Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Rachel K. Something Something Instruction and Curriculum

Hooray! It is after December 9th and that means that I am finished with Block II, during which I had one class only, and it was entitled, "something something instruction and curriculum." AND NOW IT IS DONE.

Block II lasted from mid-September until December 9th (coincidentally coinciding with my lack of blogging). This course consisted of teaching at Gumball Elementary school every Thursday, writing three unit plans that required about 30-40 hours of work each, going to school four days a week for 6 hours, and having to turn in arbitrary assignments for art, PE, and the environment. I earned a feather in my cap by teaching my fifth grade classroom at Gumball, volunteering to teach 2nd graders at Echo Lake Elementary about car factories, and participating in an all-day instructional adventure about TREES with first graders. This block also solidified a friendship with Hannah, my all-in-one carpool driver and support system.

Experiences like Block II create so much blog fodder that it is impossible to remember any of it. So, I will bullet point some things I remember and maybe expound upon them later.

• I am good at grades •
I always managed to get straight As as an undergraduate, but I generally assumed this was because I was in film school and the professors probably chose grades at random via some kind of dartboard/AVID contraption. For those of you who don't know what an AVID is, it is somewhere in between Final Cut Pro and a washing machine. If you don't know what Final Cut Pro is, you have probably already stopped reading this paragraph. Anyway, I found myself getting grades like As and A+s this quarter, which at first boosted my confidence in new and exciting ways, but then threw me down the irritating path of being Hermione Granger. Remember Hermione Granger BEFORE she saved everyone's butts in Books 5-7? She was annoying. She was annoying because all she cared about were A+s and outdoing everyone. I was like Hermione Granger this quarter (bushy brows and unkempt hair included). As it turns out, doing really well on things makes me feel like doing less than SUPER AMAZING will be letting myself down. What do grades have to do with being a good teacher? Probably not a whole lot. And so, my goal for Block III: Student Teaching is to chill out, concentrate on the important stuff, and to have more Hermione moments from books 5-7.

•I am a Pretty Good Teacher, I think• 
With all of the teaching practice I had this Block (including with the primary grades, which I am hesitant to teach), I felt pretty good about my abilities to plan and perform lessons. I say perform because I feel that I am perfecting my stage presence with kids in order to maximize task engagement and positive learning experiences (and other things that sound good in unit plan descriptions). The kids seem to like me cuz I'm young and hip and make references to Legos and Pokemon as much as possible. Glee's cool, amirite??!  I am pretty excited to be student teaching with my grand lesson plans and fifth graders come January. But for now, I'm also very excited to be spending some time with my couch and netflix.

•Gee, I hope I can get a job after all this•
'Nuff said. That's going to be coming up next Block, too.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Rachel K. AFK

Things are busy beans right now. I'm finishing up the last two weeks of my formal teaching education before becoming an official student teacher while having my boyfriend and his two cats move into my apartment. Needless to say - THINGS ARE CRAZY BANANAS right now.

I promise a blog post soon (possibly today), but until then please enjoy pictures drawn by Tristyn Pease, my BFF from Los Angeles who needs to work for some animation company that will let her draw more stuff like this:
It's true: Babies are the WORST. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Rachel K. Doing History

We've begun our social studies methods strand in my Master in Teaching Program at last! Our instructor is the head of the MIT program, and she is the inventor of Storypath, which is an amazing social studies curriculum. 

Right now we are "Doing History" in class. We've created personal timelines and yesterday we wrote about specific events in our lives in class. Then, for homework, we each had to talk to someone about our historical event (a primary source). I talked about the nine months of my life that I refer to fondly as "Lifeapocalypse," during which I had absolutely no idea how to become a teacher. I had just quit my job at Starbucks, and I was trying to figure out what direction to tumble in next.

