Sunday, 11 May 2014

I'll be a Real Teacher soon

I've been subbing at both Escuela and Bloom for several months, and as the summer sidles up it's getting closer and closer to the time to make a formal choice. I can't sub forever. (Not if I want to make rent.)

I'm choosing Escuela.

Even though Bloom's teaching philosophies really resonate with me, there are a lot of other factors that make it a less than ideal workplace. The main factor that pushed me over to the Escuela side of the fence is that Bloom is uncomfortably understaffed. It's an inclusive school, meaning children with disabilities are integrated into all classrooms, which is great -- but to be successful, an inclusive program requires adequate adult support. I have had a number of hellish days subbing in Bloom's 2-3 year old room where five of the ten children have behavioral challenges (ranging in severity) and there are only two teachers. We just can't keep kids safe with those odds. There have been some sort of fairly major child-on-child violence every time I've been there, from metal shovels thrown at heads to throttling to dragging other children off high places. It's really stressful, and it's not fair to the kids. I've started to dread my shifts at Bloom. I often find myself wishing I could be at Escuela instead.

Escuela's ratios are lower than the legal requirements. It makes an incredible amount of difference to have three teachers with ten or twelve 2-3 year olds rather than just two teachers. Escuela has an assortment of children with behavioral challenges too, but it's so much more manageable with that one extra teacher around.

The position that I'm angling for with Escuela is in the infant/toddler program. It's funny, I consider the 3-4 year olds to be the most stimulating and inspiring age group to work with for me personally (with 2-3 year olds as a close second). While I always enjoy my shifts in the infant room, I definitely wouldn't want to be trapped in an infant teacher position year after year. But the position I will (hopefully) be taking is a cohort model, meaning I start with a batch of infants and then continue with them for the next two or three years as they grow up. And that sounds rad.

I've already started fantasizing about curriculum and classroom traditions.

And as a bonus, Ezra is at Escuela, so I get to keep being involved in his life for the next few years at least. I started taking care of him when he was six months old, a mere larva wriggling on the floor. Now he walks and speaks and has a sense of humor and big beautiful butterfly wings. Human growth is such a strange and magical thing. I'm so happy I get to spend my days watching that unfurling.


Thursday, 27 March 2014

bead spelling

After a full day of school, Sasha often isn't terribly enthusiastic about focusing another hour and a half of her attention on practicing her literacy skills. She often wants to do things like jumprope or play on the swings or sing and dance or work on a craft project. However, she also knows that our tutoring time is designated reading and writing time.

But Sasha is clever. She has started figuring out ways to incorporate reading and writing into these other activities. And she knows that as long as she can find a way to include reading and writing, I'll almost certainly say "yes" to whatever she wants to do.

Recently, she really wanted to make a necklace. So she proposed a spelling activity. Each bead she picked up correlated with the next letter in the word she was spelling aloud.

Although this just looks like a regular necklace, she made it by spelling night, bright, slightly, might, knight...

High fives,


Made Sasha some Bingo sheets with our latest word set (words with gh).

This game is super easy to make, since you can draw a grid and fill it with any sight words you're working on learning, and use nearly anything for markers -- I had some colorful gemstones on hand, but pennies or legos or dry beans or torn scraps of paper work just as well.


Sunday, 16 March 2014

word bubbles

After noticing Sasha's interest in comic books like TinTin and Babymouse, I wanted to find a way to incorporate elements of graphic novels/comics into our literacy lessons.

So this week I brought some pre-printed word bubbles.

 I also brought scissors, colored pencils, paper, magazines, and glue sticks.

We did two different activities with these word bubbles.

First, we used the word bubbles to imagine what the animals in National Geographic photos might be saying. These examples both use Sasha's "best guess" spelling, which is appropriate for Sasha's current level of cognitive development. "Best guess" spelling requires her to problem-solve by making good guesses based on her developing sense of phonemic awareness, rather than simply copying down the letters an adult dictates. I don't correct her spelling at this stage unless she explicitly asks me to. I usually remind her that as long as she can read it, the spelling is not important in activities like this.


"ready for take-off"
Then Sasha decided she wanted to use a piece of posterboard she dug out of a closet to convey a scene.

I also did some research on comic books and graphic novels aimed at emergent readers. I'm hoping to get some of these from the library this week! Here's the list:

Adventure Time
Zita the Spacegirl
Little Adventures in Oz
The Scary Godmother
Lunch Lad
Geronimo Stilton
Flora & Ulysses

I'm excited to see what else we can do with comics as a format for literacy activities. Maybe develop our own short comic book!

High fives,


I introduced Sasha to a new literacy game recently. I actually got the idea from El, whose son (close to Sasha's age, and also in a similar developmental stage in regards to literacy) invented a similar game himself using a Scrabble board and tiles.

There are only two rules:
1. Players take turns using letter tiles to invent new words. Only made-up words count, no words that are already real words.
2. You have to say your word out loud and give it a definition.

A big area of development for Sasha right now is phonemic awareness, which is basically the correspondence between letters and sounds. This shows up in both her decoding efforts (also known as "sounding it out") and her spelling and writing attempts.

