves some intellectual decision making.  But the real purpose of the game is to make a lot of noise and run around chasing people until nobody knows which side you are on or who won.
Organizing a roomful of wired-up gradeschoolers into two teams, explaining the rudiments of the game, achieving consensus on group identity--all this is no mean accomplishment, but we did it with a right good will and were ready to go.
The excitement of the chase had reached a critical mass.  I yelled out:  "You have to decide now which you are--a GIANT, a WIZARD, or a DWARF!"
While the groups huddled in frenzied, whispered consultation, a tug came at my pants leg.  A small child stands there looking up, and asks in a small, concerned voice, "Where do the Mermaids stand?"
Where do the Mermaids stand?
A long pause.  A very long pause.  "Where do the Mermaids stand?" says I.
"Yes.  You see, I am a Mermaid."
"There are no such thing as Mermaids."
stands there looking up, and asks in a small, concerned voice, "Where do the Mermaids stand?"
Where do the Mermaids stand?
A long pause.  A very long pause.  "Where do the Mermaids stand?" says I.
"Yes.  You see, I am a Mermaid."
"There are no such thing as Mermaids."
"Oh, yes, I am one!"
She did not relate to being a Giant, a Wizard, or a Dwarf.  She knew her category.  Mermaid.  And was not about to leave the game and go over and stand against the wall where a loser would stand.  She intended to participate, wherever Mermaids fit into the scheme of things.  Without giving up dignity or identity.  She took it for granted that there was a place for Mermaids and that I would know just where.
Well, where DO the Mermaids stand?  All the "Mermaids"--all those who are different, who do not fit the norm and who do not accept the available boxes and pigeonholes?
Answer that question and you can build a school, a nation, or a world on it.
What was my answer at the moment?  Every once in a while I say the right thing.  "The Mermaid stands right here by the King of the Sea!" says I.  (Yes, right here by the King's Fool, I thought to myself.)
So we stood there hand in hand, reviewing the troops of Wizards and Giants and Dwarfs as they roiled by in wild disarray.
It is not true, by the way, that Mermaids do not exist.  I know at least one personally.  I have held her hand.

Tell me about the little girl. Middle schoolers answers:

"Crazy!" (as he circles his finger around the side of his ear several times)
Someone made the cuckoo sound.
<Teacher's eyebrows go up>
"She belongs in an asylum."
<Teacher adds big eyeballs>
"Not like the others!" (Disgusted and confused look on his face.)
Finally, a girl from the back quietly stated the word "Independent."
<hopeful sigh>

Now, I did NOT read this story to them for the purpose of highlighting what sassy little girls do to annoy adults, but they did not naturally infer that logic. No sireee! They assumed I was reading the story to illustrate what not to do. Once I got over the shock, I realized how much sense they made.

Middle school is about conforming; therefore, their responses are naturally middle schoolish. Don't you remember? Most likely, you watched the behaviors of the people around you just so you would know what to do and how to act. As the pre-adolescent struggles to move away from his/her parents, he or she begins to grasp for a different anchor. At this stage in their lives, that may come from their peers. The outliers are the ones more determined to make their own way-whether that's positive or negative.

Is the ability to conform necessary? Yes, I think so. There are times in our lives that we must learn to do the accepted thing, obey the rules, or play the game. I’m just a big fan of the ones that dare to be different.

I want them to like and be grateful for who they are.

Individuality should be appreciated and celebrated. The sad truth is I’ve been fighting this battle for 17 years, and I’m no closer than I was 17 years ago <sigh>. Society encourages conformity. Media encourages conformity. Even some parents encourage conformity. We may want to be the mermaid, even crave it, but I suppose that must wait until we get through the Giants, Wizards, and Dwarfs stage of life.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Final Days

My days as an Instructional Coach are winding down. As I prepare to say goodbye to the teachers I've served for two years, I'm forced into reflection mode. My thoughts?

The County Alternative School
I will miss the peace, tranquility, control, and smallness of your promise land. Thank you for sacrificing to work with our at-risk youth. As reigning Queen of student migration, you know differentiation better than most. Even though you operate on limited funding and resources, you make it work. We, the general public, fail to show our appreciation for your efforts to reform the behaviors of our children. I've never heard you complain...never!

Drugs, alcohol, media, and negative life experiences have control of many teens today, but you welcome the challenge. You empower them to gain control just enough to walk back into the world they can't trust. Will it forsake them again? Most likely, yes. But this time, they'll have the tools to survive.

