Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!

Halloween is a most excellent celebration. It combines fantasy, fun and giving in one scrumptious package that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike. And let's face it - who does not enjoy dressing up in a costume? Be it scary, dignified or wildly imaginative it feels good to assume a character and it is giddy fun to see our friends do the same. One of my precious students created the artwork on the left of me as 'The Man with the Yellow Hat' from the Curious George book series. My love of that little monkey is no secret so this was not a great leap for me. I did try to talk Lauren into dressing up as Curious George so our costumes would be in sync, as they were last year when we were both cheerleaders. At the time we led the school in an original cheer complete with choreographed leaps and manly lifts which brought hoots and hollers from the students and staff alike. But this year, she politely demurred, opting instead for the quiet elegance of a ballerina.

My costume though was a big hit. When I stepped into the courtyard I had so many children run up to hug me that I was honestly afraid that someone would get hurt or that I would tumble backwards and squash a few of them. So I just stood very still and tried to keep my balance. Unfortunately the costume was one of those one size fits all, over the clothes deals, which means that in every picture I have of me in it I look dumpy and out of shape. My tenuous vanity will not allow for posting of such pictures so they shall remain locked in the vaults to haunt me at a later date. I did take one of the my big floppy hat and George that I can share. Isn't he the cutest?

The anticipation, which begins on the first of October, is another aspect of Halloween that is inescapable. Children share costume ideas and chat wildly with one another about their grand plans - the trips to the party store, goody bags, parties. As in years past superheroes continued to be the ticket with the young set.

We had two black Spider-Man costumes...

Captain America...

and an incredible artist rendering of said Captain...

A Blue Power Ranger, Bat Girl. a transformer. an angel, a princess and variations on these.

We asked our students to write a 'scary, spooky Halloween story' to share and I have included some of these below.

This one says "Two little girls went into a haunted house". Take a careful look on the roof of the house and you will find Dracula waiting for them with outstretched arms by the light of a crescent moon.

This one reads "This is a scary house and there are witches in the air". This witch is flying on a carpet instead of the usual broom. It does seem more comfortable.

This one is my favorite "This little boys name is Billy. He can never take his costume off. His dad told him a scary story." It reminds me of a an episode of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer. Everyone became the character they were dressed up as, meaning that the slayer became a damsel in distress who got knocked about until the spell was reversed. Buffy had some good Halloween episodes.

By far the scariest, spookiest story we read this year was Tell me a Scary Story...but not too Scary by Carl Reiner. We told this one with the lights out, sitting on the floor with lots of drama. The kids were laughing and screaming and generally enjoying being six years old at Halloween.

For those of us in the room who were a little older than six it was a time to ponder the magic of childhood, fantasy and sheer 'in the momentness'. How wonderful for me that I get to experience all of this, in one way or another, everyday!

The above is from The Hallo-Weiner by Dav Pilkey. A Halloween favorite.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


For a while now I have been wanting to provide some simple lessons in American Sign Language (ASL) on this blog. My interest in doing this is to perhaps provide other educators, who may have an interest in teaching ASL to their students, with an easily accessible venue for sharing this information in their classrooms. I also hope that it may be helpful for hearing parents with a deaf or hard of hearing child. Many times hearing parents with deaf children are afraid to sign with their son/daughter because they are told not to do so because then their child will never learn to speak or they are too overwhelmed with the daunting task of undertaking another language. I say to you...please sign with your child. Any effort you put forth greatly matters to your child and to the relationship you are building together.

I knew that I wanted to enlist the services of my darling co-teacher Lauren in this project. Not only is she easy on the eyes but her signing is so clear and articulate that she is a great representation of ASL in action. But I was unsure how to best utilize my resources and how this whole project would unfold.

Yesterday I finally decided on a format. Lauren and I would introduce some basic signs associated with a specific topic. She would sign and I would voice. This would be followed by a brief signed conversation that would use the signs we just introduced in a meaningful context so that you could see it in action. The conversation is not captioned because a) that is more work than I can get into right now and b) it keeps the focus on the signs. My challenge to you is to look for the signs we introduced in the first clip while watching the second clip.

So here is the first snippet.

In American Sign Language gender is given a specific placement on the head of the signer. As you can see from the picture of the sign for 'boy', signs referencing males are made on the upper portion of the head. Many people remember 'boy' by thinking of scooping the hand down the bill of a baseball cap. Above you saw Lauren signing father, grandfather, brother and son using signs that originated from this area.

