Friday, October 30, 2009

Sometimes things just go well...

There are times than being a teacher is kind of wonderful. Wednesday, Our school did its own Olympic Torch Relay.  A group of us formed an Olympic committee to make the most of this event.  Now note, world, I did not vote for the Olympics.  Remember I lived in Montreal during the 1976 Olympics and only recently was that debt paid,  In fact, I boycotted the Olympics, not that anyone noticed, but I did enjoy the excitement in the city when it was on.  Whatever your opinions the Olympics is taking place and I figure one might as well make the most of it.  Olympic ideals are worthy and my class and I are learning lots.

Anyway our first "event" was to do a simulation of the torch relay complete with the lighting of the cauldron.  It seemed a great idea at the time but it didn't seem so wonderful on Monday when I realized that we had a flag to make, skits to prepare etc.  and very little time to do it.

My class has been studying the history of the Olympics so Monday and Tuesday they researched and wrote skits and practiced.  We made up our judging criteria and they performed them.  I have to say never have I seen my class so motivated and engaged.  And they did an excellent job.  We chose two groups to do the explanations of the Olympic Torch relay for our assembly.

Each division was to represent a province or territory and we chose Quebec and thanks to one of my students and a marvelous SEA the flag was great!  My other big last moment part was putting a slide show together about the torch relay.  Thank goodness for the official Olympic website! Did I really say that?

It was an amazing morning.  After our assembly with our own adopted Olympic athlete  present,  a torchbearer from each division passed the torch and then joining the relay so that all 12 children came into together as one of my students got to light the cauldron.  No real fire involved I assure you.

And to put the icing on the cake later that morning our junior boys won the city soccer tournament, the first time in the seven years our school has had grade six and seven that any team had won a city tournament trophy.

Now yesterday I think Halloween hit with them and fatigue with me but Wednesday was kind of a perfect morning.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What I have been reading lately

I am becoming a Monique Polak fan.  I just finished The Middle of Everywhere, a YA novel about a boy from Montreal who goes to spend a term with his dad who is teaching in a community in the far northern region of Quebec.  Needless to say it isn't an easy adjustment for Noah but this novel takes place during his eventful first week in George River.  Not having been to the Arctic I can't vouch for its authenticity but I think it gives a good picture, being realistic yet optimistic.  Also I like how Noah is able to forge a better relationship with his father and himself.

For the younger set (8-11)  there is a new book by Michelle Mulder entitled After Peaches.  Michelle has a knack for making social issues understandable for this age level without being "preachy".  In her last book she wrote about the children's peace movement in Columbia and in this one we learn about the life of a Mexican refugee family and about the situation of migrant workers.  Again I am curious what my class will think of this book.  Many of them have had parents who have actually worked in the fields when they emigrated to British Columbia.  Not easy work but Michelle focuses on how children find the positive and also how social change can occur with their help.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

On being back in the classroom...

Well it was a busy week!  I fielded many phone calls and e-mails about the LOMCIRA conference.  I had staffroom duty (okay, I confess people kept emptying the dishwasher for me), a VESTA meeting, parent teacher conferences (24 interviews), a field trip to Granville Island to the International Writers' Festival  with three classes to see Gordon Korman and Tim Wynne Jones, a couple of dinners out with friends, and finally the LOMCIRA conference yesterday.

It rained a fair amount this week but fortunately not at Granville Island.  The leaves are beautiful, fall lingers in Vancouver.  After a day at the conference I walked up to Main Street to pay a debt at Once Upon a Huckleberry.  It was pouring but there's nothing like a good long raincoat and an umbrella!  And yes, on the way back I managed to do a bit of Christmas shopping.  You have  to know that Main Street even gets written up in cruise ship magazines and the New York Times now as an "in" shopping place.  When we first moved here it was mainly known for junk shops and the Red Hot Video Store.  It really wasn't a place I wanted to linger.  Times change.

