Wednesday, November 28, 2007

My Geeky Husband

I knew it all along. It's just that now I have video proof. My husband is a geek. I'm so proud. So for all of you who had your doubts, watch away. This is from the D'Evelyn Homecoming Last Teacher Comic Standing.

For those of you still doubting his geek-level. He won the contest by way of dance-off.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Service Opportunities

Last weekend we went to a surprise birthday party at restaurant here in town. The party was great. The service was, well, not. I will choose to take the higher ground and leave it nameless. We'll give them the benefit of the doubt that this was a semi-isolated incident. I doubt it, but we'll assume.

You see, this wasn't the first time we received bad service at this restaurant. And by bad, I really do mean bad. A couple of years ago, Joel and I went to the this particular dining establishment because it is close to a movie theater. We went about 2 hours early, purchased our movie tickets and then went to eat. I mention the time frame because we really did have plenty of time. One would think.

We ordered our meal and then waited. And waited. And waited And waited. I know I tend to exaggerate, but we really waited about 45 minutes for our food. And it's not like we ordered filet mignon or Joel's favorite to say "duck al oronge" or anything. We're talking about burgers and fries. At 45 minutes we finally found our waiter (Joel was about ready to just walk into the kitchen at this point). We got our food about 15 minutes after that. Something about not putting the order in the computer...It was so late at this point we had to get the food packed up and we ate it in the movie theater. I'm all for eating in the movie theater. Popcorn. M & M's even milk duds. A burger & fries? Not so much. And we got no apology or compensation on our bill.

So it was with much anticipation that we arrived at this restaurant on Friday night. Thankfully, the husband of the "birthday girl" had made reservations since it was going to be about 30 people. We were optimistic. They knew we were coming, so they would have plenty of happy, helpful, quick-footed servers, right? Wrong.

Joel & I were the first ones to arrive at about 6:50pm. I am, in fact, an overachiever. Other guests began to arrive and we settled into our seats. And the wait began. And I'm not talking about for the guest of honor. She came right on time--about 30 minutes after we arrived.

And then we waited. At about 7:45 we got our drinks. So much for being home by 8:30. We finally got some yummy appetizers. They were very delicious. Or was I just so hungry that calamari would have tasted good? I'm not sure.

During all of this time, we did have a great time visiting with friends and sadly, making fun of the service. There were times when our waitress would come over and take an empty glass from the person next to me, I would raise my glass to hand it to her (being empty and all) and she would turn and walk away. She would then get upset when I asked her, upon her return with my neighbor's full glass, to fill up mine too.

In the end, we did get to eat some dinner. Joel got the wrong salad--he ordered one with no avocados (he's very allergic to them) and some cheese. His came with avocados and no cheese. Very disappointing. You know that feeling--you ordered something from the menu and you think about it for the entire time you're waiting for a meal and then it doesn't live up to your expectations. Our friend ordered a side salad and was given a dinner salad. It cost $6 more than she wanted to pay. The waiter did apologize because it was his mistake, but then charged her full price for it anyway.

We got home about 10:00pm.

I began to think "What did I really expect from this experience?"
Here's my list:
1. Fast, quick service, responding to my every need
2. Please do it with a cheerful attitude. I get enough grief in my life from other people, I don't need it at a restaurant.
3. Stay out of the way when I don't need you

WOW. I'm annoying. Some people might call it other names, but that's what I'll say here. And don't think you're getting off scott free. I know that's what you'd say you wanted from a waiter or waitress or airline attendant or grocery clerk or telemarketer or a customer service agent...We all want that kind of service.

Yet, how often do we give that kind of service? That might be what our waiter or waitress or airline attendant or grocery clerk or telemarketer or a customer service agent want from us. I'll throw in your child's teacher, too, just for good measure. What about God? Doesn't he want that kind of service from us too?

Let's look at that list again.

1. Fast, quick service, responding to my every need.
I am reminded of 1 Samuel 14 when Saul waits around to attack the
Philistines. But Jonathan knows what God wants & climbs over a cliff with his young armor bearer and ONE sword and picks a fight with an entire army. Saul was waiting around back at camp trying to decide what to do. Talk about fast, quick service and responding to God's every need.

2. Please do it with a cheerful attitude. I get enough grief in my life from other people, I don't need it at a restaurant (or from my chosen people).
2 Corinthians 9:7 "Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." I hope I'm not mis-representing this verse. But I do think "giving" means not only our money, but also our time & talents.

3. Stay out of the way when I don't need you
So I don't really have a verse about this, but what I mean by this is don't get your nose in business that doesn't concern you. We often try to do the work of God and we just mess it all up because it's not what God asked us to do. God doesn't really need us to do his work. He just chooses to use us because he's a gracious, loving, merciful God. If you have a good verse or bible story, let me know.