Today we had to write a historical account of our event that comes from multiple perspectives, or primary sources. Here is my combined history as remembered by myself and Kevin:
Lifeapocalypse: A Brief History 
     Lifeapocalypse describes the months of March 2010 until around June of the same year, during which a 25-year old called Rachel K. Sreebny quit her job at Starbucks and began her journey in pedagogy. The events that led up to Sreebny's resignation from the coffee conglomerate are not clear, though it is documented that Starbucks introduced a line of lunch sandwiches during the same time. Reports also show that the weather in Seattle during this time was cold, and an unseasonable bummer.
     Upon leaving Starbucks, Sreebny was reported to have spent two straight days on her couch watching Jeopardy on her DVR; the Direct TV account was canceled a month later, though it is speculated that this was due to financial constraints more so than a proclivity for sloth. In fact, Sreebny was said to have been rather "industrious" by those who knew her well.
     In a personal account by Kevin Costello, Sreebny's boyfriend at the time, she was said to have spent only a short time on the couch during Lifeapocalypse. Not long after she had formally severed ties with her barista position did she begin, "plotting, scheming and color-coding..." in an alleged wall-sized calendar constructed by hand, and affixed to the dining room wall.
     Costello recalls fondly that Sreebny studied a lot of math, which he helped her with in his spare time outside of being a Microsoft employee. "(She) seemed like she felt she wasn't doing enough, but she was already on track for graduate school like a week after talking about it." Costello also remembers that Sreebny spoke often of graduate school notions, sometimes while donning a makeshift cape made out of a Snuggie.
     According to Sreebny's blog entry, dated March 8 2010 and entitled, "Rachel K. Restart," Sreebny claims, "I need to start focusing on what I need to do to find the path I know I want to take in life." This informal goal statement marked the beginning of Lifeapocalypse, which would unofficially come to an end the following March in 2011 when Sreebny began her Master in Teaching Program at Seattle University. As Costello summarized in his personal account of the event, "[She] went from job to no job, but it was the good kind of job to no job." 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Rachel K. Headphones

I stayed over at my boyfriend's apartment last night as a peace offering. I never stay at his place anymore. Aside from the "dude smell," general theme of dishevelment and lack of a coffee maker, I find it increasingly difficult to be organized at his place in terms of the things I need for my masters program. Through the grace of google docs, I can generally do homework from his place, but I am at the point where that isn't enough anymore. My own workspace is surrounded by instructions, lesson calendars, and post-it notes with due dates or important reminders. More importantly, my apartment has a coffee maker.

In any case, I woke up at my boyfriend's this morning after 10 hours of glorious sleep (yes, I went to bed at 9:30pm) to find that my headphones had been chewed by a certain nameless kitten (I'm looking at you, Frank Lapidus). One of the squishy ear parts had been removed and no doubt chewed and hidden. I was rendered annoyed and angry at the ball of fur and feline nonchalance. Instead of dealing with this minor incident like a grownup, I dealt with it like a whiny grad student, made it my boyfriend's problem, and left his apartment in a state of despair.

I was grumpy all morning in class, and found it hard to feel engaged in the lessons we had. I realize that phonics are probably important to someone, but they were not important to me today. Yes yes, hat sounds like bat, but my HEADPHONES ARE RUINED SO WHAT DOES ANYTHING ELSE MATTER?

This afternoon I drew a picture that I decided would help me get over all future wrongdoings of my boyfriend's cats. We have decided to move in together, so I'll need to be vigilant about not hating the cats, who are admittedly totally adorable, and not often on my shit list. Here is my template:

History is bound to repeat itself; I must be ready with a template when it does.

I think that having a template is going to help me get through future annoyances that pets tend to incite. Lord knows, I am not without my own annoyances (I talk to them like they're babies, I don't share my dinner with them, and I don't floss after every meal), and the cats can't do anything about that.

Where does this fit into teaching????? It does, I promise! I know that this is a teaching blog!

I think that kids are undoubtedly going to annoy the crap out of me. It is in their nature, and just like I cannot fault a cat for being a cat, I cannot fault a 5th grader for being a 5th grader. 5th graders are going to be douches sometimes! I just need to find a way (ooh citing my own mantra) to remember all the things I love about them. I think it would be a good idea to create some kind of visual reference like a bulletin board or something easy to look at, and put up lovely things that each kid does. For instance, if Kid A cuts a fart in the middle of class and blames it on me, and I want to defenestrate him in front of everyone to show him that I'm boss, I can instead walk over to my bulletin board and remember that Kid A also told me I smelled good during the first week of school. Take that, Kid A - at some point you LIKED the way I smell. I don't know if this would be something I have at home or at my actual desk.... I suppose it will depend entirely on how much my students make me hate my life sometimes.

The moral of my story is that my boyfriend's cats and my students are going to make me hate my life sometimes; it's inevitable, and I can't fault them for it. It's important to highlight all the times your cats and students make you feel really doggone happy to be around them, and to call on those moments in times of unmitigated fury.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Rachel K. Non-Negotiables

I am back in school this week at Seattle U, and we are learning about literacy. Our teacher is amazing, and everything she says is liquid gold. One of our assignments this week is to think about what "non-negotiables" we'd like to hold high in our classrooms someday.  A non-negotiable represents something we will always insist on regardless of what age group to whom we instruct, and what subject matter we teach. I am terrible at assignments like these, but I have come up with a few ideas.