At the conference I asked the new primary consultant how she liked her job.  She said she loved it.  And I said, "I honestly can't remember ever saying that!"  Living in the land of office cubicles wasn't an easy fit for me. I missed the kids, my colleagues, my classroom.  Fortunately, I was always able to get out to schools when I needed to have a kid fix.

Being the later literacy consultant was a wonderful opportunity.  I loved many parts of it- reading the latest books, getting incredible  professional development, going to conferences without having to plan lessons for a week nor having to pay my own way or even the cost of an EOC, and of course, meeting incredible teachers and seeing the big picture in Vancouver and across the province.  Plus I didn't have to make lunch every day. I loved the opportunity to learn, but I honestly didn't love the job.

There have been so many times the last few weeks where I have felt like I was almost drowning, trying to get my head more often above the waterline.  Going back to a classroom after four years isn't easy-  teaching a grade six seven split all subjects except PE and Art isn't easy especially when there are new materials and curriculum and you don't have all your stuff "left behind at your last school".  I haven't taught science in years and never grade seven science, math, nor social studies.  And I  don't really know the school, even though the school was familiar to me, each school has slightly different procedures. 

My heart really goes out to those beginning teachers even more now.  And of course there is the matter of class composition with a range of abilities, needs etc.

Talk about feelings of inadequacy.  There have definitely been times I have had to wonder why I didn't more seriously look at the possibilities of retirement.

But bottom line at eight o-clock Thursday night even as I finished my interviews, I know that this is job that I love.  I love working with children.  I love widening their worlds.  I love all the opportunities to learn in so many ways and in so many areas.  I love the diversity in my school.  My students' parents come from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Vietnam, China, Mexico, the Phillipines, Korea.  I can travel without even leaving the classroom.  My only student whose parents were born in Canada has a First Nations background.  I teach in a school with a dedicated staff and administrator.  No slackers here.  To me, now even more I am convinced there is no more important job than that of a teacher.  I also am convinced that one of the best things in life is to be able to find a job that you truly love to do.

Friday, October 16, 2009

True Confessions and Guilty Pleasures...

Okay!  It has finally happened.  I am reading Twilight.  I have resisted it for a couple of years.  I am not a vampire fan in the least but a friend decided I needed to be in the know and lent me a copy and then another friend told me she had read it and I had to read it.  And I have to say I am looking forward to curling up with the story .  You have to know that my tastes are rather eclectic.

As I look out the window into the rain I kind of imagine Edward and his family playing thunder ball in the far distance.  And poor Bella !  I mean-really having to move to that rainy Forks from sunny Phoenix.  I guess we know why they filmed the movies in Vancouver.

That Stephanie Meyers has a way of making those vampires awfully believable.

I like to share my reading with my class and I think they are finding this more interesting than me trying to explain Michael Ondaatje's Divisario.  For one thing, some of them have read the book and most of them have seen the movie unlike their teacher.  I guess that is next.

Just had a reading response discussion on myths and legends as one of my students is enthusiastically reading a collection of Greek myths and legends.  The vampire phenomenon is perhaps a modern desire for those explanation of why the world is the way it is.  We are drawn it seems to those stories of bigger worlds and supernatural powers.

Last year one of my teacher friends was concerned that her seventh graders were reading the series.  Apparently the next ones are a bit more racy than this one.  I said if you aren't comfortable with them reading it in class just tell them.  What they read at home is up to their parents' approval. 
Even now I guess I wouldn't say this is a great book you should read, but in my current situation I am happy to have them reading almost anything enthusiastically.  I can't see my boys being too enthralled with the romantic bits of the book so doubt that will be an issue.  One of my girls just read a biography of a wrestler but she wrote about it well and she's opening my eyes to another world which I guess is what literature discussion should be. 

Should Bella really be involved with Edward, or should she move far far away somewhere really crowded and sunny?  Is her fate sealed?
According to TV's Vampire Diaries, Stephanie Meyers got Vampires all wrong anyway.  Isn't that a cause for some research??? 

