Friday, July 29, 2011

Closing Activity or Ending Ideas For the Middle/High Classroom

1. I’ve always heard that you should have closure at the end of each class, but I haven’t found the best method until recently. The previous year I had students write their “closing activity” answer down on paper. However, I already did “opening activity” papers and this created a larger work load of grading for me. And it did not tell me right away (except for the few students I called on), whether they understood the concept for the day until two weeks later when I was grading the assignment. I also found that the kids wanted to answer the closing when they did the opening, defeating the purpose of a closing question. Or some students would be so fixed on packing up that they wouldn’t do the closing, even though I would ask them to complete it. I ended up having to end class earlier and checking every students paper to see they were completing the closing, thus, taking more time and energy for me. I am always looking for something that places responsibility on the student, not create more work for me. I had a brainstorm last year and I’ve been using it for a year and plan to use it this year too. It may become defined or changed over time, but I think it’s a large improvement from the previous year.

I have headings on the board like “homework,” “today’s activities,” “test date,” “learning targets,” “opening activity,” and now “closing activity.” Then I made 5 slips of paper for the closing activity with the following headings, (that I can change each day, and I use a magnetic clip to hold up). The headings are:
Door (They answer a question (or i.e. label a part of a flower) at the door as they exit)
Journal (They answer a question in their journal, summarize their notes, complete a demo)
Partner (They have to tell their partner the answer to the question I ask, quiz their partner on vocab, or read their notes to each other)
Random (I call on a student/s to randomly to answer a question)
Whiteboard (Students draw or write their answer on a whiteboard)

2. Reading “The Kid Who Invented the Popsicle” is a great way to end class when you want to keep the attention of your students. Each entry is a paragraph long, so you can use it to cover a couple minutes to five minutes in class. I wouldn’t do more than five minutes as it can get redundant. The table of contents is extensive. Some time in the beginning of the school year to get things started with this procedure, I will read the Popsicle story, since the title is about the Popsicle. After that, I walk up to a student and give them a couple seconds to pick an entry. Then I read the entry (this way I can change words or explain concepts as I read). The kids are always eager to be the ones picked to pick an entry. Some of my favorites I’ve read to the students are about the hot air balloon, teddy bear, vending machines, bikini, Dr. pepper, and quiz.
There are other books like this out on the market, but this book has been the best at filling in a couple minutes of class time. I usually end up using the book at the end of class when we get done earlier than planned or they seem really squirrely and I need to keep their focus. I also bring it out for the sub to use in case my lesson plan is too short.

3. If I end up with more 10 minutes of closing time (because some classes move faster than others), I read a 2-minute mystery book ( and the students try to solve the problem. Students always have that "ohhhh" moment when I'm able to lead them to the answer. Critical thinking is so important as we move from state standards to common core standards. 

Oganizing Socks (for 3 children and more)

Anyone else like doing laundry? I didn't think so. I'm not a fan and am trying to find ways to organize clothing items so I can tell which child's pile they go into before I start folding. 

I have three boys under the age of 6. I changed my routine to organizing socks (you'll notice below I had a different routine for 2 kids). I started with buying socks that specifically said their size on the bottom. Target sells socks like these.  This was great for awhile, but I still wanted something faster. So the next idea was to buy different types of socks (I used this idea for underwear as well). So I buy several packs of the same exact style for each age group. For my eldest, I went with Hanes white and black socks (he needs it for his school uniform anyway). My middle child uses the Target socks with the size printed on the bottom. And my youngest has all the fun toddler socks. When I have to buy another size up, I will choose a different brand so I can quickly identify which sock goes with which child when I am organizing laundry.

With the underwear, my eldest uses minion style underwear from "Despicable Me." My middle child has the "superhero" style underwear. Any my youngest is still in diapers, but we are working on that. He will get the "Cars" style underwear. When my boys gets older, I will continue with this technique because it has saved me a lot of time. Too bad I can't do this with their clothes. I tend to buy what's on clearance and I don't think my boys want to wear all blue or all green everyday just so mom can have an easier time folding laundry. When they get older, they will start folding their own clothes. For sure.

This is when I had two children...
 I have a 2 year old and 8 month old at this time, which means two completely separate sock sizes.

But the socks are so small for each that I still have a hard time figuring out which sock belongs to which kids. So I have come up with a system that works for me and doesn’t involve too much extra work and saves me time when I’m putting clothes away.

Mesh bags (different colors would be even better). You can easily find them on Amazon. I throw the whole mesh bag into the washer and dryer to the socks stay together and do not get separated. It saves me a lot of time and hassle and makes it easier to put the socks into the proper drawers.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Stops for Toddlers From the Inland Empire to Tahoe using the 395 freeway

So when I researched places to stop for my one and three year old, there were some great places to stopat, but all appropriate for older kids. So I decided to make my own list of places to stop with parks and play areas at fast food restaurants that were better suited for toddlers. I found bringing some cars and trucks for play at parks was a big benefit. We were also able to use these toys at the lodge we stayed at in Tahoe, so it was a win-win situation. I also want to let you know that there are a couple of hours of nothing, meaning, desert and no play stops on the 395 near the Inland Empire area. Here is the list we came up with on our drive from the Inland Empire to Tahoe. Hope it helps you!

Diaz Lake Campground - play area by lake

Lone Pine - large park with playground, bathroom, and a stream runs through this shaded location with several picnic benches. We stopped here on the way up and down b/c it was a great time for lunch and to let the kids run around

Independence - small park, no playground, shade and grass

Big Pine - park symbol as we drove by

Bishop - inside play area at Mc Donalds. Another great stop we took so the kids could play indoors and run around while we snacked up. They also have Laws Railroad Museum open all year from 10-4pm.
June Lake Loop - camping, horses, and hiking & area to stretch and eat
Lee Vining - bronze bear outpost has a chance for you to park and stretch, but nothing for play
Champagne Avenue off 395 is residential but has a park and play area

Gardnerville - McDonalds has a playcenter. Also, yo can follow the signs to Heritage Park on Gulliman Road. The park is very large and the boys enjoyed stretching their legs and playing with their trucks and cars

Carson City - Clear Creek Road across from Costco. Playarea, bathrooms, shade, park

267 meets NV 28 - east of junction there is a playground and small picnic area by lake that is shaded

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Are You a Pushover Parent? Here is Some Good Advice

I like this article from Good Housekeeping (January 2011) because it deals with older kids/teens.

Are You a Pushover Parent?
If you're a softie with your kids (but wish you weren't), it's not too late to get an authoritative backbone. Here's how.
By Charlotte Latvala

As I walked through my living room not long ago, picking up dirty socks and empty pretzel bags, I muttered, "Why is it that no one but me cleans up around here?" Even though my two older kids (Mathilda, 15, and A.J., 13) were sitting within earshot, they didn't respond; Mathilda was absorbed in her school-issued laptop; A.J., his parent-issued iPod Touch. "Why am I cleaning up your mess?" I said, much louder this time. Silence. I tried a third time, almost shouting. A.J. looked up from his iPod, made eye contact, and...shrugged.
Here it is, I thought: proof that I've failed as a parent. My greatest wish, at that moment, was to rewind the clock to the preschool years and post that chore chart I never quite got around to. While I was back there, I'd add some oomph to my parenting style, which has always veered between "laid-back" and "extremely laid-back." Don't get me wrong; it's not that my kids are awful. Overall, they're sweet and funny; they get decent grades and hang out with friends I love. But I spend way too much time cajoling, reminding, and nagging. And I'm not always consistent with discipline; sometimes I freak out over too much TV and other times — depending on my exhaustion level — I let it slide. I'd wager there are other moms out there like me: those who wish they'd held the line more and worry it's too late to repent.
Fortunately, even if your kids are teenagers, you can still redeem yourself. "It's absolutely never too late," says child development and behavior specialist Betsy Brown Braun, author of You're Not the Boss of Me: Brat-Proofing Your 4- to 12-Year-Old Child. "Granted, it can be harder to change patterns as kids get older; it's like asking them to speak Italian when they've been speaking Greek for years. However, as long as you are clear and honest with your child, it can be done." So over the past few weeks, I've tried some new tactics from parenting experts. Here's what I've learned (along with a few things I'm still working on). To make a change, you need to:

Admit Your Mistakes
The first step is acknowledging your part in the problem, says Brown Braun — to both yourself and to your children. Be honest about the fact that you've let them dodge chores or mouth off in the past. "Don't turn it into a finger-wagging session," she says. "It's not about blame; it's about you saying, 'I've allowed you to talk to me that way or not help with the dishes for years, but now that's over.' You're giving kids a heads-up and letting them know what changes are ahead."
Where you have "the talk" makes a difference, says Michael J. Bradley, Ed.D., author of When Things Get Crazy With Your Teen. "To signal that a sea change is under way, break it to them in a different venue," says Bradley. "It's human nature to act the same old way in the same old places." (Harping about new video game rules while your kid is playing Wii, for instance, will have zero effect.) Bradley's favorite spot for any one-on-one with a tween or teen: a café — it's away from home, and kids feel grown-up and comfortable. So I took my older kids (separately) to Starbucks, bought each a decaf mocha, and laid it out: "I've goofed by letting you slack off, and now I need you to step up and take some responsibility." I even produced a two-page list of weekly household chores and asked each to pick a few tasks. I was expecting resistance, so I was pleasantly surprised when Mathilda said, "As long as I don't have to take out the garbage." A.J.'s main concern was that life was suddenly going to become all chores, all the time. When I assured him that he'd still be able to have friends over and play video games once he got his work done, he was agreeable, and selected several jobs from the list I'd drawn up. Giving kids a say in picking chores is vital, says Brown Braun; they're much more likely to cooperate and feel a sense of accomplishment in a job they've chosen.

