Wednesday, October 7, 2009

More on my life as an educator

This fall, I did some consulting for my local school district. I also keep in touch with fellow teaching friends. I read educational articles daily. I have not been able to give up my life as an educator even though I have technically retired. Hopefully, I will come to the point where I find my new role as an educator.

I find that I am still passionate about what I do, did, or hope to do in the field of education. I am not sure where that passion will take me over the next few years. I am open to discovering the journey.

From 2004 until 2008, I worked in teacher education at Colorado State University-Pueblo. In many ways, the days I spent at the University were among the happiest in my professional life. I loved many aspects of my job because I had to do many of the things I enjoy doing the most.

A grant in Teacher Quality Enhancement had been awarded to the Teacher Education Program at CSU-Pueblo. The emphasis of the grant was to create an endorsement that will allow teachers to be trained in teaching the linguistically diverse. I honestly could not believe that I had been hired for my "dream job."

Once I was settled into my very own office at the University, I read the grant and then asked myself, "Now what?" I then asked the associate dean, "What do you want me to do now that I have been hired?" Basically, her response was on the order of: we hired you to figure that out. My best advice came from my daughter Amy. After listening to me vent my frustrations about not knowing what to do next, she said, "Mom, I think you just have to treat it like a start-up job." Again, I thank God for Amy and the advice that she has given me over the years. Now I had a bit of clarity, and I also had a lot of freedom since all I really had to do was meet the objectives of the grant.

I learned much in the process of honoring the job I was hired to do. I had no idea how university systems worked. I had to learn that. I had no idea how to create a program that would be approved by both the University for which I worked and the State Department of Education. I learned how to do that too. I learned how to take the State Standards for an Endorsement in Linguistically Diverse Education and apply to them to objectives for courses that would be taught in our endorsement program. I learned how to create curriculum for a University program, and I learned how write University syllabi. Believe me, I had much help with this along the way. I read many books, many articles and did much research. I met with others who were experts in the area of LDE (Linguistically Diverse Education) to get their advice on what they thought should be included in the program.

I wasn't just hired to seek and secure the award of an endorsement at our University, but I was also hired to recruit students to take the new classes that were being created. I had to find people to teach the classes, and I had to prepare myself to teach some of the classes.

Most days, I loved my job. As with any job, there were frustrations. I became very aware of the limitations that a teacher education program faces when preparing students to teach. There are many issues that must be faced in teacher education. Many of those same issues had been there and had frustrated me when I was going through my own teacher education program before I was awarded my teaching certificate. Once I was a fully certified teacher, I really faced the inadequacies that are inherent in any teacher education program.

Because I have worked in teacher education, I certainly don't want to fix blame for teacher lack of preparation on all programs across the board. I do believe we have to see change in the way teachers are prepared and the way they are supported in their first few years of teaching. Recently, when I read this article in the Denver Post:

I believe Metro State is really leading the way in reform when it comes to teacher preparation and I applaud their courage and commitment.

I am also enclosing another article that I believe is a must read for all of us concerned with teacher education.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

My life as an educator

In 1965, the year I turned 20, I was just beginning my upper level courses that would lead to a degree in elementary education at what was then Colorado State College.  That summer, between my sophomore and junior year, I had the very unique opportunity to work as a tutor for Project Head Start in Leadville, Colorado.  I was a young, idealistic preservice teacher who jumped at the opportunity to work in a project that was aligned with my belief system about the value of education and economic opportunity.  While I never articulated my beliefs at the time in this manner, I was also a believer in social justice.  I firmly believed that it was only through education that those living in poverty would be able overcome the social and economic inequities that were found in our country at the time.
Those of you who may know anything about Head Start, may remember that in 1965, the Office of Economic Opportunity,  began the eight-week summer program that would launch
 Project Head Start.  I was one of many tutors and teachers that were hired that summer to serve over 560, 000 children throughout the country in this newly created program.

 As a refresher, I want to briefly outline the reasons why Head Start was created.  It grew out of Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty, and I think it is interesting to note that it was created by the Office of Economic Opportunity.  The basic premise for this program was established on the belief that education was the solution to breaking the "cycle of poverty."    It was a time when the civil-rights movement was greatly influencing education.  It was thought that "government was obligated to help disadvantaged groups in order to compensate for inequality in social and economic conditions."  Head Start was to be a comprehensible program for preschool children that would meet their "emotional, social, health, nutritional and psychological needs."

I wish I had kept a journal of those days because now, nearly 44 years later, my mind is a bit fuzzy about it all.  As I stated before, I was young and idealistic.  I had great dreams about the kind of educator I would become.   As a young woman coming of age during the 60's,  I embraced the Civil Rights Movement and the "new" ideas about education, but I also respected and looked up to my mentors who had been in education for a long time.  