Signs indicating females are made near the mouth or chin. It is said that the sign for 'girl' is derived from the bonnet strings that were worn back in the day of Laura Ingalls. Lauren signed mother, grandmother, sister and daughter using signs that issue from this area.

Pictures are taken from A Word in the Hand: An Introduction to Sign Language (Book One) by Jane Kitterman and S. Harold Collins, published by Garlic Press in 1984.

The conversation in the second video (presented below) is as follows:

Gary: Who is in your family?
Lauren: I have a mother, father, 3 sisters, 2 grandmothers, and 1 grandfather.
Gary: Oh, I see. Nice.
Lauren: Who is in your family?
Gary: Mother, father, 2 brothers (but one is a twin brother), and 1 sister.
Lauren: Do you have grandparents?
Gary: No, they died. I don't have any.

I am sure that the format will change as we become more adept at this and to that end I welcome your feedback on both presentation and topics. We are thinking about school signs, those related with feelings and emotions and some basic actions and/or needs.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Tips From My Mom #4

I was quietly looking out from the window of the school bus in front of my junior high school while other students stumbled past me on the way to the back of the bus. From my seat I could see two of my favorite teachers conversing together under the metal structure hanging over the entrance to our school. I could not hear what they were saying but I was convinced that they were talking about how wonderful and smart I was. This made me love them very much. 

The fact that they would take time out of their busy schedules to confer about my academic promise really moved me. And it was so open, right there in front of everyone during dismissal. In order to not seem like I was eavesdropping I slid away from the window, content in the knowledge that my teachers thought the world of me. I honestly believed this.

That was until I got a little older and realized that Mr. Sericka and Ms. Azar probably had a plethora of topics in which to engage and the sweet little nerdy fella in the first row with his hand constantly in the air was not one of them. Oh, this hit me hard one day and I felt like such an idiot for being so naive and self involved. I have lived with the shame of this for years.

But then I became the teacher on the other side of the glass. And you know what? Teachers do discuss their students with one another. A lot! I discuss them not only with other teachers but also with my family, my friends and now courtesy of this blog, people I have never met. This realization lessens the embarrassment described in paragraph one.

Although my musings are mostly positive reflections and anecdotes involving the precious children entrusted to my care, there are those who are not so kind.

These people are in Florida.

I know this because my nephew Randy has established quite the reputation for being disruptive down in "The Sunshine State". I have never in my life heard more disgusting tales of mistreatment and petty grudges as I have had described to me regarding Randy and the Florida public school system. It seems that one teacher told two friends and they told two friends and so on and so on about this young boy who disrupts class because he is popular and too charming and we can't allow anyone to portray any promising qualities like individuality in the land of bubba.

I will concede that Randy may not be the angel I was (wink) but when a teacher says to a young teen "You are a waste of life and don't deserve the air that you breathe" they are crossing a line.

Recently Randy was voted homecoming king. This raised a huge stink and several teachers demanded a recount. When the votes were tallied a second time it was found that he actually came in second place. Good 'ol Florida continues their tradition of holding back the people's choice for president king.

At the homecoming celebration one of the teachers who has given Randy a hard time in the past told him that he is a good kid and shouldn't let some of these teachers get him down. Well, that was something at least.

I have talked to Randy about his endless troubles with school, which I would LOVE to elaborate on here but will spare you the details. He will graduate in about 7 months so hopefully he can bite his lip until then and keep his eye on his goals. Although the 'educators' there appear to relish the thought of his failing. What makes someone so hateful? That is something that I do not understand.

Here is where my mom and her tips come in to play. This one actually originated with my father and was then relayed to me over the phone. But since I don't have a 'Tips From My Dad' feature I'll credit it to my mom.
"Sometimes you gotta yes 'em to death and then do what you want."
Not really original perhaps but in some situations it works best. I realize that it is hard for my darling godson to remain silent when he feels he is being unjustifiably wronged but under these circumstances his protestations will only add fuel to the fire. And perhaps other teachers will follow the lead of the one from the homecoming who offered words of encouragement.

I would love for Randy to have one moment before his school years end when he can look out of the window from his seat on the school bus and think that his teachers are praising him. How cool would that be?

Goofing around with Randy this past August

Friday, October 12, 2007

Slowly in the Rain

It occurred to me last night as I got off the train and stepped into a downpour that I can gauge my stress level by how I react to the rain. It had been an long, exhausting day of teaching both first graders and adults so I was tired. But when the drops from the heavy rain landed on my face I slowed my fast paced stride and took it in. It felt great.