Come Up With A Plan
For me, chores are the hot-button issue. For moms like Kim DeVigil, of Denver, it's bedtime. The mother of four girls (twins age 9, plus an 11- and a 13-year-old) says, "Every night I get home from work at 7 P.M . and say, 'Tonight we're going to bed early.' But getting four tweens ready for bed is a lot like herding cats. Even when I'm aiming for 9 P.M., it's usually 10:30 by the time they're all in bed."
Begin any change with a detailed plan, says Tamar Chansky, Ph.D., author of Freeing Your Child From Negative Thinking. "If bedtime is 9:30 P.M., map out what needs to happen beforehand to get there," she says. Approach it like a group project at school — it's a concept kids immediately get. "You might say, 'Clearly, we're having a problem sticking with a healthy bedtime. Let's figure out together what each of us can do to make this work. What do you think is workable?' " Chansky suggests. Counterintuitive as it sounds, you may need to dial down the authority level here; again, if tweens feel like their voice counts, they're more likely to cooperate. "In the end, what you want is a solution," says Chansky. "But you don't necessarily need to be the author of the solution." So listen to their suggestions, and then add your own (say, moving daily showers or chores from late afternoon to the early morning hours).

Simply repeating your plan out loud is a huge help, says Michele Borba, Ed.D., author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions. "Research shows that if you actually announce your intention, you're more likely to commit and stick to it," says Borba. "The same principle works for people who are trying to lose weight." Another idea from Borba: Set reminders for yourself on your cell phone or computer. "Or post a photo of the problem (e.g., your kid's disastrous closet) as your computer background so you remember to follow up with him."

Take Small Steps
Of course, saying you'll do something and actually doing it are two different things. Don't tackle too much too soon, says Borba — otherwise you'll be overwhelmed. "Use the foot-in-the-door technique," she recommends. "For instance, start with one chore instead of five. Once you've had success, you add more." Also, make sure the first step is a super-easy one. One of A.J.'s chosen items on the chore list was tackling his messy room, but "saying, 'Clean your room' is way too general," says Borba. "Just making the bed is a step in the right direction," she says. So we went to IKEA and I let A.J. pick out a comforter in a funky pattern. Voilà — he started tossing it over the bed in the morning, and the room looked instantly neater. I let him know (repeatedly) how happy I was; next, I asked him to get the dirty clothes off the floor and down the laundry chute — and was pleasantly surprised when he complied (though some days, I had to remind him about "our Starbucks talk").
These may be teeny changes, but the smallest tweaks to your kid's routine can make an impact, says Borba; there's a spillover effect that makes the next problem easier to tackle. "Kids really do get hooked on those feelings of accomplishment, and they genuinely want to receive your praise," she says.

Stop Yelling
I've often regretted how much I've hollered at my kids. I tend to let things slide and then explode when they finally push me over the limit — the absolutely wrong way to go, says Bradley, because kids can tune out the low-level nagging and only listen when you screech. That means they never learn internal motivation. "When a parent asks, 'Did you take the trash out?' over and over, it's like an alarm clock set on snooze," he says. "The first three times it goes off don't count. When the clock — or parent — finally goes insane, the kid knows he'd better get moving." Obviously, there's got to be a better way.
Consider my friend Sandy, who yelled at her 16-year-old son to turn off his video games after school for months, to no avail. But when she took action — literally, by locking up her son's video game system in a secondhand armoire — she got through. "Now he calmly finishes his homework and chores before the doors are unlocked," she says.
Another trick that stops the yelling: Communicate in writing, says Borba — kids are so comfortable texting, IM-ing, and e-mailing that they often respond better to written requests (even old-fashioned Post-it notes work). Also, when things are written down, you take your emotions out of the picture, and there's no room for misunderstanding. "Believe it or not, tweens and teens are highly sensitive to sarcasm," says Borba. "Also, they frequently misinterpret facial expressions." If you're screaming, they'll only remember the anger, not the point you were trying to make.

Give Kids A Carrot
In many ways, early adolescence is an ideal time for discipline do-overs, says Bradley, "since at this age, kids are looking for autonomy." Tap into that desire for independence by offering incentives they truly want — like spending money. Explain that kids can earn cash (or privileges, if you're dead set against paying them) by getting chores done within the agreed-upon time. That's it — no threats. "You get yourself out of the equation. They decide if they're going to do it," Bradley says.
The first week I tried this with A.J., the garbage cans were still sitting in the garage at the appointed hour. That's OK, says Bradley: "It's a good learning experience, and the system provides its own muscle." I dragged the cans to the curb myself without saying a word. Later that day, A.J. was crestfallen. "Does this mean I won't get paid?" he asked. "Not this week," I said calmly. "But you'll have another chance next week, and I'm sure you'll do better." Sure enough, the trash went out on time the next few weeks.

Stick With It
I'm happy with the changes we've started to make as a family — the kids are doing more around the house, and I'm yelling less — but I'm still worried I won't stay consistent over the months and years to come, particularly in my weak or tired moments. That's when I remember that experts say it takes three weeks to form a new habit and at least six months for it to become automatic. "Be forgiving of yourself and your kids when someone blows it. Then start fresh the next day," says Brown Braun. Praise them when they get it right, and when they don't, remind them that change is tough for everyone, but it gets easier. And don't forget to spend one-on-one time with your kids; it's especially important to let them know they're loved as you ask more of them in the months ahead.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Education reform: Shorter week, more learning

Education reform: Shorter week, more learning
More than 120 school districts across the U.S. are finding that less can be more — less being fewer days spent in school.»

May 8, 2011
The general assumption is that when it comes to educating American kids, more is more. Longer school hours. Saturday school. Summer school. Yet more than 120 school districts across the nation are finding that less can also be more — less being fewer days spent in school.

The four-day school week has been around for decades, according to the National Council of State Legislatures, but it's quietly spreading as a money-saving tactic, especially after several states — including Montana, Georgia, Missouri and Washington — passed legislation allowing school districts to make the switch as long as they lengthened each school day so that there was no reduction in instructional hours. Teachers work just as much under the four-day plan, so there are no cost reductions there, but schools have saved from 2% to 9%, according to a 2009 report by the Center for Education Policy at the University of Southern Maine. Utility and transportation costs are lower; there's no need to serve a fifth lunch each week; even the reduced wear and tear on buildings has helped.

Here's the surprise: There appear to be educational benefits as well. Absenteeism among students and teachers in these schools has fallen appreciably, the report said. (As a result, schools also paid less money for substitute teachers.) Students reported feeling more positive about school. Dropout rates fell, students behaved better and participation in extracurricular activities rose. Parents of young children often objected to the change because of the need to find childcare, but once the programs were in place, the report said, they often found that it was easier to find care for one full day a week than for several partial days. Test scores didn't fall, and in many cases, they rose.

As promising as all this sounds, the findings are far from definitive. The four-day week has been tried mostly in tiny, rural school districts. Providing the necessary childcare could be more of a challenge in urban areas. And despite the findings above, four-day schedules might turn out to be more helpful to high school students than children in primary grades, who have shorter attention spans. For those children, teachers said, it would help to schedule meatier academic subjects early in the day, but it still means the later hours are likely to be less academically productive.

Four-day school weeks aren't an educational panacea, but they are intriguing. Even in Los Angeles, there might be individual schools where such an arrangement would lower dropout rates and perhaps give teenage students an opportunity to find part-time jobs. Some teachers might prefer it too, which would be a way to provide a benefit without additional cost.

California has 10 or so school districts, all with fewer than 500 students, that use the four-day week. It takes a new law each time a school district wants to try it. The state could make that simpler, ideally by allowing a couple of hundred schools to try the new schedule in a pilot program, and checking on the results in a few years. Real reform requires schools to break the mold, to test new ideas; here's one that's worth a try.

Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries

I like how the article explains the lack of respect, support, and money for teachers also has an impact in our educational system.

The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries

WHEN we don’t get the results we want in our military endeavors, we don’t blame the soldiers. We don’t say, “It’s these lazy soldiers and their bloated benefits plans! That’s why we haven’t done better in Afghanistan!” No, if the results aren’t there, we blame the planners. We blame the generals, the secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff. No one contemplates blaming the men and women fighting every day in the trenches for little pay and scant recognition.

And yet in education we do just that. When we don’t like the way our students score on international standardized tests, we blame the teachers. When we don’t like the way particular schools perform, we blame the teachers and restrict their resources.

Compare this with our approach to our military: when results on the ground are not what we hoped, we think of ways to better support soldiers. We try to give them better tools, better weapons, better protection, better training. And when recruiting is down, we offer incentives.

We have a rare chance now, with many teachers near retirement, to prove we’re serious about education. The first step is to make the teaching profession more attractive to college graduates. This will take some doing.