My mentor for the summer of 1965 had also been my younger sister's kindergarten teacher the year or two before.  As a family, we already embraced Idelia B. Riggs as a gifted teacher.  As I reflect back on her now, I still consider her as the consummate educator, and as one the best with whom I have had the privilege to know throughout my entire lifetime.  She must have been in her sixties when I worked with her, and she had taught everything from kindergarten to college.  She had been the principal of a one-room schoolhouse at one point in her career.  She especially knew what children needed to grow and to prosper educationally, emotionally and socially.  She embraced the ideals behind Project Head Start and imparted them to me with all of the reasons why the program could be successful.  She said that the children of poverty in the area were beginning school without the skills that other children brought to school.  Sometimes, they didn't even know how to use indoor plumbing.  Yes, in 1965, in our program in Leadville, some of the children did not have indoor plumbing.  We had to teach them how to use the bathroom facilities.  They did not receive proper nutrition at home and many were undernourished.  They lagged behind their peers in knowing how to grasp a pencil or how to turn the pages of a book. Many did not know the alphabet.   They did not know how to write their names.  Many did not know colors or shapes.  They did not have group or personal social skills.  All of these needs would be met, as best they could be, by our summer program.  The program was comprehensive.  School readiness was achieved by giving the children equal portions of playtime, story time, art activities, and basic academic preparation such as learning how to recognize and form letters through reading and writing.

Head Start Children
Leadville, Colorado
Photo from personal file

I have a vivid memory of the lunches that these children received.  The government's philosophy was that this program should have "maximum feasible participation" for success.  Therefore, those who would benefit from the program, the low income population, should help plan and run their own programs.  Many of the women whom planned and cooked the meals were the mothers of the children.  Everyday, they prepared wonderful meals.  I loved the Mexican rice we had nearly everyday.  To this day, I love the rice at El Nopal Restaurant in Pueblo because it tastes just like the rice from my Head Start days!  Believe me,  in those days the meals fed these children were good.  They are nothing like the terrible meals that are put together in an off-site place and served to low-income kids these days.  In the 60's, at the Leadville Head Start, meals included not only wonderful Spanish rice, they also included fresh baked dinner rolls or cinnamon rolls everyday!

Our lead teacher, Mrs. Riggs was a very practical woman who put up with no nonsense from anyone.  Her character was stellar.  She saw her role as an educator as one as a public servant.  She was not interested in feathering her own nest or building her career.  She was there for the children she taught and for the families she served.  In my mind's eye, I see her now.  She is wearing the apron she always wore over her clothes so she would have "a place for those tissues to wipe a child's nose or tears," or as a place to keep stray crayons, pencils or rubber bands that she might need while she was teaching.  She believed in expecting the best behavior and performance from all kids.  Patient, kind and loving, she was also demanding when it came to giving something your best efforts.  We ALL learned from her.   As I said, I could never have had a better mentor.  Mrs. Riggs, and the ideals of Head Start, greatly influenced my philosophy of my own role as an educator.

I am including a treasured letter that Mrs. Riggs wrote to me in August, 1965.  It reads:
 Dear Sally,
May I again express my appreciation for your top quality contribution to our Head Start program and staff.  You are a genuine and capable and very personable young woman, Sally, - a credit to your fine family and the best of our American Youth.  And besides, you're just plain sweet. 

Fondly yours,
Idelia B. Riggs

Hello to all your family, too.

Today, I made Spanish rice for dinner.  It was good, but it was not the Spanish rice that those Head Start students' moms used to make for us each day for lunch.  For years, I've wondered just what that secret ingredient was that they use for the delicious flavor.  

As I ate, I began to think of Mrs. Riggs and my that summer when I had the great privilege to work with her and learn from her.  How I wish I could discuss today's state of education with her.  I know she would have some very strong ideas on what must happen if we are to achieve the lofty ideals that we had in the 60's.  

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Where have I been?

I'm sure no one is asking where I have been, but I decided for my mental health, I would begin blogging again.  Why do you need to blog for your mental health, the reader may ask?  Well, I just read that blogging is good therapy for one blogger who writes about the stresses of being a chef's wife on her blog,  I looked at her blog and decided she was right, blogging can be good for your mental health.

Retired English Teacher, that is me, has gone and accepted a job again.  I am working full-time, until the end of the school year, as a reading interventionist at an elementary school that is seven minutes from I home.  This should be a piece of cake.  Right?  Wrong!  Working has sent me into stress city.  I stayed home from work today for multiple symptoms of illness, including, but not limited to sinus and ear problems.  The doc at the emergi care place at first was all set on sending me to the emergency room for an evaluation of my heart.  Yada, yada, yada.  Been there, done that, not going back.  I insisted that I most likely was not having a heart attack; I just felt like I was, and by my symptoms, I made them think I just might be also.