I have always loved the rain.

Flashback to me as a child sitting with my coloring book and listening to Rainy Days and Mondays by The Carpenters while my mom busied herself in the kitchen making us something delicious to eat.

Cut to Joy and I, at eighteen and seventeen years of age respectively, running out during a break from rehearsals for my first college production of The Amorous Flea and into a thunder storm. We found the biggest puddle in the parking lot and dove into it with abandon. It was filthy but we rolled and splashed about laughing our silly young asses off. We didn't care that we had to be back inside in a few minutes.

And there I was at nineteen attending my first concert in Central Park for the now infamous Diana Ross fiasco to raise money for a playground. I had camped out all day with my friends Dana and Eric to secure a spot, but before the show started the skies opened up. A mass of fans pushed forward trampling our blanket but not our spirits. Miss Ross came out and thanked us for sticking around. Loud applause. She sang a few numbers while her hot pink leotard increasingly clung to her with each falling raindrop. When the cats and dogs could no longer be ignored she sent us cautiously on our way. We walked all the way back to Penn Station arriving soaked to the bone. We were drenched and cold, due to the air conditioning on the train, but knowing that I had a hot shower and a warm bed waiting for me make it all worth it.

Jump forward to Mike and I getting caught in a sudden summer shower while riding our bikes on the tow path. Our back tires were kicking up mud so our backs were covered with dirt. We were still a long way from home but we swerved around the newly formed puddles making a valiant effort to slip between the raindrops. Until it hit us that we should simply enjoy the moment. Before we arrived at our destination the rain had stopped and we were treated to the always amazing, always beautiful sight of a rainbow.

I was in my 30s before I understood why anyone would even own an umbrella. Those useless, annoying contraptions that cause more trouble than they are worth. But, I grew up. I felt pressure. I had places to go and people to see, and I didn't want to go there or see them with wet socks and heavy clothes. So I got an umbrella. I ran through the rain and avoided puddles.

As I felt the rain hit my face the other night I made a conscious decision to slow down, breath and really feel it. Feel the dampness on my white dress shirt, feel it stick to my body, feel the water run down my back. Of course, I knew I was about to get in my car and go home to change so it was no big deal.

The point is to hold onto that feeling. That beautifully alive feeling of standing in a storm with your arms outstretched. Just taking a moment to slow down and remember what it was like to spend the day coloring while mom took care of the rest.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007 the details

I am in love with my classroom this year. In love with the sights, scents and textures of it. Not only am I welcomed each morning with a smile and a hug from Lauren and the children, I am also welcomed by this inviting environment we have created together. It is a place of learning and of caring.

I have always thought that a person's spirit can be seen in the details of their home. I am interested in the small touches that signify to me something about the kind of living that is done in this space. The small table with the antique lamp set up in a tiny nook, the bud vase with a fresh Tea rose in the bathroom or a beautifully framed picture charmingly displayed in an unusual spot you might never have thought of putting it yourself. These are all indicators to me of respect. Respect for oneself and respect for others.

Lauren and I have had the energy and time this year to step things up a bit in our classroom. I honestly think that the care we have put into the classroom environment has influenced the sense of community among our students. Isn't there an old adage that states, if you give respect you get respect?

Here are a few of the touches we have added this year...

We have committed to purchasing fresh flowers every week. I had a dear friend Peggy, who has since passed away, tell me that having freshly cut flowers was one of the best things you could do for yourself. They lifted her mood if she was feeling melancholy and brought a bit of beauty. I think it also adds an element of serenity to the environment.

Attractive displays.

Wicker book bins containing books sorted according to themes, characters, authors and genre.

Every classroom in NYC has a word wall which displays an ongoing cumulative list of words that the students are expected to
know how to read and spell by the end of the school year. These are usually, mostly dolch words or common sight words in first grade. Last year I had the idea to hang curtains to give some depth to the area. This also serves a double purpose in that we can draw the curtains, thereby covering the words, when we give our spelling tests.

Now you see 'em...

Now you don't.

Now for my favorite addition.

My friend Dawn gave me her Chicka Chicka Boom Boom tree last week!

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom! is a clever children's alphabet book. It is about some adventurous letters climbing up a coconut tree. We now have our very own coconut tree which we set up as a comfortable reading area. Thanks Dawn!

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom classroom activities can be found here.