At the moment, the average teacher’s pay is on par with that of a toll taker or bartender. Teachers make 14 percent less than professionals in other occupations that require similar levels of education. In real terms, teachers’ salaries have declined for 30 years. The average starting salary is $39,000; the average ending salary — after 25 years in the profession — is $67,000. This prices teachers out of home ownership in 32 metropolitan areas, and makes raising a family on one salary near impossible.

So how do teachers cope? Sixty-two percent work outside the classroom to make ends meet. For Erik Benner, an award-winning history teacher in Keller, Tex., money has been a constant struggle. He has two children, and for 15 years has been unable to support them on his salary. Every weekday, he goes directly from Trinity Springs Middle School to drive a forklift at Floor and Décor. He works until 11 every night, then gets up and starts all over again. Does this look like “A Plan,” either on the state or federal level?

We’ve been working with public school teachers for 10 years; every spring, we see many of the best teachers leave the profession. They’re mowed down by the long hours, low pay, the lack of support and respect.

Imagine a novice teacher, thrown into an urban school, told to teach five classes a day, with up to 40 students each. At the year’s end, if test scores haven’t risen enough, he or she is called a bad teacher. For college graduates who have other options, this kind of pressure, for such low pay, doesn’t make much sense. So every year 20 percent of teachers in urban districts quit. Nationwide, 46 percent of teachers quit before their fifth year. The turnover costs the United States $7.34 billion yearly. The effect within schools — especially those in urban communities where turnover is highest — is devastating.

But we can reverse course. In the next 10 years, over half of the nation’s nearly 3.2 million public school teachers will become eligible for retirement. Who will replace them? How do we attract and keep the best minds in the profession?

People talk about accountability, measurements, tenure, test scores and pay for performance. These questions are worthy of debate, but are secondary to recruiting and training teachers and treating them fairly. There is no silver bullet that will fix every last school in America, but until we solve the problem of teacher turnover, we don’t have a chance.

Can we do better? Can we generate “A Plan”? Of course.

The consulting firm McKinsey recently examined how we might attract and retain a talented teaching force. The study compared the treatment of teachers here and in the three countries that perform best on standardized tests: Finland, Singapore and South Korea.

Turns out these countries have an entirely different approach to the profession. First, the governments in these countries recruit top graduates to the profession. (We don’t.) In Finland and Singapore they pay for training. (We don’t.) In terms of purchasing power, South Korea pays teachers on average 250 percent of what we do.

And most of all, they trust their teachers. They are rightly seen as the solution, not the problem, and when improvement is needed, the school receives support and development, not punishment. Accordingly, turnover in these countries is startlingly low: In South Korea, it’s 1 percent per year. In Finland, it’s 2 percent. In Singapore, 3 percent.

McKinsey polled 900 top-tier American college students and found that 68 percent would consider teaching if salaries started at $65,000 and rose to a minimum of $150,000. Could we do this? If we’re committed to “winning the future,” we should. If any administration is capable of tackling this, it’s the current one. President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan understand the centrality of teachers and have said that improving our education system begins and ends with great teachers. But world-class education costs money.

For those who say, “How do we pay for this?” — well, how are we paying for three concurrent wars? How did we pay for the interstate highway system? Or the bailout of the savings and loans in 1989 and that of the investment banks in 2008? How did we pay for the equally ambitious project of sending Americans to the moon? We had the vision and we had the will and we found a way.

Dave Eggers and Nínive Clements Calegari are founders of the 826 National tutoring centers and producers of the documentary “American Teacher.”

Saturday, April 30, 2011

This article reminds me how we are always finding a balance as a parent in quality time mixed with personal time mixed with never ending guilt.

Stop Putting Your Kids First

It wasn't too many years ago that parents believed children should be "seen and not heard." Now they've become the center of our universe. But these have not been good years for the parents who hover over their kids' every thought and action and become slaves to their every desire. According to recent studies, college students who have helicopter parents were more likely to be neurotic and dependent, and are "the least happy with college and ... are doing less well academically and socially."

I can read the T-shirt now: "I spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on tutors, enrichment classes and Baby Einstein CDs and all I got was a neurotic kid."

But, forget about the poor kids -- Margaret K. Nelson, a sociology professor at Middlebury College and the author of Parenting Out of Control: Anxious Parents in Uncertain Times is much more worried about the parents -- specifically, the parents' marriage:

Working a demanding job while paying painstaking attention to one's children leaves little time for maintaining a marriage. A study by Robin Wilson of the Washington and Lee University School of Law reports that women with MBAs get divorced or separated more often than those who have only a bachelor's degree, while women with law or medical degrees are more likely to divorce or separate than their male counterparts.

Those kinds of statistics haven't gone unnoticed, so it's not surprising that there has been an increasingly vocal group challenging parents to change their ways, among them David Code, an Episcopal minister and family coach. In his 2009 book, Put Your Marriage Before Your Kids, Code writes, "To raise healthy kids, simply put your marriage first and your children second. For many of today's couples, the children are priority No. 1 one and marriage is priority No. 10 -- and few of us make it past the top three priorities on our daily to-do list."

Psychiatrist Michelle Goland agrees: "The mistake many moms make is they believe that if they are a good mother, their husband will be fine and he will understand, but in reality, the husband may feel pushed out of the parenting role and begrudgingly gives up trying to have a relationship with his wife."

Adds author and cognitive behaviorist Judith S. Beck, "Parents need not, and should not, sacrifice their needs (and some of their desires) for the sake of their children. They should be able to make decisions based on what is good for individual family members, including themselves, and what is good for the family as a whole."

It isn't necessarily easy for the moms who do that, however -- just ask author Ayelet Waldman, whose proclamation that she loves her husband, author Michael Chabon, more than their four kids caused such an outcry that she felt compelled to examine modern-day parenting in her book, Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace. Still, more and more parenting experts are encouraging parents to chill and refocus.

But what if you're divorced, as I am? What if you have no marriage to work on, no spouse to pamper and put first? What if there's just you? Can a divorced person put his or her needs first, before the kids?

I wouldn't want to admit to doing that too loudly at the next PTA gathering.

"Good" single parents are supposed to sacrifice for their kids, or so says single mom Shoshana Alexander, a founding editor of the Utne Reader. Researching for her book In Praise of Single Parents, she found that, "All of the successful single parents I interviewed ... had, early on, decided to make their children the central focus of their lives."

Somehow, that doesn't seem right -- or healthy.

Why would single parents have to go beyond the normal sacrifices that make up good parenting? A single mom who's frazzled trying to put her kids first isn't helping her kids; she's just making herself unhappy and unhealthy. And, as the saying goes, if momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.

But if single parents take care of our own needs, we're seen as selfish. Worse, we guilt-trip ourselves, believing that we're failing as a parent if we take time out for some personal indulgences, dating or even sex. It's worse if our kids don't see their other parent that much, or at all; it's easy to overcompensate while trying to take on the role of both parents. And so we fall into the single parent trap, forgetting that if we don't take care of ourselves, we turn into miserable, stressed-out, crappy parents.

I'd rather follow the advice of Kate Winslet, who says she started exercising post-divorce because "my way out of everything, has been really taking care of myself. I think that comes from an awareness that my children really need me, and they need me to be the healthiest version of myself that I can possibly be."

It's why airlines tell parents to put on their oxygen mask first before they assist their kids. You're not going to be much use to them if you pass out first.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sugar Plum Fairy doesn’t want apology from critic who called her fat

I posted an earlier article about Jenifer Ringer, having a baby and getting back into dancing. No one is harder on themselves than a professional dancer. Dancers do not need critics personifying their personal beliefs on a new, young mom.

New York City Ballet dancer Jenifer Ringer said Monday that she doesn't want an apology from a New York Times critic who called her fat in a review of "The Nutcracker."

"As a dancer I do put myself out there to be criticized, and my body is part of my art form," she said on NBC's "Today" show. "At the same time, I'm not overweight. I do have, I guess, a more womanly body type than the stereotypical ballerina."

Ringer said different body types should be celebrated in ballet, not criticized.

The dancer suffered from anorexia when she first joined the company. She left the company, recovered, and recently had a baby. Online, writers and fans leaped to her defense, which she said surprised and encouraged her.

"It did make me feel bad about myself, but I really had to tell myself it was one person's opinion out of the 2,000 people that were there last night," she said.

New York Times critic Alastair Macauley wrote in a Nov. 29 review that Ringer, as the Sugar Plum Fairy, "looked as if she'd eaten one sugar plum too many."

He defended himself in a follow-up column, saying that no one expressed outrage when he criticized Ringer's male dance partner for also appearing overweight. "Fat, apparently, is not so much a feminist issue as a sexist one. Sauce for the goose? Scandal. Sauce for the gander? No problem," he wrote, adding that he also has body image issues. "I am severe — but ballet, as dancers know, is more so."

Yahoo News, By Liz Goodwin, Mon Dec 13, 12:57 pm ET

Dancer Jenifer Ringer: Behind the Scenes

Having danced for years and now teaching dance, I found this article very relateable in trying to find the balance as a mom and dancer.

The Many Sides of Jenifer
Working Mother magazine, December/January 2011

A classic beauty, Jenifer glows with warmth and humanity on stage. In person she’s sweet, kind, real.

