Thursday, May 27, 2010

Silly Bandz!

I ran across an article before checking my yahoo mail today and chuckled: "Silly Bandz Bracelet Craze." Although it may, itself, sound silly, I 100% empathize with the teachers in this article. I've noticed these silly bands becoming more and more popular, especially among the children and students at my church. A few weeks ago, I decided that I'd be the "next coolest teacher" in my school and buy them for my students as potential "prize giveaways." After realizing that 9 and 10 year olds can't quite handle the "class" of these neon colored-animal and beyond-shaped bands, I too "band" them from my classroom on the exact day that I was so confident I'd be starting a revolution. Needless to say, the students' craze for these haven't died, in fact, it's outrageous! (Perhaps that revolutions has infact begun?) I don't know how many more times I can handle hearing, "Can I trade your penguin for a seahorse?"

Silly Bandz Bracelet Craze: School Ban Over Distraction

Fashion Bonkers For Bandz AP – Isabella Marino, 7, shows off her silly bandz in a store in Hollywood, Fla., Wednesday, May 12, 2010. …

The Bandz are now contraband. Schools in several states, including New York, Texas, Florida and Massachusetts, have blacklisted Silly Bandz, those stretchy, colorful bracelets that are creeping up the forearms of school kids across the U.S. And starting this week, all 800-some kids at my son's elementary school in Raleigh, N.C., were commanded to leave at home their collections of rubber band–like bracelets, which retail for about $5 per pack of 24. What could possibly be so insidious about a cheap silicone bracelet?

"It's a distraction," says Jill Wolborsky, a fourth-grade teacher at my son's school, who banned them from her classroom before the principal implemented a schoolwide ban. One student stole some confiscated Bandz from her desk, choosing them over the cash in her drawer. (See pictures of teens in America.)

Students fiddle with them during class and arrange swaps - trading, say, a bracelet with a mermaid for one with a dragon - when they should be concentrating on schoolwork, teachers say. Sometimes a trade goes bad - kids get buyer's remorse too - and hard feelings, maybe even scuffles, ensue.

[Related: Preschools in forests? Believe it or not, it's a new U.S. fad]

That's what prompted Karen White, principal of Snow Rogers Elementary School in Gardendale, Ala., in October to become one of the first administrators to forbid students their Bandz. "We try not to limit their freedom of expression and what they wear, but when this became a problem, I knew we had to nip it in the bud pretty quickly," says White, who has since extended an olive branch in the form of monthly Silly Bandz days. (See pictures of a public boarding school in Washington, D.C.)

Silly Bandz are the latest in a long list of kid-centric fads - in the tradition of Cabbage Patch Kids, Beanie Babies, PokÉmon cards and Crocs. BCP Imports LLC, the small business in Toledo, Ohio, that's behind the bracelets, was not prepared for the frenzy. It's increased its workforce from 20 employees to 200 in the past year and just this week added 22 phone lines to keep up with inquiries. The company sells millions of packs a month, and Robert Croak, the president, can still hardly believe it. (He took my call after hanging up with Macy's, which is interested in creating a Silly Bandz float for its storied Thanksgiving Day parade.) (Comment on this story.)

Croak got inspired about three years ago at a product show in China, where a Japanese artist had devised a rubber band cute enough to escape the trash bin. Though Silly Bandz have been out for two years, they began catching on a year ago - Alabama was an early adopter, as were New Jersey and Tennessee. They're just now gaining traction in California and Texas. (See where jewelry is fitting into green designs for 2010.)

"They're getting banned because kids play with them so much," says Croak, who maintains they're the right product at the right time, a cost-conscious trinket in tough economic times that can even be a learning tool for little ones, kind of like flexible flash cards.

His company receives about 500 fan letters a week. One, signed by a 10-year-old named Logan Librett and a few of his friends in New Rochelle, N.Y., suggested a way to circumvent all the bothersome Silly Bandz restrictions: "Some schools in New York have banned them, but we have ideas that might change that ... clear silly bands that teachers can't see and only glow in the dark."

Just in case the company bites, Librett offered his address. He's still waiting.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Spring Fever

April: "the month of testing," as described by our administration.

Halfway through the month (with only a few more days of Science PSSAs to continue), I notice a DRASTIC change in my students' behavior. Spring Fever is here-even at the age of 10-I can see the hormones blossoming. The girls won't stop giggling over the boys, and the boys just love to "tease" the girls. I feel like it's already June with the way they're acting!It's difficult to get through the day without me mentioning my frustration with their chattiness, disrespect, and overall poor behavior. I've heard of teachers talking about "full moons" when children get crazy, and now, I finally understand the idiom!

I've tried a couple of strategies with the students, including reminding them in the beginning, middle, and at the end of the day, having class talks, behavior incentives, etc. I'm afraid that I'm going to run out of ideas before change can really happen. This is not behavior that I will tolerate with two months of school still left. I'm already so tired of the constant reminders and reprimanding; this is definitely my least favorite part of the role!

Any suggestions on how to help a first year teacher control the "Spring Fever" behavior?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Can You Come Down From the Mountain?