In the end, this is the verse that comes to my mind:
Philippians 2: 3-4 "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others."

So my hope for myself is that during this busy, frantic, over-commercialized season I can remember my list of wants and try to do it myself. We can hope.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Handwriting Epedmic

Warning: This blog is written by a teacher (and an opinionated one, at that), not a doctor.

I am not a handwriting expert. Far from it. I think I even went to handwriting summer school one year. I just thought this information was too important not to pass it along.

Some of you may know that the world of education is always changing its mind. For a long time, phonics was all the rage. Then it was whole language. Now it's back to phonics. If you don't know the difference, it's OK, because you're reading this. If you can't read this, then we probably need to talk.

We also see trends in education because of what is happening in the culture around us. For example, one of the third grade reading assessments we give is about beavers. The kids have to read and comprehend a fictional story about a beaver family. About 5 years ago, kids could care less about the story. Then, The Lion, the Witch & The Wardrobe came out in movie form and boom! just like that, kids love the beaver family story!

Sometimes culture has a negative impact on our education system. Sadly, even in the 6.5 years I've been teaching, the number of kids with divorced parents has skyrocketed. This equates to a big challenge for teachers. Who do you call when the child is sick? in trouble? Who gets the report card? Often times the parents have had such a messy divorce, they don't communicate with each other, making for a sad situation for the child(ren).

But I digress. The point of this blog was not to complain about the status of society or our education system. What is the point, you ask? Well, read on!

We are seeing a new trend in education. In the past few years doctors have instructed mothers of infants to place children on their backs--not their stomachs--when they sleep. They have also been told to eliminate small toys and objects from their reach. Kids have also been more "contained" in car seats, chairs, or simply laying on their back. Take a look the next time you are in a restaurant--kids are sitting in their car seat, staring at the ceiling. Not an overly stimulating view. What they are often staring at are flashing lights and whirling objects, placed there to keep them occupied.

But, I'm getting a bit off topic again. All of these things are good--lowering the risk of SIDS, choking and eliminating other potential hazards from their reach are good. Listen to your doctor!

However, I do want to tell you about the flip side. This is where the education part comes in. Our occupational therapist informed our teachers this week that America is in the middle of an epidemic. A pandemic, even. Kids can't write. It's not that their teachers didn't teach them. It's not even that the students didn't learn how to form the letters. They can't write because they are physically incapable of doing it.

Because babies are not placed on their stomachs for long periods of time, they never develop the shoulder muscles to hold themselves up. Therefore, they do not have the muscles in their arms to hold a pencil properly.

Because babies do not play with small objects like blocks or clothes pins, they do not develop the dexterity and strength to stabilize the pencil in their hand.

Because babies are often limited to a car seat or laying on their backs for long periods of time, they don't fully develop the neck muscles that babies in the past had from looking around (when they were being carried around on mom's hip for most of the day). These neck muscles also (amazingly enough) are needed for handwriting and other simple tasks.

Kids literally do not have the ability to write. It's quite sad, actually, when they get to first or even second--and now, even third grade--and they can't hold their pencil properly. And it's not for lack of trying, or for lack of teaching.

Anyway, I don't think that doctors or parents mean any harm in how they are raising their children. Quite the opposite, I think they mean well for their children and I know I never would have related any of the above practices to handwriting.

Now that I've thoroughly caused alarm and some mass-hysteria among mothers of infants or young school age children, take a deep breath. Take a minute to relax and keep reading. There's hope. Here's what you can do, if you are so inclined.

1. Have your kids (even at a very young age) lay on their stomachs to watch TV or play a game. They have to prop their heads up on their hands/arms. See how long they can do it. (How long can you do it?)

2. Have them play (well supervised) with smaller objects, like small macaroni noodles. You can take an old plastic tub, punch holes in the lid and then they have to put the macaroni noodles in through the holes.

3. For kids a little bit older (5-7), you can have them hold a cotton ball with their ring & pinkie fingers (against their palm). Then using their thumb, index & middle finger (like a claw), have them pick up small objects (like #2). These are the three fingers they need the most for holding a pen/pencil.

4. For a long time, I was a big proponent of "If the pencil is shorter than your thumb, throw it away". But, our occupational therapist has changed my mind. It's GOOD for kids to practice with tiny pencils & broken crayons. It takes more work and strength and dexterity to hold a small pencil than it does to hold a longer one. So, live on, small pencils!

5. Clothes pins are great. It helps them develop strength in those three fingers mentioned in #3. Have them put clothes pins on and off the edge of their bed sheets or comforter.