By: Barbara Turvett

It’s 7:58 p.m., and the high-stakes part of Jenifer Ringer’s workday is about to begin. As she hovers in the wings of the David H. Koch Theater in New York City’s Lincoln Center, about to present herself to an audience of thousands, the raven-haired, classically beautiful dancer calms and centers herself in a way most ballerinas can’t. “I picture my daughter, Grace, all curled up asleep in her bed,” she says. “Compared to that, all this doesn’t seem so big. Becoming a mom has definitely changed things for me.”

Click here for a behind-the-scenes gallery of Jenifer's life.

Opting to have a child has made the 20-year veteran dancer of the renowned New York City Ballet (NYCB) an exception to the ballerina rule. “Few dancers become mothers during their performing years because it’s such an intense, self-focused career,” says NYCB ballet mistress Kathleen Tracy, once a dancer and now a mom. “Having a baby can take you offstage for more than a year. And I know dancers who came back after a pregnancy only to develop a barrage of injuries—back problems, even serious ligament and tendon injuries—that they never experienced before giving birth.” But none of this deterred Jenifer, who knew she wanted to have children.

Her husband of ten years, former NYCB principal dancer James Fayette, helped make it happen for both of them in 2005 when he transitioned to a career as a union representative for performing artists. “James was offered a job, and he decided to take it,” Jenifer says. “He was ready to stop dancing, and it gave us more stability to start a family, because transitions out of professional dance can be iffy.”

So as she stands backstage before a performance, Jenifer is grateful for her enduring career as well as the chance to be a mom. “It’s a long day,” she admits. On days like this one, she takes a class at 10:30 a.m., rehearses from 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., catches her breath for an hour before heading backstage for costume, hair and makeup, then stars in one full-length or two short ballets.

The past two decades have been both exciting and challenging for Jenifer. Now 37—an age when most of us may only be on the cusp of career success—this critically acclaimed senior principal dancer is several years older than most of the other top ballerinas in the company. And in a job where requirements are perhaps antithetical to the weight gain of pregnancy and the demands of motherhood, she’s one of only three moms among the current crop of nearly 50 NYCB ballerinas.

Success and Struggles
Jenifer wasn’t one of those little girls who dreamed of being a ballerina. Quite the opposite: “I tried ballet at age four and five and found it really boring,” she says. But when she was 10, she watched a friend take a class with a teacher who had been a professional ballet dancer and thought it looked interesting. So she went back to ballet classes. “I found out I love to dance—and I was good at it,” says Jenifer.

When her family moved from South Carolina to Virginia, she got the opportunity to attend the Washington School of Ballet in DC. “My mom drove me into the city and back, more than an hour each way, so I could get to class,” she recalls, adding that her parents were continually supportive of her dancing. Logistical luck hit again when she was a teen:Her father’s employer transferred him to New York City, and Jenifer entered the School of American Ballet, the official school of NYCB. When her parents moved yet again, Jenifer stayed. She attended the school on full scholarship, very quickly became an apprentice with NYCB and was asked to be a company member in 1990 at age 16.

The wide-eyed dancer was thrilled to join the iconic company and was given exciting solo opportunities early on, working with the accomplished choreographer Jerome Robbins and originating principal roles in new ballets. But she was very young—and very unprepared. “I didn’t know how to handle the pressures of this tough career, this adult world,” she says. “My whole sense of self was wrapped up in ballet and in my appearance. If things weren’t going well, my self-esteem would plummet.

I would eat to comfort myself, and I gained weight.” Jenifer insists dancers at NYCB are absolutely not asked to be underweight, but they do need to be fit and have athletes’ bodies to meet the demands of strenuous choreography. “I definitely got heavier than that,” she says, admitting that she struggled with bouts of both anorexia and compulsive eating. Although she was promoted to soloist in 1995, she continued to suffer. She put on her game face even as weight gain and injuries plagued and sidelined her. “I eventually got to the point where I couldn’t dance onstage anymore, and that was where I had found my greatest joy,” she says.

In summer 1997 Jenifer left NYCB by mutual agreement, with the assurance that she could always come back. “In my head, I quit ballet completely,” she says. The next four weeks were a total blur as she hid in her apartment, watched TV and ate. Some months later, she ran into a former ballet teacher who told her to come and take a class. “She told me, ‘I don’t care how you look. You need to dance.’ That was the start of my healing process.”

Back to the Barre
Her colleague and friend James Fayette, who was often her dance partner, was also a part of this process. Prior to her leave, he had asked Jenifer to costar in a performance of The Nutcracker with him in upstate New York. Her first reaction was no way. “At the time I was about forty pounds overweight, and I said to him, ‘I’m huge, and you’re not going to want to do this with me.’ And he said, ‘No, I really want to do this with you.’” So she said yes.

“It was a miracle that they could find a tutu that fit me!” Jenifer says, laughing. “That was the first time I had been onstage since I quit. I made peace with myself, and I know it’s corny, but I looked in the mirror and said, ‘You know, I’m beautiful.’” It was then, when she accepted herself at the weight she was, that she recaptured her joy in dancing. “James sweetly looked at me with eyes that were not the eyes of the ballet world,” she adds. “He was a real friend to me.”

As Jenifer regained her sense of self—one that was as much about selflove as about her love of dancing—she began to learn how to be a healthier person overall. She started losing weight. As she conquered her eating disorders, she also earned a degree in English at Fordham University (where she had already been enrolled), took odd jobs to support herself and danced a few more gigs with James. A year after leaving NYCB, she approached ballet master in chief Peter Martins and asked if she could return to the company. “They were very generous in letting me come back,” she says.

Forward with Family
Jenifer and James’s relationship evolved into a romantic one. “He claims he had been in love with me for eleven years; I was oblivious to it,” she says. They were married in 2000. Both were eventually promoted to principal dancer at NYCB, and they continued to be cast opposite each other until James left the company. “Overall, I don’t miss dancing,” he says, “but I do genuinely miss dancing with Jenifer, who is the perfect balance of self-sustaining execution and trusting abandon.” He’s especially proud of her as he watches her grow as a working mother. He knows full well the pressures and stress that can accompany being a principal dancer for a major ballet company. But, he says, “Jenifer’s efforts to make her family a priority give her life balance, and having Grace has only enhanced the sense of security and support she enjoys in a professional dance world where anything can happen and often does.”

The birth of their daughter in 2008 meant that Jenifer would take another full year off from dancing—but this leave was filled with happiness. “I loved being pregnant,” Jenifer says. “Many ballerinas dance into their eighth or ninth month. I danced until about the fourth month, and then I just stopped. I was kind of loving being pregnant and not being a dancer at the same time. It was another healing process, because I watched my body get big again, but this time it was for such a beautiful reason.” It took her three months after giving birth to get back to the studio to work out because baby Grace had colic and nobody slept much. Jenifer breastfed for six months and loved that, too. She returned to the stage after a year away. “It was emotionally difficult to resubmit to the confines of the ballet world because I had separated so completely,” she recalls. “But not going back was not an option for financial reasons and because I do
love my work.”

Balancing On Pointe and Off
During Jenifer’s nine-month day-and-night NYCB schedule, along with occasional out-of-town gigs during the off-season, life can be hectic. She has Mondays off; James works weekdays. They feel fortunate to have found a babysitter who works a four-day flexible schedule and is available from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. when they need her. “I often don’t get my final work schedule until 7:30 the night before, so I can text her then and say, ‘Tomorrow your schedule is….’ She’s been with us for a year, and it works.” Jenifer and James tag-team the rest of the days and evenings. “James is amazing,” she says. “He’s very much a hands-on dad who races home from work so he can be with Grace.” And the feeling is mutual: James praises Jenifer as a thoughtful, devoted mom who “plans and prepares, anticipating what Grace needs to keep her satisfied and happy.”

Jenifer is never happier than when she can spend time with Grace. They walk from their Manhattan apartment to a nearby park and play. “Grace is a wild child,” Jenifer says with a twinkle. “She loves to pretend and has a big imagination, so our time together is often pretending and acting out whatever book she’s into—lately it’s the Fancy Nancy book series.” Not surprisingly, Grace also loves to dance and is very coordinated, but her parents are wary of encouraging a dance career, knowing how tough it can be. “If she has a passion for it and really wants it, well, then…but we’re not going to push her into it!” Jenifer adds, laughing.

Since becoming parents, she and James haven’t quite figured out how to find couple time, especially because Jenifer often works nights. Occasionally they have a date night on Monday, if one of their parents is in town to be with Grace. Sometimes they’ll meet for lunch or even a movie if they can grab a couple of daytime hours. “We’re pretty low-key,” says Jenifer. “I eat dinner after performances. If he’s still awake when I get home, we see each other, but sometimes he’s asleep.” As for “me time,”

Jenifer says it’s simply about reading a book, or even turning on music and cleaning the house. “It sounds a little strange, but the house gets so chaotic that if I actually have a half hour and I can restore some sort of order, I feel better.” Occasionally she sneaks in a guilty pleasure or two, like watching Battlestar Galactica on TV while eating Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup ice cream.

