Thursday, November 29, 2007

Teacher Attire

When we started teaching this summer, a lot of people had to go out and buy new clothes. After coming from undergrad or some other laid back environment, they were used to wearing jeans everyday and didn't have much "professional" attire. I, on the other hand, was not worried about my wardrobe stocked with slacks, button-down shirts and other business casual pieces. Of course I quickly learned that teaching is not your average business casual setting.

I wasn't that surprised that my high heels got the axe after the first week of school. As comfortable as they are (at least on the high heel spectrum of comfort), there's just no comparison to flip flops. The big surprise was my skirts and slacks. Although they look very professional, they lack a key element that I never realized was so crucial to teaching: pockets. In my office jobs, I almost never put anything in my pockets, but now there seem to be millions of things that fall into my hands everyday that have nowhere else to go. There's no time to put some kid's late pass in the recycling, so it goes in my pocket. That cell phone I took? In my pocket. Trash? Markers? Candy? All in my pockets. Now I understand why so many teachers wear jeans. Who can resist five pockets? I almost want to invest in cargo pants.

The pockets are how I really know I'm a teacher. I keep finding stuff in my pants at random times. On Thanksgiving I was wearing a pair of corduroys that I'd worn the previous week and during dinner I pulled out a broken pencil. I think more late passes and notes end up in my recycling at home than at school. The best is when kids forget to get back the items I hold as collateral in exchange for pencils, so I end up with Muni passes, house keys, etc. A few weekends back I was at a party and one of my (teacher) friends reached into his pocket for his wallet and pulled out a handful of paper clips. Clearly we are a dedicated bunch.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Biggest Upset Ever

Having grown up mere blocks from the largest college football stadium in the country, it was impossible for the sport not to have an impact on my life. Fall Saturdays to me mean tailgating, actually watching SportsCenter, and planning my schedule around the traffic patterns.

Imagine my surprise when I got to Stanford and games were pretty much empty. But then I saw how the team plays and... On the upside, in an effort to boost attendance, Stanford gave football tickets free to students this year, so I didn't feel bad leaving a game after, oh, 15 minutes.

Here are a few of my favorite shots from the first few games.

This shot makes the stadium (capacity 50,000) look way more full than it actually was.

Nikki and I love the foam fingers.

The best part of the season was when we ran into one of our professors. (BTW, this picture better represents how "full" the games are).

No, actually the best part of the season was the USC game. I was studying late that night when I got a text message from one of my Umich friends that said "You won!" I had no idea what it meant--I didn't even know Stanford was playing that day. Then another Umich friend called and explained the excitement. Somehow Stanford had managed to beat one of the top ranked teams in the country. Biggest. Upset. Ever.

It almost made up for Michigan's Appalachian State loss earlier this year...

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Map It

You know that part in 'Mean Girls' when Janice draws the map of the cafeteria showing where everyone sits? Turns out that social maps are a pretty effective tool for getting kids to look at and describe their environment. Some of the literature we've read in STEP discusses social maps, and Teaching Tolerance has a whole lesson on it. So when I got to take my CT's advisory for a day, I thought it would be a pretty fun activity to do with them.

Despite the classroom management issues that ensued that day (another story, probably not to be told another time), the kids made some pretty interesting maps. I only took pictures of two of them because the third got destroyed during the aforementioned classroom management debacle.

This first map was a collaboration between five students: a Mexican boy, a white boy, a Chinese boy, a Latina girl, and a Filipino girl. I categorized them by race because that's how they did a lot of their own categorization. They even asked me if they were being racist by labeling groups this way. Of course this was where I inserted a teacher move and turned the question back on them. Is it wrong to label a group by something that actually does characterize them?

Some of the labels Group 1 came up with, going clockwise from top left:
-"Mexicans...and other Latinos, etc." (they changed this after I asked if the kids who sat there really are all Mexican)
-"Soccer players"
-"People who think they're cool (Freshmen!)"
-"Volleyball players"
-"Football Players"
-"JROTC Crew"
-"Black (cool people)"
-"Special Ed and Teachers"
-"Mexicans...and other Latinos, etc."

Group 2 was actually just a pair: a Mexican girl and a Mexican boy. Interestingly, they drew other parts of the school and didn't really use racial labels. Instead, a lot of the groups they labeled are actually mostly Mexican and Latino.

Group 2's labels, clockwise from top left:
-"3rd Floor Blue Gangbangers territory"
-"Other Mixes"
-"Soccer People"
-"Drums People"
-"Football Players"
-"Red Gangbangers territory"
-It got cut off in the picture, but along the left side it says "Key: The dots are people walking around"
One thing I found interesting from this map is that the "blue wannabees" area is where a lot of the English language learners (ELLs) hang out and blue is the color associated with the gang that tends to be more recent Latino immigrants. The red gang, on the other hand, is also predominately Latino, but most are American-born.

Unfortunately, I don't really leave the third floor of the school much and I definitely don't get a chance to walk around during lunch (I'm always in my room), so I wish I had more commentary as to how this would compare to a map that I might draw. Something I did notice, however, is that when I asked the kids to label themselves on the map (sorry, I blurred out their names), nobody put themselves with a group. One boy got placed by his classmates at one of the Mexican/Latino tables from Group 1's map, but I don't think he had much say in that decision. I was surprised by his placement, because he's on the soccer team and I almost always see him with his teammates, so I wonder why he wasn't at the soccer team's table.

