Sunday, December 23, 2007

City Sidewalks

This has been a busy week.

On Friday Lauren and I looked at one another and decided that we needed to take it to the streets. She suggested we gather up the kids and shake things up a bit by heading over to see the festivities at Union Square. I chimed in that we could stop in at the Barnes and Noble there to check out the children's books and a plan was born. We scooped up Miss Cheritha and her first grade students and sang and danced our way downtown.

It was a brilliant move. There really is nothing like doing something unexpected and spontaneous. As I looked at the children smiling I thought once again how blessed I am. I am in the right place, doing the right thing.

We arrived at B&N and headed directly to the large second floor children's book section. I was happy to see that my Curious George obsession had rubbed off on the children as they spent a great deal of time rummaging through the many titles in this book series. They were spread out on the floor and lounging on the chairs with various book titles. Each time they discovered a book we had read in class they felt compelled to run to us, book in hand, to loudly announce their find.

Books were being passed about, children were running from shelf to shelf and some took books from one area and returned it to another. This did not score us any points with the staff. Amidst sour looks and raised eyebrows we invited all of the children to join us in the hundred acre wood for a reading of two holiday favorites.

Lauren and I read How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss. Me doing my best impersonation of the voice over from the TV special and Lauren signing it in the gorgeous way that only she can. As we read we attracted a few children and adults who probably thought it was a scheduled story time. Our students sat and listened so intently, hanging on every word. I was impressed. It is rather neat to see them out and about in NYC, outside the confines of our classroom.

When this story was finished we read a new book called Snowmen at Christmas by Caralyn Buehner and Mark Buehner. If you ever wondered what antics your snowmen get into while you are fast asleep look no further than this book (well you should also check out Snowmen at Night). These books are so much fun - especially at the end of the night when the snowmen are exhausted. Carrots, coal and buttons litter the field. I defy you to read this book and not chuckle.

After the reading we gathered up our belongings and headed towards the escalator. This was when I saw it. A Santa George! I had to have it. Why? I have no idea but every time I see a Curious George dressed up in a different outfit I have to have him. Luckily I am a first grade teacher so no one questions this odd obsession. We all have our weaknesses I suppose.

Back on the street, with Santa George safely secure in my coat pocket, we strolled around Union Square Park. We thought it would be wonderful if we bought all of the kids some hot apple cider and after some drama with the street vendor that is exactly what we did. We sat in the park sipping hot cider as we chatted and gazed.

Unfortunately not all children like hot apple cider. Several of them felt compelled to 'pitch in' and tossed their cups into the nearest trash bin. Oh well. We tried.

With that, our adventure was over. The morning flew by and now we had some rumbling tummies that needed lunch. Oh, New York. It really is a wonderful place to go to school and a wonderful place to teach.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Live Nativity

It is tremendously important for me to feel connections in my life; connections with my family, friends, church and community. I remember watching the movie Steel Magnolias and marveling at the relationships between this strong group of women that operated within an intimate community of support and gossip. At the time I was covetous of this small town with its rituals, customs and traditions. I wanted to be part of a larger group of individuals brought together by some common purpose.

I suppose this is why I thrived in the world of theater. Everyone works together towards accomplishing a common goal. Each person contributes their unique skills to make the show a success. I loved it. In this environment I met some lifelong friends (Joy and Mike to name only two) and I like to think that I added something distinctive as well.

There are many small pockets of our lives where we can feel this spirit and one very important area for me is church. I have been a church going, choir singing lad since I can remember. I have a deep belief system that I often question and challenge but the basics are there. As an adult I have succeeded in finding a church that fosters a feeling of family even as my own family lives further away than I'd like.

If it is true that we are all blessed with unique gifts, mine can be found in performance (or witnessing or preaching or whatever term is appropriate when relating to church). I sing with the choir, I often act as liturgist and recently I even filled in for our pastor by delivering a sermon on 'The Good Samaritan' when she was away at a conference.

The church also does some outreach to the larger community that includes the usual food drives and various walks to support local charities. Each year we host a chicken BBQ providing exceptionally tasty dinners at low prices and every so often during the holiday season we create a live nativity.

I love this.

I took part in it for the first time last year. Basically, you sign up to portray a character (I play Joseph - earthly father of Jesus) and stand outside, in the cold, for the enjoyment of onlookers in passing cars. People are encouraged to stop in for some soup, salad, desert and fellowship.

It all sounds so holy and right minded, no? But aside from the fellowship and community building there is a sweetly wicked side that I wouldn't miss. Little details that go unnoticed by most folk.

Like the infant Jesus lying in the manger in swaddling clothing (pictured left). I do not know who chose this particular doll to represent our Lord and savior but I applaud the creativity involved. This looks like a young Carol Channing and if we are all supposed to be created in this image no wonder we have issues.

This baby Jesus also has a pretty ribbon in his hair. This brought about comments related to letting him be who he is and not censoring his true nature. Well, there is a nice lesson in tolerance and acceptance so perhaps we were on to something after all.

We also had two goats on hand last night who added a bit of spontaneity to the proceedings. Keeping a couple of randy goats in line for two and a half hours was entertaining enough, not to mention the occasional gifts they were compelled to leave the newborn king. But being that our three teenage wise men decided to bail after 45 minutes to make like The Rockettes for approaching traffic we were happy someone was making an effort.