Jenifer is well aware that she’s in the latter stage of her dance career. What’s next? “I’d like to write, which is another really hard career,” she quips. “I’ve written some children’s stories, so if there is a dream, it’s to get those illustrated and published.” Another dream: to have more kids and become a stay-at-home mom— “maybe until they’re in school.”

But for now, Jenifer remains an elegant and incandescent dancer. “I’m always amazed how she maintains her professionalism and ballet technique through each season, especially knowing that she’s had to deal with sleepless nights, illnesses and temper tantrums,” says her friend Kathleen Tracy.

In fact, Jenifer suggests that being a mom has freed up her dancing. “I think of the way Grace looks at the world with such joy and innocence and wonder, and I realize that I’m one of those people that maybe can express that. That I can give the audience a bit of that sense of joy and wonder. In ballet you of course want to be perfect, but I think that that’s not necessarily what gives the audience joy. Grace helps me let go of some of that perfectionism. Now my work is less about achieving perfection and more about what I’m giving.”

Jenifer’s fitness tips
Work on your center. Pilates, which does a lot of work on your core muscles, has been a huge help in getting me back into shape. In fact, any kind of stomach exercises you can do after giving birth, like exhaling and pulling your belly button toward your spine, are so good for you.

Keep stretching. I recommend stretching after your workout. you should always stretch after your muscles are warm and hold until you feel a stretch—but not pain—for 30 seconds. Be sure not to overstretch. Stretching at any time can help keep your body supple and youthful.

Walk off tension. To relieve stress, I like to take walks outside. Walking and just looking at the sky or a body of water immediately helps me feel better.

End Homework Hassle

I like how this article stresses routines. Kids need routines, no matter what they say, all kids need consistency in their lives. I hope you find some helpful tips here.

End Homework Hassle

After seven hours in the classroom, who wants to sit down and do homework? Certainly not most 6- to 8-year-olds. They would rather play with their friends, participate in an after-school activity, or simply unwind in front of the TV. Because let's face it: Homework may help your child learn, but it's still a major chore.

"Kids this age are getting used to the idea of having to do assignments on their own," says Cathryn Tobin, MD, author of The Parent's Problem Solver: Smart Solutions for Everyday Discipline and Behavior Problems. "And many of them are more concerned with socializing than with schoolwork."

So don't be too surprised if your child complains about her workload: According to a survey by Public Agenda, a nonprofit research organization, almost half of parents said they have serious arguments with their children about homework. But it doesn't need to be a source of stress. These strategies will make studying a lot easier on you both.

* Start with a snack and exercise. You can't expect your child to focus when he has an empty stomach. Robin Lanahan, of Portland, Oregon, keeps turkey jerky, protein bars, bottled water, and trail mix in the car for her son, Owen, 7. "He's always starving when I pick him up from school, so the first thing I do is give him something to eat," she says. Lanahan then lets Owen run around the playground for a while. "By the time we walk in the door, he's ready to do his homework."
* Establish a routine. Ask your child to suggest a regular time when she'd like to do her schoolwork (such as when you're making dinner). Have a backup plan in place for days when she has a piano lesson or soccer practice. If your child has a playdate, suggest that the kids take a break to do their homework together. And your child may want to do his reading assignment on the ride home from school, since this makes good use of "dead time."
* Help him get organized. Set up a well-lit work area that includes a desk, sharpened pencils and erasers, a children's dictionary, and color-coded folders for different subjects. And let your child do homework at the kitchen table if he wants to. Just make sure he works independently rather than taking advantage of this location to ask you endless questions.
* Put her in charge. The most important purpose of homework is to teach your child responsibility for completing an assignment. If she forgets to bring home her spelling words, have her call a friend to get them. While it's fine to offer gentle reminders ("Remember that you have math and reading assignments on Wednesdays"), don't nag your child to get her work done. Let her deal with the consequences if she doesn't.
* Free up his schedule. If your child has too many extracurricular activities, he'll have trouble finding time for homework. He'll also miss out on downtime, which is important for sparking creative thinking. To keep Owen from feeling overscheduled, Lanahan limits him to just one extracurricular activity that takes place no more than twice a week. "On the other days, he comes home, does his homework, then plays outside with his friends," she says.
* Don't break it up. Once your child begins her homework, encourage her to complete it before getting on the computer or playing "one quick video game." Rather than refreshing a child's focus, frequent or lengthy breaks can distract her and make it easy for her to procrastinate.
* Be a role model. When her son, Ari, 7, is working on his math homework, Julie Hoffman, of Baton Rouge, makes a point of sorting her mail and paying bills. "I want him to see me working alongside him and to know that what he's doing will have a practical application in his life," she says.
* Stay positive. Praise your child's good work, and don't overreact to his errors. When he asks you to test him on his spelling words, say "great" each time he gets one right. If he makes a mistake, say "almost," spell it correctly, and have him try again.
* Give her guidance, not answers. It's fine to assist your child with her homework, but never do an assignment for her. "This robs a child of her pride of ownership of the task and creates a pattern that is hard to break," says Cathy Vatterott, PhD, associate professor of education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. "Homework is her job, not yours."

Does your child have too much homework?

The National Education Association and the PTA recommend a maximum of 10 minutes of homework per grade level per night. But according to a University of Michigan study, many kids this age are doing up to three times that amount. If your child seems stressed out by her workload, your first step is to attach a note to the assignment, indicating how much time your child spent on the work and why you think she had trouble ("It was too complex"). If you don't hear back, schedule a face-to-face conference with the teacher. This will help you understand her approach to assignments and is often the best way to work out a compromise. Your last resort is to lobby the PTA. Rallying other parents to the cause may force the principal to take action.

Copyright © 2006 Meredith Corporation. Originally published in the October 2006 issue of Parents magazine.

Win the Homework Wars

I like this article as it offers suggestions to parents on how to adjust homework time to the child's temperament.

Parents Magazine, February 2011

As a mom of seven, I'm a seasoned veteran of the homework trenches. I've valiantly soldiered on despite my kids' complaints about hundreds of take-home tests and hands-on projects. When it comes to hitting the books, it's clear from early on that what's effective with one child doesn't necessarily work with another. Knowing your kid's best study style can help reduce school-night skirmishes and set your young scholar up for success.
Studying Strategies

The Procrastinator

This kid dreams up so many things to do after school that there's just no time left for homework. By the end of the night, he hasn't completed any assignments, yet he feels that he's not to blame.

Battle Plan Tell your child he has just one hour a day to fill with other activities before buckling down to work. Set the timer, and strictly adhere to it. If he's constantly stalling by calling other kids to get the assignment, ask his teacher to give you a list of the week's work. (Some post the info on the school's website.)

You might think a procrastinator would be more efficient in a quiet place, but some do better in a noisy area, says Cathy Quinn, a tutor in Ossining, New York. One of her students works at the kitchen table. With his mom nearby and a lot of foot traffic, he stops making excuses and digs in. "Being in a busy environment helps him focus," Quinn says.

The Whiner

The minute she unzips her backpack, the gripes start to flow -- her teacher is too unfair, the work is too boring, her classmates are too bossy. She'll continue to nitpick until bedtime, when you'll realize that her homework is barely finished.

Battle Plan Suggest that she visualize putting all the unhappy parts of her day into a big box, and invite her to tell you about them once her homework is done. If she starts to complain before her assignments are completed, remind her that complaining isn't allowed until she's finished her work. Once she has, let her moan and groan to her heart's content.

That said, don't automatically discount your child's bellyaching. If she frequently doesn't understand the assignments or has a staggering amount of work, help her figure out what's expected and check in with her teacher about the level of the homework.

The Delegator

It seems like this kid is actually game to tackle assignments until you realize that you're the one doing all the work.

Battle Plan He's figured out that you can get his duties done faster -- and better -- than he can, so he'll nicely solicit your assistance. "If you find that you're always getting conned into doing your child's work, call him on it," says Tracy Dennis, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Hunter College of the City University of New York. Boosting his confidence is key. "Reassure him that you're not leaving him high and dry and that you're willing to make it a team effort -- if he takes the lead," she says.

The Hurrier

She's so eager to get to the fun part of the evening that she rushes through her assignments. As a result, they're barely legible, riddled with errors, and often misplaced entirely.

Battle Plan Establish how much TV watching, video-game playing, or other entertainment your child is permitted during each weekday. Encourage her to take her time with her homework and remind her that even if she finishes it in a flash, she still won't be allowed additional time in front of the TV, for example. Once your child sees that there's nothing to be gained by rushing, she may pace herself on her own.

You might also try breaking her homework into parts. For example, give her three math problems to solve, then ask her to check her work before asking her to work on three more. "This will help your child get in the habit of slowing down a little," says Quinn.

The Perfectionist

This student hyperfocuses, spending so long on one project that other assignments go undone. As the night wears on and you both realize that there's a lot of untouched homework, he has a meltdown -- and you come close to one.

Battle Plan Help your child see the big picture by writing down the day's assignments on a large sheet of paper, using a different color marker for each subject. Together, map out the total amount of time he'll spend on his homework and roughly how long he should devote to each task.

"Let your child know that everything he does doesn't have to be flawless," suggests Dr. Dennis. Try to tone down your praise when he gets something right -- this should temper his emotions when he gets something wrong. Also turn his mistakes into lessons, Dr. Dennis advises. If he gets an incorrect answer, say, "That's not quite right. How else can we approach it?" Your question will invite him to think creatively about how to rework the problem.