Notice the beach ball? We use this for a word study game. All of our word wall words are written on the ball throughout the school year. This is how we play the game.

We all sit in a circle. The students give the 'thumbs up' using the hand they write with. If the are right handed they would obviously hold up their right thumb. This thumb is an important element in the game. Once this is set, which can take a while for fledgling first graders, the game begins. The teacher tosses the ball to a student who hopefully catches it. They read the word that is touching their thumb. We have them spell it as well. This has proven to be a very motivating, fun activity and one that can be done when there is a few minutes to kill surrounding transitions.

So there you have it. If I am not careful this classroom is going to turn into a second home. Oh, wait...isn't it that already?

Saturday, October 6, 2007

A Happy Marriage

"Lauren is fabulous!"

That is what my friend Mark always says whenever I mention my team teacher's name. And he is right. She is fabulous, in so many ways; smart, playful, dedicated, beautiful, stylish, strong and giving.

Lauren and I just celebrated the 5th anniversary of our happy working relationship. In real life she is happily married to an equally fabulous man named Doug. I attended their wedding in June 2006 (pictured left) but I consider myself her work 'husband'. I am honored by the association. As we enter into our 6th year as co-teachers (one year teaching kindergarten and five years in first grade) I find myself thinking back to our first meeting. Who would have guessed that from this inauspicious encounter a beautiful relationship would have blossomed. It's a funny old world hey? (Thanks Poddie).

We both have differing versions of our first meeting. Prior to our introduction, before the commencement of the 2002-2003 school year, we were each told that we would be teaching kindergarten in September with someone we had never met. So, we were interested in meeting one another long before we started a close working relationship. Lauren was the fresh faced ingenue just entering into her first teaching experience. I was the seasoned pro with six years under my belt, having already taught kindergarten and preschool.

Lauren remembers coming out to the school yard to greet me for the first time as I was playing with the children during recess. Her recollection finds me less than interested in our initial "hello's" as I continued to focus my attention on the children without so much as an enthusiastic smile towards her. Her recollection does not sound like me. I am sure that she was mistaken. In actuality, she was probably right. I am sure she just caught me at a bad time. I was probably in the middle of playing. You know how distracted one can get when one is playing.

My version of our first meeting is as follows... I was teaching preschool at the time, and let me tell you something, teaching preschool is not for the weak hearted. Lauren came into the classroom to introduce herself. I remember being a tad nervous because I had spent the previous two years team teaching with the wonderful and beautiful Maggie (who I am secretly in love with, even though she is now married with two children) and both of us and most of the children were hearing, which meant we did not use sign all the time.

I was concerned that Lauren would criticize my abilities in American Sign Language (ASL) since my sign language skills had become rusty while I languished in Pre-K. Lauren was just recently coming off of the honor of being crowned Miss Deaf America so I was sure she must be a little full of herself. People who are full of themselves make me both uncomfortable and uninterested. Oh, preconceived notions are the enemy of good relations. She has since been featured in the book The Gallaudet Dictionary of American Sign Language.

Anyhoo, Lauren came in to the classroom and introduced herself and that was that. She seemed nice and I was looking forward to working with her.

On a side note, Lauren performed a retelling of Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree in ASL during the talent portion of the competition for Miss Deaf America. She had already established her love of children's literature and was laying the foundation as a role model for young Deaf girls. I wish I had her performance on video!

But, aren't you lucky? You can watch Lauren in action by clicking here. She has performed quite a few stories on this vlog and all of them are a joy to watch. I do hope that you will check them out.

This brings me to the purpose of this post. I wanted to 'formally' introduce you to Lauren because 1) I mention her quite a bit on here and 2) She is going to join me in a series of ASL lessons on my blog. It is my hope that this feature may be helpful to parents or caregivers of deaf children who are struggling with learning a new language.

This endeavour also has a personal connection for me. I have a friend who suddenly finds herself caring for her adorable, precious grandson who is hard of hearing and seriously language delayed. Lauren and I are going to present signs relating to particular themes, such as family, school and feelings.

For the past two years when the preference sheets have come out for the following school year, asking teachers what grade they are interested in teaching and with whom, I have told Lauren that I would understand if she needed to 'see other people'. After all, I am the only team teacher she has ever known and if she feels the need to know what else is out there, who am I to clip her wings? Thankfully she has not taken me up on this selfless offer.

It's great. Isn't it grand? Oh, it's heaven nowadays!

"Happy Halloween"


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