A close friend of mine recently told me, "I live a life filled of regret and guilt."

How sad. How sad, and easy. Why is it so easy to fall into a habit of feeling regretful or guilty, especially of those things beyond our own control?

It's been quite a while since I've blogged. Since January, almost four months have passed, and I've missed opportunities to share dozens of teaching stories; those that are encouraging, frustrating, and simply comical. I regret that. Four months have passed and I've missed opportunities to share encourage readers with stories of ministry and better understanding God's word. Why? Laziness. I feel guilty for that.

How sad it is to live a life of regret and guilt.

I don't want to live that life.

For Christmas I gave my dad a devotional that I read in my first year of proclaiming my faith; "My Upmost for His Highest" by John Updike. The devotional is phenomenal, and I knew it was a perfect gift for my father, one who always craves deep and purposeful reflection on scripture. His conversations about the readings have prompted me to re-read the devotional for myself.

Funny how a devotional always seems to be talking to you in the right moment.

Today's read: "Can You Come Down From the Mountain?"
The devotional spoke towards the "mountain top" experience and how so often, many of us tend to feel "no good for the everyday world when we are not on the mountaintop." As it speaks to how we must strive to "bring everyday life up to the standard on the mountaintop," it quotes: "Pick yourself up by the back of the neck and shake off your fleshly laziness. Laziness can always be seen in our cravings for a mountaintop experience: all we talk about is our planning for our time on the mountain. We must learn to live in the ordinary 'gray' day according to what we saw on the mountain."

It's time to shake off that laziness. Yes, I must shake off the laziness that prevents me from blogging. But even further, I must shake off my fleshly laziness that prevents me from experiencing a mountaintop moment on a "gray day." If I claim to follow Jesus, I must learn to take Jesus' yoke, and not my own. I must learn to trust Him.

Yesterday while driving to work, it was so foggy, I could barely make out a few hundred feet in front of me. Gray surrounded me. It's easy to be distracted by gray. So many missed events, opportunities, or conversations can evoke regret and guilt. I pray that with the power of God's Holy Spirit that He can drive me to search for the stream of sunshine through the gray; opening up a ray of opportunity to share and experience in His joy and love...even when not necessarily on the mountaintop.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Resolutions and Reflections

Ah, 2010! A fresh new year, decade, heck- even a census, and once again, an opportunity to set fresh resolutions, accomplish new goals, and look forward a year's worth of adventures!

Although exciting, it's easy to become quickly overwhelmed with "all there is to do" after relaxing for a bit during the Christmas Vacation. (That's even more true for us teachers who are fortunate enough to celebrate with 12 days off from Christmas Eve to after New Years!) Already I have vowed to (once again, for the third year in a row) try and read the whole Bible in a year. (So far, so good!) I've set fitness goals (The wedding's in less than 6 months), professional goals (that's easy as a 1st year), and emotional goals (practice a Sabbath, relax, stress causes wrinkles!).

The New Year also presents a wonderful opportunity for each of us to reflect. We can reflect on our past year; achievements we've accomplished, adventures we'd love to relive, and people who've impacted our hearts. I've had a wonderful 2009. Adam proposed on February 15th. On May 24th, I graduated from Albright. In June, I ventured to the West with my fiance for the first time. In August, I was asked to return to Reading, Pennsylvania as a 4th grade teacher. I've gotten to spend hours rebuilding relationships with my close friends and family. I am so, so grateful.

Many of you know that it's not easy for me to sit and reflect. As a teacher who thrives on multitasking and practicing efficiency for every hour on and off the clock, my profession doesn't help this flaw! Yet, in those few moments when I can embrace silence, moments in the car, right before bed, I can never help but smile at just how fortunate I am. It was just a few days ago, while riding in the car, when I thought-for about the dozenth time, "I absolutely adore my job (more so, the students I get to teach) and I couldn't imagine-nor would I want to imagine-myself anywhere else for this year."

Psalm 37:4
Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.

And so I realize, I am who I am, I love what I do, because I've been created by a God who loves me a thousand-times more than any reflection of 2009 or excitement for 2010 can bring. Wow. What a God.

It's funny, too. For the most part, I didn't even know what those desires were when making my 2009 resolutions and goals a year ago. Nor, while bumping through the "ups" and "downs" of my 2009 roller-coaster ride, did I realize that later, I'd gratefully reflect on the ride.

I have a funny feeling that I'm in for a similar surprise in 2010

I can't wait for the journey.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Melissa's Urgent Wedding

One of the greatest rewards of being a teacher is that you'll never know what sorts of surprises your students will "walk in" with each morning! Although only November, my students have flabbergasted me by giving me Eagles blankets, stuffed animals, crackers, apples, jackets, pencils, highlighters, bracelets, etc., etc., etc. (And no, I did not keep all of these things...the jacket was too small!)