Originally published in the February 2011 issue of Parents magazine.

Legal Eagle Gloria Allred

I was inspired by this quick story of a high school teacher turned woman's right activist.

By: Gloria Allred, Working Mother December/January 2011

She takes on many high-profile legal cases. But the former high school teacher and mom of an adult daughter sees herself primarily as a warrior for women’s rights.

I can’t afford to buy into fear. Fear doesn’t produce results. Only strength and power get results.

I gave birth to my daughter when I was in college. When I divorced her father, I moved back to live with my parents. If not for my mom’s help with my daughter, I would not have been able to finish college and get a full-time job.

I taught high school in Philadelphia while commuting to New York University to earn my master’s degree in english education. I was a public-school teacher for six and a half years.

While in my thirties, I attended law school and earned my law degree from loyola university school of law in L.A. this was during my second marriage. I thought everybody worked 14 hours a day, six days a week. My father always did and so did I.

I’ve had the same law partners [Allred, Maroko & Goldberg] for 35 years, since law school.

We take on women’s rights cases. No other private law firm in the country handles women’s rights cases and has won hundreds of millions of dollars for victims as we have.

I was called a lot of names when I successfully filed a charge of sex discrimination against the then all-male celebrity friars club in new york city. The club settled the case with me, and I became the first woman to have lunch there. In settlement, I required that the club accept women for membership.

I’m a warrior who lives in a war zone for women. I can’t be deterred or intimidated. People aren’t used to seeing women not governed by fear. I forge forward and win.

When women are outspoken, they’re called the b-word—bitch or butch. but that tells me the other side has no good argument. That’s why they resort to name-calling.

My clients are mostly women, and I stand up for them and with them if I find them credible.

There are lots of tears in my office. Women are usually in trouble when they come to see me. I tell them: “first we cry, then we fight.”

I raise awareness for easy access to legal resources. I am proud to be a spokesperson for, which provides names of attorneys in every state throughout the nation.

I’m proud of my grandson and of my granddaughter, who was born, fittingly, on women’s equality day.

I’m 69, but there’s no possibility that I will retire. there’s such a huge need among women to have their rights protected. I am driven to do as much as I can for them while I’m here.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Helping Your Child Deal with Criticism

It's hard as a mom to keep my "mama bear" at bay when I see my kids hurting from comments, but I also think many parents have gotten away from helping their kids deal with these comments. "Helicopter" parents tend to shield their child and deal with a situation themselves then allow their child develop skills on dealing with critism. I like this article because it offers suggestion on this sensitive issue. This article was found in Parent magazine, March 2011 issue.

Scenarios to Help Your Child Learn Constructive Criticism

My friend's 6-year-old daughter, Caitlyn, was at her BFF's house, and she began to whine about the board game they were playing. The other girl's mom jumped in and told her, "That's not how we talk to each other in this family." Caitlyn immediately shut down and said that she wanted to go home.
No one likes to be criticized, but negative feedback can be particularly difficult for 5- and 6-year-olds. Even if the criticism seems constructive, your child may lash out, blame someone else, or withdraw, depending on the situation. However, you can help her understand its true purpose: to learn about her strengths and weaknesses and work to change her shortcomings because this will help her become a successful adult, says Parents advisor Jenn Berman, Psy.D., author of The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy, Confident Kids. These scenarios will give you pointers to steer her in the right direction.

Scenario: Your Child Is Criticized by a Teacher
A teacher wrote your daughter's name on the board for talking when she wasn't called on. Your daughter tells you that she hates her teacher.
Handle It Right Your first instinct may be to punish or lecture her, but her heated response is your cue she's already upset. A better approach: Empathize with her feelings of embarrassment, suggests Rebecca Cortes, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist at the University of Washington, in Seattle. Resist the temptation to have a lengthy discussion. Keep it simple with something like, "I can see you're upset; that's how people feel when they're embarrassed. Sometimes when people feel that way, they also feel frustrated and angry. It's okay to have those emotions, and while you can always talk to me about them, it's not okay to express those negative feelings in the classroom."

Scenario: Your Child Is Criticized by a Friend's Mother
A friend's mother told your son on a playdate not to call a toy "stupid." You heard him reply, "Why not? My mom lets me use that word."
Handle It Right Yes, you've let him say the word on occasion, as long as he's not describing a person. But a child who is ashamed about being reprimanded often tries to deal with the feeling by arguing or being belligerent. This is a good time to talk to him about how there are different rules in different places and the importance of respecting them. Give him the words to explain next time why he acted the way he did ("Sorry, I didn't know about the rule"), and then teach him the phrase: "Do you mind if I ask why?" If he is curious (why shouldn't he call a toy stupid, for example?), it's a polite way for him to question something.

Scenario: Your Child Is Criticized by a Coach
The T-ball coach asks your child to stop daydreaming during practice, and she bursts into tears.
Handle It Right Once she's calm, help her see that the coach was looking out for her because she could get hit in the head by the ball or miss an important instruction. Ask her why she burst into tears. If she was upset about what the other kids would think, let her know that her reaction probably got a lot more attention than the coach's initial comments. Then teach her an appropriate response, like "Got it. Thanks." Says Dr. Berman: "Giving your child a response like that to use next time helps her take power back."

Scenario: Your Child Is Criticized by a Classmate
A classmate told your son that his picture is messy. He responded, "Well, your picture is ugly!"
Handle It Right First, you'll need to help your child make sense of his emotions. Ask him directly, "How did that comment make you feel?" Let him know that you understand why he may have felt embarrassed -- and even hurt. "You want to encourage him to accept, rather than dismiss, his feelings," explains Dr. Cortes. Talk to him about how words can hurt people, and ask him how he thinks his own rude retort made the other boy feel. Explain that if he reacts angrily to a hurtful comment, he can end up doing to others precisely what he didn't like having done to him -- and point out that now two people will be left feeling hurt and upset. Give him some options on how to respond in the future if this happens. For instance, he can ask the boy why he thinks the picture is messy, or he could tell the boy that the comment hurt his feelings. You might also suggest he just say, "Well, that's your opinion."

Scenario: Your Child Is Criticized by a Family Member
Your sister tells your daughter that she's not playing hopscotch the right way. Your daughter won't let her explain and later tells you she thinks her aunt doesn't like her.
Handle It Right Her reaction may seem extreme to you. But if you say, "Honey, that's ridiculous. Of course she likes you," you may make her feel worse. Reassure her that her aunt loves her and that she only wants to teach her how to play the game according to the rules. "The trick is to get your child to learn how to handle criticism gracefully and learn from it," says Parents advisor Michele Borba, Ed.D., author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions. Use this opportunity to explain to her that criticism, although not always easy to take, is a fact of life. Help her practice how to respond if she's in a similar situation again. For instance, tell her it's fine to simply say, "Thank you" or "Okay, I'll try," and leave it at that.

5 Manners Every Kid Needs by Age 9

Ever wonder about proper etiquette when it came to your kids? I read this article in Parent magazine (March 2011), and then I found it posted on a blog and so I thought I would share.

5 Manners Every Kid Needs by Age 9

1. When asking for something, say “Please.”

2. When receiving something. Say “Thank You.”

3. Do not interrupt grown-us who are speaking with each other unless there is an emergency. They will notice you and respond when they are finished talking.

4. If you need to get somebody’s attention right away, the phrase “excuse me” is the most polite way for you to enter the conversation.

5. When you have any doubt about doing something, ask permission first. It can save you from many hours of grief later.

6. The world is not interested in what you dislike. Keep negative opinions to yourself, or between you and your friends, and out of earshot of adults.

7. Do not comment on other people’s physical characteristics unless, of course, it’s to compliment them, which is always welcome.

8. When people ask you how you are, tell them and then ask them how they are.

9. When you have spent time at your friend’s house, remember to thank his or her parents for having you over and for the good time you had.

10. Knock on closed doors-and wait to see if there’s a response-before entering.

11. When you make a phone call, introduce yourself first and then ask if you can speak with the person you are calling.

12.Be appreciative and say “thank you” for any gift you receive. In the age of e-mail, a handwritten thank-you note can have a powerful effect.

13. Never use foul language in front of adults. Grown-ups already know all those words, and they find them boring and unpleasant.

14. Don’t call people mean names.

15. Do not make fun of anyone for any reason. Teasing shows others you are weak and ganging up on someone else is cruel.

16. Even if a play or an assembly is boring, sit through it quietly and pretend you are interested. The performers are presenters are doing their best.

17. If you bump into somebody, immediately say “Excuse Me.”

18. Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and don’t pick your nose in public.

19. As you walk through a door, look to see if you can hold it open for someone else.

20. If you come across a parent, a teacher, or a neighbor working on something, ask if you can help. If they say “yes.” Do so- you may learn something new.

21. When an adult asks you for a favor, do it without grumbling and with a smile.
22. When someone helps you, say “thank you.” That person will likely want to help you again. This is especially true with teachers!

23. Use eating utensils properly. If you are unsure how to do so, ask your parents to teach you or watch what adults do.
24. Keep a napkin on your lap; use it to wipe your mouth when necessary.