After the doc checked me out, she concluded that my primary symptom was stress.  She advised that I call work and resign as of today.  I am sure she has a very valid suggestion.  Just thinking about returning to this job stresses me out.  Then, I also think about quitting.  This stresses me out.  The jury is still out.  My husband thinks if I want to quit, I should.  Then he reminds me of the salary I am earning.  My daughter, Amy, the one who seems to always have the best advice for me says, "You need to exercise to deal with your stress."  Of course she is right.

Most likely, I will have a long talk with my principal tomorrow, and then, I will take it day by day.  I also hope to blog(is that a verb?) to alleviate stress.  Hey, my fingers are getting some exercise, and so is my brain!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Five White Shirts A Week

This blog is mostly about my life as I transition into retirement. Now, that I am home full-time and Jim is back to work, I am washing five white shirts a week. I offered to do Jim's laundry last week since he is working and so tired on the weekends. I have never done his laundry except when he has been ill. When I married him, I was thrilled to find a man who did his own laundry! There was a time after he became principal of SHS when he took his shirts to laundry owned by the parents of one of his students once a week to be laundered. Jim hates starch in his shirts, but his shirts kept coming back starched. He asked the owner to not starch the shirts, and he kept getting light starch in the collars and shirts anyway. Again, Jim requested "no starch." The owner, a wonderful Chinese man, replied to Jim's request with, "No. You the principal. Must look good. You get starch."

Now, I am the one who is taking care of Jim's shirts. He isn't getting starch, but I am thinking I really should touch them up with an iron. Goodness, is this what retirement means???

Yesterday, Jim forgot his phone, so I had to take Jim's phone and a thumb drive to him at work. It was my first visit to Pitts since he took the reins over the Ponies. I walked into the lunchroom since his secretary had informed me he was on lunch duty. It was filled with eighth graders eating lunch. It had been a while since I had seen that many eighth graders in one place. I was pleased to see that it seemed to all be going well and was quite orderly. Then a fight broke out. I saw it first and told Jim. I'm not losing my touch! When he returned to my side after getting things taken care of with the two fighters, I said, "I need chocolate. This place makes me want to eat chocolate." Funny, the reaction I had. I have had two weeks of not eating any sweets of any kind, and the middle school lunch made me mad for sugar. We left and went to his office before I could give in to my cravings.

I don't mind being home and taking care of things here while Jim is away. I am cooking three meals a day most days so that we eat a bit more healthy. I am learning to cook again. That is ok too. In fact, yesterday, when Jim got home for dinner at 5:00 I had a pork loin roast ready. (A breeze to cook in my new slow cooker!) It was served with wild rice, spinach, and apple/raisin/celery salad. After dinner I finally gave in and ate two pieces of dark chocolate. Chocolate is a MUFA, so I gave in and ate some. Jim was able to nap before going to the SHS alumni meeting at 7:00. I worked on professional development courses that I will teach and prepared for the Romano presentation scheduled for the 30th until he came home. So, I put in 2 1/2 hours at the computer working in the evening. It's all good.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Still Learning

Well, I thought the blog post from Cool Cat Teacher would post with just some comments from me. I am still learning. Go to her website at http// to read about Web 2.0.

Cool Cat Teacher Blog: Basics for Beginners: What is Web 2.0?

I am learning so much about using the computer with teaching that I wanted to share this to my blog.  I have been on facebook since October.  I find this to be an excellent way to keep up with people.  Now I am using twitter mostly as a way to keep up with those I work with in professional development and to learn new things from other teachers.  It has been an unbeliveable journey into a territory I had never visited before.

I will have to dig out my photo of my grandfather who was a telegrapher because I think about him so often when I see all the new ways that we are communicating.  He would be amazed and very interested and involved.

I just signed up for an RSS Reader and am learning to use that.  I am just learning about "Web 2.0" and all of the vocabulary about it and how to use it.  I found this article because of twitter.  I wanted to share it on my blog. 

Last Wednesday, I wrote the following in my notes page of my planner, "Thought for today:  If I don't learn something new everyday, why did I bother to get up?"  That thought was really driven home when I met for breakfast with my retired teachers monthly breakfast meeting.  Most of us taught in the English department together.  It was pointed out, as it always is, that I am the oldest!  We also talked about why it is hard to step back into the classroom especially at the University level.   Some said, "I haven't kept up with the new stuff on the computer.  I don't even know what the students are talking about."  So it is...For some reason, I am trying to keep up.  I am trying to learn how to do all of this new stuff.  I am learning.  

Now, if I could only figure out where I put the hot pack that we use for our sore backs that I lost last week!  There are only two of us living in this house.  Where DID one of us put it???