This variation on Scrabble or Bananagrams is great for helping kids work on their phonemic awareness. Yes, the words are silly nonsense words, but that takes the (enormous) pressure off of reading or spelling the words "correctly." But the game still has players working with the basic building blocks and rules of the written English language. It doesn't feel as intimidating as spelling and reading "real" words, plus it makes kids feel powerful to invent their own words -- the sillier-sounding, the better -- and definitions. Providing literacy opportunities for kids where they can feel powerful and in control helps build their confidence in their emerging reading and writing skills. For kids like Sasha for whom literacy is a challenge and a frequent source of anxiety, I cannot overstate how essential it is to prioritize confidence-building activities like this one.

When we played, at Sasha's request we just turned all of the letter tiles face up and chose whichever letters we wanted; you could also play a version more like Bananagrams or Scrabble, where players receive a certain number of face-down tiles at the beginning, and replace them with more randomly-selected tiles as they place their tiles on the board. The grid paper in the photo was something I made to provide Sasha with a little bit of structure; lots of our words extended off the edges as we continued playing. As an added challenge, you could color-code the board and add a points system like Scrabble (or just use an actual Scrabble board!).

As her own extension of the activity, Sasha suggested that we use our invented words to create a secret language. She diligently wrote down every word we created and its translation, and then constructed sentences in code. She had a lot of fun with this activity, and we'll definitely keep adding to our secret language dictionary as we replay the game!


Friday, 28 February 2014


I visited the anti-bias/restorative justice preschool this week for a few hours. My initial impression last week, when I toured Bloom and met with the director, was a general sense of "ehhhhh." But that was when all I had to go off of was the facility, which is undergoing renovations and is just generally dated and hodgepodge -- but with grand plans and so much potential! -- and my sort of awkward, informal interview with the director. The director's educational philosophies seem to line up quite well with mine, but I walked away from the meeting really appreciating some of the organizational/administrative structures in place at Escuela. Like that Escuela trained me as a sub and paid me for it, and made their expectations explicit (on paper, even!), and prioritized getting my paperwork squared away. Bloom seems to be more haphazard in this regard.

Today I got to see the teaching practices in action in the preschool/pre-k program, and I'm enamored all over again with Bloom. The teachers responded so sensitively to the children, and I saw a lot of Reggio best practices actually taking place. Probably my favorite thing that I observed was "story circle," which was a totally different approach to the circle time I've typically seen in preschool classrooms. Circle time is usually an exercise in trying to micromanage the children's bodies and attention while slogging through a series of singalongs, picture books, and maybe something like the weather or calendar or class jobs. But story circle! Story circle was a time for the teacher to use small props (small wooden dolls, gemstones, scarves) to set a scene and tell a story, to which the children listened raptly. And the story she told, with robots and bears and dragons and humans and foxes, was one about family, adoption, and community. YES. SIGN ME UP.

Lots of other little moments made me feel like this would be a very good place for me to teach. I love the children at Escuela but I'm not sold on some of the approaches to classroom management, curriculum, and behavior modification. I hope Bloom has a staff opening soon so I can graduate from part-time subbing!

High fives,

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

the ultimate arts 'n crafts project

It has begun. HB and I have started researching, in earnest, babymaking. We have a timeline and a budget and multiple library books out about the whole process. (This one was mostly useless but this one is proving to be about a thousand times better.) We recently had dinner with one of my favorite professors, her wife, and their itty bitty three-week-old preemie to interrogate them about their experience with conception. I've started accumulating local resources and idly skimming donor profiles in a few online sperm bank databases. We're still a couple years out but we have A Plan. It is very exciting.

We've mentioned it to a few friends and some of HB's family but are very intentionally keeping it quiet from my family. Mainly because my family would be very excited and would bombard us with a million questions and then would tell absolutely everyone and it would just get out of hand really quickly. With HB's family, we knew we'd get a sort of neutral "okay, cool" from most of them and an uncomfortable "you are doing whaaaat? Howww?" from HB's mom, who we delighted in regaling with details about intrauterine insemination just to watch her squirm. (She squirmed admirably.)

Of course, two major things we need to get worked out before we can start this Making New Life arts 'n crafts project for reals is Actual Money (it's about $1,000 total per "try" when your lack of the appropriate gonads forces you to buy one of the essential babymaking ingredients, plus I hear children actually eat money as their primary form of sustenance) and Not My Mother's Medical Insurance (because you can't just give birth in the woods anymore, I guess?). HB just became a co-owner of the place they work, but I'm still trapped in the cycle of paying off student loans/paying for grad school tuition/working sporadically as a sub at Escuela (Ezra's preschool), which is slowly but effectively gnawing through my savings. For several (mostly boss-related) reasons, I'm trying to wean myself off of working at Escuela in favor of wedging my foot in the door at a preschool that I strongly suspect is my dream preschool (its whole schtick is restorative justice and anti-bias education, how rad is that?!), which in theory should help me accomplish goals one and two (Actual Money and Not My Mother's Medical Insurance). The future is in the future, though, so we shall see how this all pans out.