It's so interesting how willing these children are to show their love by acts of service, or giving, to me! I always find myself reflecting upon it, and thanking God for reminding me of childlike faith and childlike (genuine) love through them. Humorously though, I even find myself arguing with them sometimes, such as in today's morning conversation:

Teacher: "No, no, YOU keep your sweater, it's yours!"
Student: "...but I want you to have it."
Teacher: "No, really, I appreciate your gift and your kind heart, but that's for you!"
Student: "...but I have more like it at home."

I wouldn't be a teacher, however, if I didn't admit that some of my favorite gifts are those that are academically related to the content that we're studying in school. One of my students in particular often uses her vocabulary words to write very clever stories. I couldn't resist the opportunity to share this one. (The bold words are the vocabulary words that she included.) Enjoy!

Melissa's Urgent Wedding

One day Melissa was rehearsing her play of Romeo and Juliet. Her brother was knocking on the door. He said the neighbor's house was burning down! She grabbed her purse and ran. While she was there she saw a boy. She noticed that he was in her science class. The next day she had to partner up with him. While they were researching, he asked her out. She said yes. On their date he gave her a pearl necklace. On their 4th date, he proposed to her. On their wedding day she got married in a lavender dress. Her hair was curly. When they were getting married she hurried and said yes. On their honeymoon there was new furniture and a baby turtle. On the walls there was a painted mural. They were happy about what got them together.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tu Comprendes?

I remember 4th grade.

I remember obsessing over perfect grades; wanting no less than a 100% on everything.

I remember creating a state report on Michigan that lasted over an hour and spanned across two days.

I even remember the name of the cute boy in class that every girl crushed on.

I never remembered the challenge of having to learn a second language; how to speak it, how to spell it, and oh yea, how to understand "algebraic expression" when I'm insecure about how I pronounce "multiplication."

I grew up in a school district in Pennsylvania comprised of predominantly Caucasian students, myself being one of them. Fitting in was no problem. For the most part, we all looked alike. All of our parents made "a decent salary." We all received the hottest Christmas toys and wore the latest trends in clothing. Most of us had been living in the same neighborhoods-heck, the same houses, that we'd lived in since birth. Many of us went to CCD together at the local parishes. Language was never a challenge-we were raised speaking English, we were taught speaking English, and so we English.

Now a 4th grade teacher myself, I teach in a school district that is predominately populated with Hispanic children. In fact, my district is 76% Hispanic, the largest in the state of Pennsylvania. Here, all children are different. Parents make all sorts of salary ranging from "decent" to "none." Children have similar clothes, but that is because they are mandated a uniform. Students, on average, attend 3-4 different elementary schools between the 1st and 5th grade. Students don't only speak, think, and write in English.

Many are classified as "ELA:" English-learner acquisition students. These students often arrive in the United States from another country (such as Mexico, Puerto Rico, or the Dominican Republic) and face the challenge of enrolling in the grade level equivalent with their age (a 9 year old in 4th grade) with a less than age equivalent English vocabulary.

I never realized the difficulty of learning 4th grade concepts in English with a brain that was raised to think, speak, and write in Spanish.

As I met with my students' parents this week for parent-teacher conferences, I was again reminded of the process many of my students undertake for 6.5 hours a day. These students, when prompted with a question in English, must listen to the teachers' words in English, translate it into Spanish in their mind, think about the answer in Spanish, and then translate it back into English in order to respond. The time necessary to answer a question is nearly double my own personal 4th grade experience.

It's embarrassing how easy it is to forget that oh-so-important fact as a teacher.

"Here I am, teaching these 9 year-olds how to speak, think, and write in a whole new language,"
I thought to myself while sharing report cards with family members. More importantly, however, "Here I am, teaching these 9 year olds how to be confident, determined, and hopeful during this difficult transition."

ELA: Although difficult, challenging, and for many an "added burden" to accommodate such learners, I find special pleasure in providing assistance to such students. In fact, I enjoy it so much, I've added "pursing an ELA certification (and learning the Spanish language)" to my list of future goals, especially within education. I admire my students for their determination, and although many may not realize, am inspired by their bilingual (and sometimes, trilingual) capabilities.

My students continue to teach me more each day.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wait, Why Do You Divide by 3 Again?

If there's one thing that I've learned within my first month of teaching, it's that I can no longer be comfortable thinking from the perspective of an adult within the classroom. Time and time again, I've caught myself assuming that my students know more than they actually do (when doing a math problem, for example), only leaving me frustrated because too many confused 4th graders are running towards me, pleading for my assistance.

Perhaps you're reading this and thinking, "well no kidding, Melissa, you are teaching 4th grade! You have to think like a kid!" The concept, however, is easier to "understand" than to actually follow. Try teaching a lesson on finding an average or dividing with remainders! What's the easiest way to to split 25 into 4 groups? Using manipulative's? A multiplication chart? Using a multiply, subtraction, check method? It's easier said than done!

I've learned that it's important that children, regardless of age, are given explicit, clear directions and are taught detailed steps to solve a problem or to complete a task. I've had to accept that I'm going to spend a lot of time giving directions...over and over. Not only do I have to repeat myself several times without loosing patience, I have to remember to truly think like a 4th grader when creating my directions and steps! I never thought I'd admit that it's difficult to think like a kid again!