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

More new books from Orca, and observations on boy readers etc. etc.

Right now I have a few more books to review.
The Mealworm Diaries by Anna Kerz (Orca) for students in grades four, five six. Jeremy is forced to move from Nova Scotia to Toronto after his father's death and make many adjustments including every a science partner who no one else wants in the class. This is a good book about understanding differences and the grief process but is fast paced and enjoyable as well. It was literally grabbed out of my hands on Friday.

Jacked by popular writer, Carrie Mac, is about Zane who decided to take a quick break from his boring job at a gas station only to be carjacked.  The carjacker turns out to be someone he knows who wants a ride from the valley into a Vancouver hospital.  Fast paced and full of surprises.  This is an Orca Soundings book which are a series of high interest low vocabulary novels aimed at teenagers.

I think part of the appeal of these books may be that the heroes don't always have picture perfect life an in Norah McClintock's novel Picture This, another in the Orca Soundings series, Ethan lives in a group home and has had brushes with the law but now is trying to get his life back together in a photography program but someone seems to want his camera very badly.  Again I found this suspenseful and interesting.

One of the great things about these books is that they often have B.C.  settings.  Whiteout by Becky Citra takes place in the Caribou.  A car accident causes Robin's cousin, April, to have to come from Vancouver to live with her, due to her mom's hospitalization.  Robin is thrilled but April has changed and they don't get along well at all and then they end  up stranded together in snowstorm.  This is in the Young Readers series which is aimed at the 8 to 11 year old crowd.

Orca Currents are aimed at reluctant readers in the middle school range and written at a grade 2 to 4.5 level.  Watch Me by Norah McClintock is one of these and I imagine this will be popular in my classroom.  As in most six/seven classrooms I have a wide range of reading levels and comprehension levels.  My students actually quite love books but some of the books they want to read are just not at their reading level so that it's great to find books that look like regular books and our aimed at their age level but written at an easier reading level.  Also with a class with 19 boys and 10 girls this is an excellent book as it deals with the consequences of impulsive behavior.  A frisbee accidently hits an old lady in the head and knocks her down.  Drew and Kaz take her purse when she falls and run.  Kaz ends up dealing with his guilt with some surprising repercussions and results.

One book I don't have in front of me and didn't even get a chance to read is good friend, Melanie Jackson's new one, another Orca Currents book, The Big Dip.  It arrived in my classroom and was gone.  This may partly be due to the setting which is my students' beloved PNE.  According to Sahil, it's full of suspense!

Much has been said about reluctant boy readers.  Long ago I went to a workshop with Paul Kropp who talked about what kind of books boys liked and needed.  I was happy to see that all my class novels at the time seemed to fit his criteria from The Sky is Falling to Call it Courage.  For instance, boys don't mind reading about female protagonists as long as there is action.  Boys want action but it's also important that we provide books that provide reflection as well.  In my experience I found boys like reading what their friends are reading and they like the opportunity to talk about what they are reading.  They like choice.  As teachers we need to stretch them as well.  As I continue reading Dormia to my class I sometimes worry it is a bit challenging, our vocabularies are getting stretched, but many of my students wrote that the thing they like best in class is when I read it to them.  Of course, having a visit from the author and his wife our first day of class together gave us all some great connections.

By the way, in a couple of weeks we are off to the Writers' Festival to see Gordon Korman! If you aren't able to see him there, Kidsbooks is hosting an evening with him as well.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

I am feeling very behind. My excuse has to be the demands of being a regular classroom teacher again. Four years at the board full time and now back into reality. I am sure that some people can not believe that whole days go by in the classroom without me ever looking at my e-mail! I love teaching again but in case anyone hasn't noticed it's hard work with seldom a boring moment! Anyway I hope all are enjoying a lovely restful Thanksgiving weekend and yes, book reviews etc. will soon be coming your way.