Tomorrow morning I am once again playing Joseph. This time in our Christmas pageant which I am sure will be a wonderful fiasco, at least judging from our 'rehearsal' this afternoon. I could not be more satisfied.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Flat Stanley

The First and Second grade children at our school went to see The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley at the Tribecca Performing Arts Center yesterday morning. The show is based on the endearing children's book series by Jeff Brown. In the books Stanley Lambchop is flattened one evening when the large bulletin board that hangs over his bed becomes unhinged and falls on him. He is discovered in the morning by his younger brother Arthur. Mr. and Mrs. Lambchop are unable to fix their son but have a refreshing 'oh, well' attitude and get on with life.

Being flat (he is only a 1/2 inch think) has its advantages. Stanley is able to mail himself to California in a large envelope to visit his friend Thomas and can fly like a kite. He even saves the day at least once in each book. The stories are imaginative, clever and just plain fun.

So when I saw that Intramusic Theatricals had included a stop on their current tour only a short bus ride away from our school, I knew we had to go. Tickets were only $5.00 per student and teachers/chaperons were granted free admission. I did have some drama trying to acquire a script to give to the sign language interpreters but eventually everything worked out wonderfully.

The great surprise was just how wonderfully. This was a great production. I was so impressed. The cast, headed by the gifted and charming John Ambrosino as Flat Stanley, were obviously enjoying themselves. I could not get over John's beautiful singing voice. I don't know what I expected exactly but I didn't expect the show to be this professional. Every detail was perfection. The students loved it. I was watching them watch the show as it unfolded. Their excitement made Lauren and I smile. If the tour comes close to your area I strongly recommend that you get tickets.

Jamieson Lindenburg, Ashley Eileen Bucknam, John Ambrosino, Nanci Zoppi and Rebecca Kutz

There is a whole Flat Stanley curriculum out there that includes links with geography, mathematics, language arts and science. It has become very popular for children to create their own drawings of Flat Stanley to mail to other classes or individual children. As Stanley travels from one class to another or one child to another, children share the adventures he had on his visit with them in letters to one another.

I can see this as being a motivating way to encourage children to write but I can't seem to get on board with this one. Maybe a class somewhere really cool like Paris or Australia would help me change my mind. Maybe then I would stick myself in an envelope and join him.

Monday, December 3, 2007


On Friday night I met my blogging friend Steve for the first time at a bar called The Mad Hatter in New York City. This is the third blogger I have shared a drink with after getting knowing them first through the written word. In person Steve, Reya and Ched were pretty much as they portrayed themselves to be on their blogs - but even more charming, fascinating and interesting. Steve and I spoke briefly about the possibility that the persona someone chooses to put forth through a series of blog posts could be altogether misleading but the essence or 'stink of them' (to paraphrase Boy George) generally shines through.

And I think this can be said for the many roles we 'play' in our daily lives. In a sociolinguistics class I took recently we discussed the fact that each of us takes on a different societal role depending on the circumstances of our surroundings. We have rules of behavior or codes of conduct that determine how we interact in a business meeting as opposed to hanging out with mom and dad. But this is only a surface level manifestation of required etiquette. The character of the person underneath all of this determines how a conversation will play out or an interaction will unfold.

We have choices. We make choices all the time.

In education the choices we make can determine if we are part of the problem or part of the solution. And what 'they' say is true. If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

The sad truth of the situation is that everyone loves to blame everyone else for failures in education (and in life it seems) while crediting themselves with any successes. In my experience, it is those who point fingers who tend to be the most insecure, unmotivated and dangerous individuals around. The real person underneath is not so charming, fascinating or interesting.

Today we have a situation wherein our president blames teachers for the failure of schools even when it is his doctrines that have brought about the mad testing that keeps learning from happening. The No Child Left Behind legislation seems to be based on money. The testing companies are run by Bush cronies who are raking in the dough. And I naively believed at one point that the heart of NCLB was pure. What an idiot I was.

In Boston the average sixth grade student has only 53 days (out of 180 school days) where they are not being tested in one way or another.

In NYC upper elementary grade students have 24 full days of testing. This means that a whole unit of study is out the window. Teachers may have to put aside a study of poetry because the students are required to fill in little bubbles. Not to mention the time that is necessary to prepare the students for taking the tests. Teaching to the test instead of teaching to the child has become sadly commonplace. And the worst part is that these assessments are not given to plan instruction. They are given to label children and schools.

The blame game is not only reserved for the president. It is also evident on a smaller scale. In schools the third grade teacher blames the second grade teacher, who blames the first grade teacher, who blames the kindergarten teacher, who blames the parents, who blame the doctor, who blames the fetus, who kicks the dog. Oh, wait I got my wires crossed but you know what I mean. In this climate it is no surprise that the weakest teachers would feel threatened and point fingers before someone notices that they are not doing all they could.

Is it human nature to point fingers and shun responsibility?

I think perhaps it is. But I also think that it is the easy way out. And there are many folks who choose to work a little harder, give a little more and take a minute to ask "what can I do to make this better?"

So I remain hopeful even when I am a little disgusted.

That's all for now.


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