Category Archives: Elementary School

Situational Paralysis: Make a Good Plan

While I am visiting my parents this weekend, I came here to Gas City to a Starbucks, where I worked during graduate school which seems like ages ago now, to work on lesson plans for school next week. The school corporation where I work uses a system called PAR to evaluate all new teachers and also struggling teachers who have been teaching for a while.

I value this system, because every teacher should have other teachers observe them, and every teacher has room to grow and learn, which is facilitated well by conversations with a good, mentor teacher (I am lucky, mine is fabulous). Conversely I dislike this system, because it requires me to write formal lesson plans every weekend for every period for every class, and sometimes I just want my students to work on a project for a few days, but I don’t know how, in a formal lesson plan, to adequately express where I will be and what I will be doing for those days.

And sometimes, let’s be real, formal lesson plans seem like one more thing when you have a general trajectory for your students’ lessons, like they are taking time away from making the lesson happen, doing a bit of extra preparation for your students, grading their work and making meaningful comments, and all those things that really make a difference.

But, in American culture, what are we without a plan? We start planning our kids’ lives from before the time they are even conceived. We tracks students by their achievements from the time they are in preschool. We guide students forward on their trajectories all through elementary, leaving brown, black, female, financially poor, and queer kids at the margins (if you don’t believe me, a simple google search will prove my point; there are countless scholarly articles that speak to these issues as well). These groups spend far more time out of class, in the principal’s office, in the nurses office, and out of school for behavior or absences, and frequently they are left behind.

We start seriously asking students what are their plans for their futures in seventh grade (I’m 44 and I still don’t have a solid plan), but those same groups of kids (the marginalized) are largely at a loss for guidance as papers (lessons and punishments) are pushed their direction, sometimes in languages they and their parents cannot speak or read, sometimes for opportunities they and their parents do not understand, and sometimes with the lens of a cultural structure into which they do not fit. Twenty-first Century Scholars in Indiana, for example, must be applied for by the end of 8th grade, so students and their parents have to choose to go to college by the young age of 12-14. If they miss the 8th-grade deadline, there is no second chance.

So, yes, plans matter in the USA. And your plan had better be a good one, the right one. As a teacher, my plan had better be a good one, the right one. No pressure.



Dear Little Girl Who Was New in Second Grade

We sat together at lunch, in music class, and in the classroom. We played together for five recesses, then we sat under the birch tree, then you were gone. I don’t even remember your name. How I want to know your name. How I want to unpunch you.

My seven-year-old brain thought that if I was nice to you, people would say about me what they said about you: you dressed funny, you smelled bad, you brought your weird lunch in a brown paper bag, your teeth were all capped with silver, you were no doubt poor, and you lived at one of the less-desirable trailer courts in our district.

For all of these reasons I punched you in the face under the birch tree at recess that day. Every one was watching, the girls and the boys, so I had to save face. They said I loved you. They said I was a n—– lover, even though you were pale, pale skinned with blonde hair and blue eyes, and not African American at all. So I kept punching you in the face, in the sides, just like on TV, but when the teacher came over, I lied and said nothing happened. Even then I didn’t have the heart to face what I had done, and it was a good thing I wasn’t very strong because you only had a faint red patch on one cheek. You were too stunned to cry, and too scared to tattle.

You were different and a little bit weird. I was too, but my second-grade brain didn’t think about that. Our mutual oddities were evidenced by the fact that you and I had been having a lovely time sitting under the tree, watching the ants crawl on the blades of grass, talking about what they might be doing or where they might be going. We had previously broken off small bits of the birch bark and pretended we were pioneers taking notes with our charcoal pencils on those fragile pieces of bark, oblivious to the fact that our fantasy was so historically inaccurate.

The day before, which was your first day, we held hands while running through the field next to the playground and fell down laughing when you tripped on your long skirt. You didn’t make fun of my jeans that had to be rolled up because I was rounder than I was tall, and I didn’t ask about your beautiful, shiny, silver teeth. I was transfixed by how pale you were, the opposite of my darkness. Your long blonde braids were the perfect complement to my short black bob. I knew we’d be friends forever.

But then there was that horrible moment under the birch tree.

I need you to know that I’ve learned a lot since then, and I haven’t learned a lot since then. I would like to think that I’d not hit you today. I’d like to think I’d embrace you in the face of adversity. I’d like to think that given a challenge by my peers to chose someone who needs me over them, I’d chose you. I’d like to think I’d let people call me names for being friends with you.