25. Don’t reach for things at the table; ask to have them passed.

written by David Lowry, PH.D. The list was published in Parents Magazine

Monday, March 28, 2011

"Superman" Super Fails

I took this article from the Redbook magazines website. I believe the movie is sending a biased and incorrect view of how most teaches are and their dedication to their career. If you go to the link, there is an article you can read from the parent's perspective, which shows how effective the movie was in skewing the public's opinion of teachers and their union.

"Every film needs a villain, but this one’s got it wrong."
I recently went to go see Waiting for "Superman" with a friend of mine who’s also a teacher in the New York City public school system. When we walked into the theatre, I was excited to see what all of the buzz and controversy was about. I couldn’t wait for the movie to expose all of the issues that public school teachers have to deal with on a daily basis. Walking out was a different story. I had a hard time pinpointing all the different nerves the film hit, but I knew one thing — by the time the credits rolled, I was scared.

Scared? Well, yeah. For one thing, I was scared that the movie sent the wrong message about people like me who are dedicating our lives to public education. I was also scared that anyone who sees the film will start to look at teachers as the enemies, and stop working with us to help us succeed at improving the system we’ve been dealt. Davis Guggenheim, the film’s creator, made it clear that we have to get rid of bad teachers and I could not agree more. But what about the good ones? How do we help them? This country needs to work hard at attracting and retaining bright, motivated teachers in the classroom — not demonizing them. Trust me on this, in most cases, teachers are not the enemy.

For all of the important muckraking that the documentary provides, Guggenheim left out a glaringly obvious perspective — that of American teacher. He had “experts” talk about reform, he gave parents a voice where they don’t normally have one, and he provided the platform for former teachers like Geoffrey Canada and Michelle Rhee to explain how they can “fix” education. (For the record, suggesting that there’s one resolution to this deep-rooted problem is totally delusional).

Guggenheim blatantly left out the people on the front lines, the teachers, and by doing so, made us out to be the bad guys. I’m normally a big fan of Guggenheim’s work, but come on: How can you make a film about education without talking to the people who are running the classrooms now? The movie only focuses on bad teachers, and leaves out the ones who are doing their best without the support, training, and supplies they need to be successful. It’s time for people to realize that when our country sets teachers up for failure, they also set children up for failure.

The film also failed to show the obstacles public school teachers overcome every day. Many teachers are constantly dealing with uncooperative parents (unlike the dedicated parents in the movie) who do little to nothing to support their child’s academic success at home. Hilary Clinton coined the phrase “it takes a village” in the mid 1990’s, but somehow reformers have forgotten how true that saying is. Teachers are expected to do a village’s job...alone. In addition to working with children who come from difficult circumstances, teachers are often not given the supplies they need, even though local districts and states are somehow spending more money per-pupil than ever before. And finally (I’m running out of breath here), many public school teachers often have to deal with unimaginable working conditions that no child should have to learn in and no adult should have to work in.

So here’s my take: Sure, there are bad teachers. And of course, our country’s education system needs a major overhaul. But let’s not ignore the fact that there are tons (and I mean TONS) of teachers out there trying to provide kids with a solid education — many of whom are doing so with minimal resources in overcrowded classrooms in dilapidated buildings. My favorite line in the movie was “Great schools come from great people.” Let’s work together to keep those great teachers in the classroom instead of ostracizing them.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Don't lambaste teachers -- 'we are on your side' | Local Views | | Southern California News | News for Inland Southern California

Don't lambaste teachers -- 'we are on your side' | Local Views | | Southern California News | News for Inland Southern California

I like this article because it compares the private sector to the public sector and debunks many myths related to the teaching profession.

Don't lambaste teachers -- 'we are on your side'
I really do try to be open-minded to the "other side" of the teachers union argument. However, as a teacher, I believe firmly that we need someone looking out for our best interests, which is what our teachers union provides.

Michelle Malkin's op-ed is a prime example of why we need our union to continue to represent teachers and help protect teachers' rights ("Unions are after your wallet, not your child's interests," March 4).

There is a lot of misunderstood or misquoted information out there about teachers and the teaching profession. For example, teachers don't get three months of paid vacation.

All our time off, including holiday weeks, is unpaid, although our pay is amortized over 10 or 12 months, so it may seem that we receive paid time off.

We actually can be fired just like employees in the private sector -- with proper documentation and a step-by-step procedure moving from verbal warnings through written documentation and eventual termination. Tenure does not protect teachers forever and keep "bad" teachers in the workplace any more than bad employees in the private sector are protected after their probationary period ends.

The process for removal is basically the same. And, in truth, private sector employers knowingly keep "bad" employees on the job for a variety of reasons just as public employers do.

What tenure does is protect teachers from private-interest groups attacking us or removing us from our jobs due to our religious beliefs, sexual orientation or other issues at odds with what they may believe.

And, contrary to what is being passed on as truth to the public, we do not receive exorbitant retirement packages. In fact, we contribute to our retirement just like private-sector employees. Teachers will not retire rich.

We will struggle to make ends meet as the economic climate changes, just like retiring employees in the private sector.

What the public may not know is that, as a teacher, I cannot quit working with one district and move to another without losing all the years of experience (and corresponding level of pay) I've put in.

The most any district will honor when hiring a teacher is about seven years -- more than that is non-negotiable and less than that is likely.

If a teacher is willing to change districts and take the mandatory pay cut, he then begins at the bottom of the seniority list, thereby losing all protections of tenure or years on the job.

Without unions there to protect teachers, a job in a hostile district would become a life sentence or, at the very least, result in a life-changing move followed by a huge cut in pay (if a teacher could even get a job elsewhere).

In the private sector, it is possible to negotiate starting pay and benefits during the hiring process, and years of experience do count towards the level of pay one can negotiate.

benefits lost

So working in a hostile environment in the private sector could be resolved by getting a job elsewhere without starting over at the bottom once more. Additionally, the public is probably not aware that we lose rights to Social Security benefits we may have earned prior to (or after) entering the teaching profession.

What they may know is that we work more than an eight-hour day, grading home work at night and weekends, spending our summers at conferences, taking classes to better our teaching skills and preparing lessons for the upcoming year.

They probably know that we spend our own money, not only on teaching supplies, but on items that help out our students, including food and clothing.

I hope they know that there are far more dedicated teachers out there spending their own time and money to better the education and lives of their students than there are bad teachers stuck in the system taking advantage of their positions.

I attempt to educate people I come in contact with about what it is really like to be a teacher, both the pros and cons.

But when I come across someone as vicious as Malkin and the searing words she chooses to use to describe educators and the teachers union, it truly disturbs me.

Her vitriolic tirade against teachers is meant only to incite further anger and action against us. Her use of words is meant only to harm, not to educate.

Calling New York State United Teachers President Richard Iannuzzi a "fat-cat union official" and referring to the offices he works in as a "200,000 square-foot palace" are carefully chosen words meant to encourage agitation against those in the teaching profession, something she accuses teachers of doing to the public.

words meant to divide

Saying that "if public school teachers spent more time teaching in classrooms and less time community-organizing in political war rooms" the public wouldn't feel as "ripped off" are words meant to further build the us-versus-them wall that makes teachers appear to be the enemy -- of education, the public, and the country's future -- further dividing us from the rest of the populace.

These days teacher-bashing is at a peak. It rips out the hearts of those of us who dedicate our professional lives to teaching the public's children to read tirades such as Malkin's printed in papers across the country.

Teachers realize the current restraints of the economy and accept that it impacts our pay and benefits.

We are victims of the economic crisis right along with the rest of the public. Teachers in Wisconsin are willing to take the needed pay cuts and changes in benefits.

However, they want to continue to have the protection of the teachers union and collective bargaining, which appears to be direly needed based on what I've seen of their governor's actions and words.

give teachers a chance

We, teachers, are simply asking for a fair shake, which we address through our teachers union.

We are not the enemy. We are one of you. Don't believe what you read without carefully analyzing the bias and prejudice of the author.

Please take Malkin's words as those of a journalist who receives her pay and notoriety for writing from an extreme point of view -- not as the truth, as she would have you believe.

Don't allow her words to encourage agitation by you against those in the teaching profession.

Talk with teachers and listen to their replies. You will find that we are on your side.

Christa Biddle teaches English at Jurupa Middle School.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Larger Classes Sizes?!

With the economy bad and districts looking to save money, the first thing they do is suggest larger class sizes. Imagine teaching 40 students in 50 minutes. Do you think you would be an effective teacher?

Large Classes can be a Large Problem
By Anne O'Brien on January 7, 2011

In times of fiscal crisis, which few would dispute most districts are in, we have been hearing a bit about “smart” increases in class size. Some are advocating for states to remove class size mandates all together.

In the past, this blog has supported class size reduction. Certainly, the evidence makes it clear to me that small classes, particularly in the early years and for our most disadvantaged students, can improve academic outcomes.

But the flip side of class size debates is not articulated nearly as frequently as it should be. The debate is not only about the benefits of small classes. It is also about the problems that can come with large classes.

I was reminded of this recently thanks to a Detroit Free Press article on the problems resulting from a teacher shortage in Detroit Public Schools. Among them (and there are a lot) are large class sizes. Teachers at nearly a third of Detroit’s schools – 44 of 140 – report classes over the limits outlined in their contract.