On behalf of my colleagues,
Thank you, thank you, thank you!

To my most northern friends up on the hill:

Just to have the opportunity to experience your school environment was a rare pleasure! You should be proud of the strong sense of community you foster every day. No wonder so many of your own graduates return to teach there- a whole line of them this year! Where else could that possibly happen? They KNOW you care about them and want them to succeed. Then they come back to be a part of that support system.

Oh, and I get it. What other school would have people who would drive up to the school at 7:00pm just to help their new Instructional Coach dumpster dive for her wedding ring? I do believe we touched every last piece of trash in the dumpster and then in the school. Thank you for laughing when I called 5 minutes after I left to tell you I found the ring under my car seat. I do adore you, my trashy friends!

Administration. WOW! I truly felt like part of your team. I learned so much from watching you work. Everything you did focused of the needs of the students. Your attentiveness and passion for meeting those needs was noticed. One criticism: You need to be kicking those talented teachers down the hill more often to share with the rest of us in PD sessions. Don't let them hide!

...and Staffulty? I have three words for you: Be the Best!

To my school of soldiers:

It was humbling to walk into your school, get a bird's eye view of the battle field in front of you, and watch you conquer it. Thanks to your fearless leader, I knew just enough about your plight to know I had to be a good listener to survive in your school. At each turn, you asked, "What now? What next?" Oh, let's do a pilot program for the county! LOL! I thought y'all were crazy...but, alas <sigh>, you were focused.

To the head honcho: Your talks were some of my favorite memories! Not too many people have the ability to tell a story like you do. It helps that you're so much like my dad. I learned a lot about loyalty, pride, and the fierce desire to protect your own. Not too many principals know their faculty and students like you do. Most of all, thanks for keeping it real!

To the AP: Where do I start, my friend? I wish I had just half of your calm, cool, and collected demeanor. It's been a pleasure to watch you lead. I'm not sure you have any concept of how impressed other schools are with your new program and, as we implement it into my home school, how well you executed the plans you were given. Oh, and I promise to give you credit for all the great things I've stolen from you the past two years.

To my Shurley girls: "What's that?" you say. "You've been teaching for 20+ years, and you want to try a brand new program before you retire?" REALLY? Who does that? do!  I had a blast in your rooms! Thank you for sharing your students with me. I was most comfortable in your classrooms, because you allowed me to do what I do best-English to a beat.

Speaking of English, I would be remiss to not mention the one we lost. Thank you, Lord, for allowing me to watch her teach. This profession lost so much that day!

Thank you for trusting me, opening the doors of your classroom, and treating me as one of your own. Being willing to try new things in the midst of obstacles takes guts- the kind only the bravest soldiers can muster.

One more school to mention, but I think I'll have to have more time...a lot more. I'll be back later, so stay tuned! 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Who? Me?

Middle School. Remember it? Does it bring you pain, misery, or laughter? Do the memories resemble a Weird Al Yankovic song or more of a Barry Manilow melody? Regardless of the memories, I'm sure we can all agree on one term to describe Middle School, "Awkward!"

Why then, out of all the professions in the world, did I choose to be a middle school teacher? You would be assuming, of course, that I chose it, but you'd be wrong. No one chooses to be a middle school teacher, silly! It chose me!

2011 will begin my 17th year in the classroom. Back in 1995, I was living in South Carolina, but I applied in Hillsborough County, FL and was hired to teach 6th grade with my best friend, Dorothy. Ideally, Dorothy and I would teach by the beach and grade papers with our feet in the sand. Neither happened. Dorothy chickened out, I moved to FL by myself, and instead of getting a position by the beach, I was 45 minutes away from the coast and placed in Plant City, FL.

Plant City is a migrant community where strawberries are the bomb! Workers and their children arrive in October and leave late March. Originally, I'm from a small town in SC called Bamberg. I'm not sure I ever went to school with Hispanic people. We didn't even have a Spanish teacher until my senior year. Parle vous Francais?...and that's about all I can ask. The Hispanic culture was about as far from my thought process as the east is from the west.

I thought those Hispanic children were going to tie me up by my ankles and cuss me out in Spanish every day! Now, those of you that know the truth are laughing or smiling right now. Culture is a powerful thing! Their culture is sugar and spice and everything nice. They have a work ethic that makes American children look like couch potatoes.