I'd like to hold on to these maps and have the students do it again at the end of the year. Obviously there will be some differences, but I'm curious to see what those differences will reflect.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

On SCTA's Dime

Stanford more or less required us to join the Student California Teachers Association because of the insurance they provide that covers incidents in the classroom. Who knew that I might get other benefits out of it? Last month I got an email about an SCTA conference in Newport Beach. Although there wasn't really any info as to what the conference would be about, I couldn't ignore the cost: the $25 registration fee would cover airfare to the O.C. and lodging at the Newport Beach Hyatt. So obviously I sen in my $25 check immediately.

The conference last weekend was everything I expected, but more posh. The Hyatt was incredible, with the most comfortable bed I've ever slept in, and a flat screen TV in our room for me to catch the Michigan State game (go blue!). The food was fantastic (fresh mango salad? Yes, please) and the swag was above average (who wouldn't want an SCTA tote bag?).

On Saturday night I met up with some friends who live in SoCal. We feasted on an amazing seafood dinner on the water, and then walked around the pier and the beach for the rest of the evening. It was the perfect weekend getaway.

Of course I learned a lot at the conference too. I learned about how useful the union is, how important it is that I get involved in the union, and about all the great things that the union does. Then they handed out some union propaganda and--no joke--the keynote speaker read a poem entitled "Are You an Active Member, or Do You Just Belong?" My friend Sarah and I spent most of our time passing notes about inappropriate questions we could ask during the diversity panel and whether Alfie Kohn and/or Gloria Ladson-Billings would approve of what the presenters were saying. One thing I actually learned is that I'm turning into a serious Stanford elitist.

Phone Home

For my classroom management class, one of our assignments was to make positive phone calls home to two of our students. I'm not sure why, but talking to parents/guardians makes me nervous. I guess it's a combination of not really knowing what to say paired with feeling young/inexperienced. I mean, what am I going to tell the parent of a teenager? Even more nerve-wracking, when I told my CT about this assignment, she took it to a whole new level. "Let's call everyone's parents," she decided. I took one class (my future class) and she took the other.

While they definitely weren't all positive phone calls (it's not very helpful to call the parent of a kid who's failing and leave that fact out of the conversation), I actually kind of enjoyed the experience. Every parent/guardian was extremely nice, and more importantly, was very grateful for the call. Which makes sense, of course--why wouldn't caretakers want to know how their students are doing? There was definitely a range of reactions, though. Some parents simply thanked me an quickly got off the phone, while others talked on and on and on. The mother of one student who comes to class about once a week talked to me for a good 15 minutes about her son's fear/hatred of math, worries about being at Mission, and lots more. However, I'm not sure if she actually got my message that her son does fine when he actually comes to class, but 20% attendance makes math hard for anyone.

My favorite part was actually the next day when I started off class by telling the kids how much I'd enjoyed talking to their parents. They all pretty much freaked out. "Why did you call? What did you say? Don't call my house!" It's so interesting (but not surprising) that both the parents and students assumed that my phone calls meant that the student was in trouble, and it was especially satisfying to be able to tell (some of) them that I was just calling home to share good news and talk about how great the student is. So simple, yet so powerful.

Monday, November 05, 2007

A Very STEPpie Halloween

As if my whole life isn't consumed quite enough by Stanford and teaching, somehow my entire Halloween ended up being completely STEP-tastic. It was like all I could think about was STEP, STEP, and more STEP. Which, sadly, is pretty reflective of my actual thoughts.

It started with my non-school Halloween costume. The only thing I could think of that would be funny, creative, and easy was to dress up like our Director of Clinical Work, Ruth Ann. It won't be that funny for anyone who doesn't know her, but she's a ridiculously coordinated and classy dresser. When I found an Ann Taylor pantsuit at Goodwill, the deal was sealed.

And to give you an idea of what our director looks like, here's a picture with me, Ruth Ann, another STEPpie and a STEP staff member--all dressed up as Ruth Ann.

Obviously, to make it a proper Halloween, I had to engage in the tradition of pumpkin carving. We even went so far as to go pumpkin picking, but it turned out that the "pumpkin patch" was actually some pumpkin vines with large pumpkins (clearly from other plants) strewn about so you could feel like you were picking pumpkins without actually doing it.

It also turned out that the pumpkins at the patch were ridiculously expensive, so we went to Safeway instead.

I bet you can't tell from my design what I am totally consumed with all the time.

Here are some group shots of our pumpkins. I have to say, we're a pretty creative group.

And now, the costume I know you're all waiting for: my school costume. I did have a lot of trouble figuring out something good AND math-related. I'm an algebra tile (the x tile to be exact)!

I got a much better reaction than I expected. There was definitely a lot of eye-rolling from the kids, and a lot of questions about "What's your real costume?" I asked why they assumed I wouldn't wear this out with my friends. One kid thought I'd bought my costume. I asked what Halloween stores he goes to where they sell algebra tile costumes.

My favourite comment? While I was talking to one group, a kid who I had my back to (the red side) asked "Ms. L., why are you so negative?" Later (when I was yelling at him in the hall, of course), I told him something and he asked "Are you positive?" Of course my answer was yes.