These large classes are overwhelming teachers – having 40 to 50 students in a class makes it hard for them to control students and guide their learning. One 24-year veteran who averages more than 40 students in her five classes said: “I’ve won awards. I am a champion teacher. … This is the first time I’ve felt inadequate.”

These classes also upset students. One high school senior pointed out that class sizes are so large that classrooms do not have enough seats. Some students have to stand or go into the hallway. It makes them feel unimportant.

And the biggest problem is that kids aren’t getting the education they deserve. As classes grow, there is less individualized instruction. Teachers struggle to keep up with basic work. As a teacher who works at one of the most successful high schools in the city points out, grading nearly 200 papers three times a week takes “hours upon hours.” She gets behind. And she doesn’t suggest any alternatives, but one is giving students less rigorous work, (or just less work in general) because it’s easier to grade. But as research is demonstrating the importance of high expectations for students, that really is a non-starter for most educators.

So when we talk about things like getting rid of class size mandates to save money, we have to consider the negative implications. Of course, no one would argue that “smart” class size increases would support 40+ students in a class, particularly at lower grades. But if there are no limits on class sizes, what will stop it from happening? The intentions of changing these policies may be good…but there could be some very bad consequences.

A Discussion Over Teacher Tenure

With all the political focus on education and creating "better" teachers, there is a big push to remove tenure. Tenure does not guarantee a job for life, a principal can remove an ineffective teacher, but it does take time. This time allows for the teacher to attempt to improve their teaching strategies. I thought this article presented some interesting view points.

Continuing with the tenure conversation Cheryl Williams began earlier this week, I wanted to discuss a recent New York Times article that outlines current efforts by governors to eliminate tenure in their states.

Connecting poor student performance to teachers is clearly a general emphasis among many critics of public education, and it seems to be an especially potent issue now in politics, as evidenced in part by President Obama’s last two State of the Union address in which he discussed teacher assessments. Jumping on this bandwagon of blaming teachers, governors in Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Nevada, and New Jersey (and legislatures in other states) want to focus on removing perceived ineffective teachers through eliminating or imposing drastic reductions in tenure protections.

I imagine few would argue that current tenure systems are less than ideal, and there are legitimate reforms to tenure that would benefit all major actors involved. And as the article points out, both the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association are in favor of good reform (and the AFT practiced what they preach by endorsing a Colorado law last year that allows for the removal of tenured teachers found consistently ineffective). AFT also helped broker tenure and labor reforms in New Haven, Connecticut, and in Baltimore, Maryland, and the NEA was similarly instrumental in principal and teacher evaluation reforms in Hillsborough County, Florida.

So while there are no doubt thoughtful ways to reform tenure to allow for teacher dismissal based on effectiveness rather than simply seniority, these governors and state legislatures seem focused on quick-and-dirty bills that serve more to score political points than to benefit education.

The article quotes former George W. Bush education official Michael Petrilli as asserting that “these new Republican governors are all trying to outreform [sic] one another.” (Although the issue is not confined to Republicans. Democratic legislatures and outspoken democrat Michelle Rhee—former D.C. school chancellor—have also lobbied against tenure.) Clearly in New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s case, his aggressive stances against teachers unions—including in tenure issues—have bolstered his reputation both in his state and nationally, and other politicians seem to be hoping for the same effect.

The article also highlights a specious claim by Republican governor Rick Scott, who recently asserted that “good teachers know they don’t need tenure. There is no reason to have it except to protect those that don’t perform as they should.” Besides the unlikely idea that all “good” teachers are not in favor of tenure, Scott’s statement is rash to say the least. Tenure serves a legitimate function in protecting teachers from arbitrary dismissal based on reasons not related to their effectiveness. Though often misconstrued as automatically granting teachers jobs for life, tenure laws are actually aimed at fair dismissal policies. The third party mediation that tenure laws require helps to tease out whether dismissal is appropriate, or based on unfair accusations deriving from personal vendettas, unfair stereotypes, opposing political views, and differing parameters of what teaching should encompass. A current issue that illustrates the last two categories (and in some cases all four) is that of teaching topics that are controversial in certain religious or political communities. The Scopes trial went up the court system for a reason: sometimes administrators, local authorities, and teachers allow personal beliefs to interfere with legitimate teaching efforts and so mediation is necessary. Further, there are logical concerns by more experienced teachers that if tenure laws are reformed they will have a target on their backs—regardless of their actual performance—simply because they are at the top of the pay scale.

But in any case, there is an underlying problem with the whole debate over tenure: there is not a clear definition of what constitutes a good or bad teacher, nor clear ways of ascertaining how teachers measure up to these definitions (I think we can all concede test scores are highly imperfect indicators). Very few teachers exhibit obviously problematic behaviors like sleeping during school, hitting kids, or reading magazines while students run wild. The vast majority do what the system asks. So until there is a way of changing system expectations and then pinpointing which teachers cannot work outside of teacher manual bullet points, I don’t imagine tenure reform will have much of an impact on the education system and its outcomes.

Read more comments here...

Value of School Counselors

As of yesterday, our district has decided to remove 12 counseling positions. I agree that counselors are under-appreciated.

As National School Counseling Week draws to a close, it seems fitting to reflect on the state of the profession in our nation.

School counselors are highly trained individuals who help students improve their academic achievement, their personal and social development and their career planning. Their services help students resolve emotional and behavioral issues, often improving the climate of a school. And they help students develop a clearer focus or sense of direction, which can improve student achievement. Research over the past several decades shows the positive impact of school counselors.

But for all the evidence, the work of school counselors can be under-appreciated and is rarely acknowledged in discussions of school improvement. And in times of tough budgets, it is often the school counselor (or other support staff) whose role is cut.

As Valerie Strauss pointed out back in January, school counselors in America are expected to help an extremely large number of students. It is recommended that there be one school counselor for every 250 students. In 2008, nationwide there was one counselor for every 457 students – and that was before school budgets were slashed. In California there were 814 students per counselor. In Arizona, Minnesota and Utah there were more than 700 students per read more

Monday, February 14, 2011

Various Note Taking Method for Middle & High School

There are so many fun and creative teaching techniques I could share, but I think taking and using notes are just as important in a classroom as a fun lab. Notes are taken in a lot of classroom and most students to do not use their notes to study or prepare for class and tests, especially in middle school. However, I believe good note-taking skills are important and there are creative ways to teach and explain notes to engage students in their own learning process.

I remember taking notes in middle and high school and zoning out. As long as the students were quiet and were writing, the teacher would go on and on with their lecture, and I never understood the importance of taking notes until college. So when I became a teacher, I change up my notes to keep the students engaged.

During the process of going over notes, I make sure to have pictures, video clips, and visual aids to help make science fun and exciting. To this day, I still have students singing a bacteria song from August, I found on You Tube when I was explaining prokaryotic cells to them. Although students know "note days" introduce new concepts that may take the whole period, they always look forward to the fun and various ways I make science interesting and engaging. Sometimes I find T-shirts and songs that go along with what I’m teaching and students always try to figure out how my shirt or song connects with the science concept they are learning. (Having copies of the notes makes it easier for absent or new students to have access to the information. The notes can also be given to my RSP students or any student who struggles with writing to keep).

One way is through interactive notes. I give the notes to the students in advance. Students are to copy the notes in Cornell note style (a school wide system). Throughout the notes, I will ask them simple questions that ask them to reflect back on the notes they are taking. I feel it is important for students to be thinking about the material they are learning, but the questions should not be too difficult since we haven’t reviewed the concepts as a class yet. I feel front loading the students with the notes makes it a lot easier for me to break down and explain the science concepts to the students the following day.

When we go over the notes, I break the notes into short segments, and use power teaching to have students repeat the vital information back to their partner. During power teaching, students are to share the information and use coordinated gestures I have them taught them with their lab partner, and their lab partner, is to repeat back the information in their own words. I call on students randomly to make sure the vital information was learned and shared. If the student is not able to explain the concept back to me or has a weak answer, I will review the material in a different way and then ask for students to explain the concept to their partner again.

Another way I will format my notes is to place the note information into question and answer format. One partner reads the question, the other partner reads the answers in 30 seconds (or whatever time frame I feel is needed for the notes). The next time we read the notes, I have the students switch roles or we start reading at a different section of the notes. I use this technique as a way to start or end class to help review the important concepts we are learning in science.

A third technique I use reviewing notes is using the summary box in Cornell notes, in various ways. I believe it is always useful for students to learn to summarize their notes and what they have learned, but sometimes I feel it is necessary to take their learning a step further to see how well they have mastered the science concepts. For example, in learning about cell organelles, I may ask students to explain what would happen in the cell if we were missing one of the organelles? Sometimes I will ask students to create a Venn Diagram to compare 2 concepts or make predictions based on their current knowledge.

Another technique in using notes is using their lab partners to check their work. Students will read their summaries, or answers to questions, to their partners to make sure their summaries make sense. If their lab partner doesn’t understand their summary, the students are encouraged to discuss the summary, clarify the concepts, and to make sure the sentences are written clearly. Then I call on students randomly, sometimes using playing cards with their names on it, to make sure that I am calling various students of different skills. This way I can determine if the students truly understood the concept I taught in class.