But I am not sure I can promise you that. All the time. With complete assurance.

I strive every day to be the person I wish I would have been that day under the birch tree, but I still miss the mark sometimes. I strive to stand with those who need me, to recognize that my freedom is bound up with the freedom of those who have been oppressed, to be kind, to show grace, to be the person I know I need to be.

In my mind’s eye, I stand with you. I chose to be that person. I stop making excuses and I hold your hand under that birch tree, and tell every one else to just piss off. I give you grace, and I unload my shame.

Dear Librarians

You are the unsung heroes of intellectual development. You are the guardians of the word. You are the harbingers of hope and grace. You foster the light in a dark world.

From a very early age, when my mom would pack up the wagon with me and my brother and our bag of books and walk the nice two mile haul to the Hartford City Carnegie Public Library, I was in love with reading and books. I read everything. No, literally, I read everything the children’s section of our tiny library had to offer. From the easiest picture books through Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities, I read it all. I absorbed the nonfiction like a sponge and could spout off random facts at whim, and I relished the fantastic realities I found between the covers of every mystery, fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, or fiction text I read. I tried without success to write poetry modeled after the poets I’d read. I escaped from whatever chore I was supposed to do, from whatever small inconvenience of real life I had to endure, and I loved every word. Even the books I thought were boring, I read with fervor, just to say I had read the whole thing. To this day, I have only ever not finished four or five books. One of those was Shades of Grey. Please tell me how that got published and became a best seller. Ashamedly, one of those is One Hundred Years of Solitude, which I just can’t make it through, though I know it’s a beautiful piece of literature and a blessing to those who read it. Maybe I’ll try that one again.

I remember C G helping me each week to find books I hadn’t read. She taught me how to look at the cards to find my number to see if I had read a book and just forgotten it. I remember how she would hold back brand new books, so I could read them first, if they were ones she thought I would particularly like. Mostly, from my childhood, I remember the summer reading program. The year when we did bookworms was my favorite, because for each book I read, I got a section to add to my bookworm. By the end of the summer my bookworm was the longest in the library and I chose the colors so it made rainbow after rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple. I just loved reading.

As I got older, I used books to escape the things I couldn’t tell my parents about. I read my way into dealing with grown-up things that happened too soon. I was proud the day when I walked up the stairs and asked B M to help me locate the young adult books, which were reserved for students 13 years old and older. I was little (I still am) and I looked younger than I was (I still do), so she called downstairs to see if I had approval to read those books. I did. So at the age of ten, I read a highly banned book that is still one of my favorites, To Take A Dare by Crescent Dragonwagon and Paul Zindel. I lived vicariously through the protagonist, and when I, too, lost my virginity at a young age, I reread the book, giving myself hope that if a fictional character could live through all that then so could I.

At school, I was fortunate enough to have two librarians, R H and B A, who guided me and continued to nourish my love for literature. We were fortunate enough to have, as part of our language arts curriculum, education in how to use the library and research with the resources found there. I found myself spending as much time as possible hanging out in the library, sometimes even leaving class to go the bathroom, but ending up in the library reading. During high school, my first job was working at the public library where I had grown up, and I was also a media center volunteer during the few times when I had a study hall in my schedule.

Throughout college, my strong quality education in library science came in handy, as I had no problems transferring the skills I’d learned with the Dewey decimal system to the newly arranged Library of Congress system used by most college libraries. Because of my work at my small public library, I had trouble using Microfilm or Microfiche, and I had problem getting a job working for the circulation desk, where I promptly got fired for sleeping in a stairwell with my coworker. We were simply taking a little nap, which was apparently highly frowned upon. Still I remember everything about libraries in my life with a fondness that I can’t accurately capture in words.

I write to you, librarians, to let you know how important you are! Your work is perhaps some of the most important work to keep our culture thriving and filled with imagination. Sure the authors who write the texts are necessary, but I would bet that so many of them spent so much of their formative time with so many of you, that you are in fact to blame for their greatness. Libraries, and you, librarians, will save us. I am sure of it.

What is that Ray Bradbury says, “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture, just get people to stop reading them”? Well, you are the fine folks who keep us reading, who guard our culture, who inspire us to keep pursuing knowledge.