6. Don't be afraid to let them use scissors--there are lots of kid-friendly scissors out there and it really helps them to develop fine motor skills. Just don't let them near your new curtains or favorite blanket.

7. Crafts! Crafts! Crafts! Scissors! Glue! Paper! Coloring! Stamping! Painting! Buttons! Snaps! Sewing! It's good for their little fingers and their brains! It's cheap and it's fun! A bit messy, yes, but isn't that what childhood is all about?

I could go on, but I will stop here. Like with all things in education and life, a balanced approach is best. Don't "go to a level 10" (I hear this a lot from Joel), just do a few things here and there to help set your child up for handwriting success. Your child (and their teacher) will thank you for it later.

One more note. Please leave me a comment about this blog if you have any other opinions or information. I would love to have it. I am, after all, just a teacher, not a mom!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Reflections on a Teacher Conference

This weekend I attended a teacher conference in Colorado Springs. In my short career as a teacher I have attended over a dozen of these events, so I consider myself pretty much an expert on these experiences.

Have you ever attended a teacher conference? Every time I attend another conference, I get a little more embarrassed to be included in this profession. I hate to say it, but it's pretty much a geek-fest. I am reminded how many jean-jumpers and apple sweaters teachers wear. It's like we need a booth with Stacey & Clinton from "What Not to Wear" at every conference. We need help, people.

Teachers are also freaks over free giveaways. It's like we are so deprived at school for lack of scissors, paper and pencils, we feel a God-given right to each and every free-be given away at the conference. Yesterday, at the end of the conference, they gave away free materials. You wouldn't believe the shouting and yelling that went on when someone's number was called. And watch out, because if you didn't have a good enough shout of jubilation, you got booed. (I think they even took away your free-be.) It's like they were on The Price is Right and they just found out they were playing Plinko or something. Calm it down a notch, it's just a free coloring book.

The conference I attended this year is one I have been to almost every year for the last 6 years. I have attended it in Nashville, Phoenix, Philadelphia, San Antonio, Washington DC, and now Colorado Springs. It's usually a great conference. They didn't plan so well for this one. They planned for 700 attendees and 1,400 showed up. The hotel was not large enough to accommodate all of the teachers. It almost turned ugly. We are talking about teachers here.

People were upset if they couldn't get into a session. And what I mean by not getting into a session is that literally every seat was filled, including the front row, the aisle was crammed with those sitting on the floor (hopefully the fire marshal didn't come through or we would have been shut down) and the door to the room was so crowded, the wall dividers swayed with the push of the crowd. So, literally the teachers "couldn't get into the session". Overachievers.

It's actually quite comical, if you think about it. Here are the educators of America, teaching the future leaders of our country. Armed with geeky teacher-bags in hand, pushing and shoving to get to the front row seat of a session entitled "Synthetic Phonics". On Monday mornings, our schools are lined with warm and friendly faces sweetly remind our children of how to be good citizens. "Good morning Johnny", "Don't forget to tie your shoe Susie," "Please have a seat quietly Matthew". But watch out on Saturday morning. It's a whole different animal.

I mentioned above "geeky teacher bags". This may not be a well-known accessory outside of the teaching profession, but it is an accessory. Must have. Every season. Goes with all outfits. Can be accessorized further with pins, buttons, etc... to raise the level of geeky-ness. And the best part, it's FREE with your registration to the conference! And, they are required for the all-too familiar "teacher conference walk-through ". Funny name, serious business.

If you don't know about this "walk-through", simply sign yourself up for a teacher conference, announce yourself as a "first time-attender" and you will be shuffled quickly into a back room to be taught the "walk-through". I will teach you a couple of key elements here.
1. Place teacher bag, full of free materials from the Exhibit hall (which you arrived to the conference early to browse so you wouldn't have to miss any sessions), on your shoulder. Using the hand of the arm you've placed your bag on, hold on tightly to your bag, ready to use it to swing at anyone moving too slowly or headed to the same session as you are. Front row seats are top priority here.
2. Elbows bent and stuck out, slightly. These assist with the "walk-through" portion.
3. Head down, slightly.
4. Scowled face. You do want to get into that over-crowded session, don't you?
5. Walk briskly, using elbows to force your way through the crowd. These are weapons, here people. And we have to get where we're going. You've got to be able to "walk-through" the crowd.
All of this is done under the assumption that you've downloaded the schedule before arriving at the conference and used no less than 2 highlighters and 3 colored sticky pads to mark your first, second, and third choices for each session time and a pen to mark the location of the rooms before hand.

Proper Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. And not getting into your first choice session would fall under "poor performance".

In the end, I am reminded of a wise old saying taught to me by some great teacher of my past: "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

And if you are wondering about that session called "Synthetic Phonics", I can tell you all about it. I have 3 pages of notes.