For my students, I want my non-negotiable to be, "avoid excuses," and to take on subject matter that they both adore and despise. What difference does it make if you don't like math? You can still be awesome at math if you hate it. In fact, I think it would be interesting to see a subject matter you despise as an enemy. CRUSH IT. Learn its weaknesses - observe it in secrecy, and strike when its back is turned!

That illustrated, my mission statement for my classroom is:


Kids don't have to love a subject to kick its ass. Kids DO have to get through school. My long-term teaching goals are to ensure that my students learn meaningful things that ignite their passions and motivate them to keep learning, but who are we kidding? That's not going to happen all the time, so I'm going to train my kids as warriors as well as scholars.

For myself, I don't plan on kicking anyone's butts, but I do want to work hard for the little brains that surround me every day. It is always easy to say, "no" to kids when they ask questions, so my non-negotiable for myself is to, "find ways to say yes." This, on the advice of my table-mates today, will also be the title of my self-help book that I publish in 20 years when I am a life coach living in Sedona, AZ. Going off of this idea, my personal mantra will be:

Find a Way

I think that this will encompass many of the difficulties I will face as a publicly-funded employee with too much to do and not enough time nor resources to do it. Kids are too important to give up in the face of common sense, and I will try to find ways around these obstacles.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Rachel K. Belly

My Body is Wrong
Kids say the Meanest Things
There's a girl named Sophie at Gumball Elementary who has special needs (mostly in working through her behaviors and healthy ways to show her feelings, from what I've observed). Due to my status as a new, young(ish) teacher, a lot of the girls have taken a shine to me (their dreams that I am a ballerina bride who loves to bake and sing and ride horses will gradually be crushed by my own harsh, non-Disney capabilities and affinities). Sophie asked me on our way out of the music trailer portable, "Ms. Kay, are you having a baby?" I guess I've graduated from being Teacher Barbie to being "that lady who's my mom's age whose belly kinda sticks out like a toddler's. In any case, I wanted to punch everyone in the face.

On a side-note, I used to teach English (or rather, help plan English-centered activities for a real teacher) in Japan. I'm sure the Japanese people, with their slight statures, demure carriage and shiny shiny hair, also commented aloud on my body shapes. Fortunately, Japanese is the impossible picture language of ninjas quite difficult, and I must have missed the majority of pronouncements.

I responded to Sophie, "No, I'm not having a baby," and then added to the other girls who had gathered, "my body is just shaped this way." I also want to mention as a disclaimer, that I am not a fat person (not that there's anything wrong with that). I have actually lost about 15 pounds since February, and most of the time I feel like I'm looking pretty good! It's just that for whatever genetic reason, my stomach likes to shape itself like a beer gut, and so it is and has always been.

Perhaps my oddly shaped midriff can stand as a beacon to all girls in the 5th grade! It is OK to have a beer belly even though you really don't drink beer and you've gotten so good at sucking it in except after you eat leftover lasagna for lunch. It's OK to forget to blend your foundation because you're putting on your makeup at 6:30am without your glasses on and you can't actually see what you're doing to your face. Most of all, it's OK to realize that your flower print skirt doesn't match your hamburger earrings, but it's Friday and there's a spelling test and maybe nobody will notice. The moral is, young girls, that you should be yourself. Women like Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph and Amy Poehler have worked and striven to make us a world where it's OK to look wrong so long as you can write satire about it and clean up nice on TV - and I do, girls. I do.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Rachel K. First Week Snippets & Tips

The first two weeks of school have mainly been a blur of kids and feeling somewhat prepared until something I AM NOT PREPARED FOR HAPPENS. Here is some advice I have picked up so far:
 "Don't smile until Christmas."

It is best to be strict with kids until the holiday break in December. You can always get nicer; you can't get meaner. I have trouble doing this, but I'm around teachers who have high expectations of their students. This includes pushing in chairs, lining up quietly, and other things you remember from elementary school. To put it aptly, my boyfriend said, "Do you mean that some of the mean teachers I had in school were doing it on purpose??" Yes.
"It is a zillion degrees in this room, but Japan has made me mighty."

The last hot weeks of the summer have coincided with school this week, and it gets to the mid 80s inside our room. To cope, we turn off the florescent lights, spray the children with water (like cats) and give them ice cubes after recess. We also melt a lot and get less done. Japanese public schools out in Bumbleberry, Japan (aka: Ine-cho, see White Chocolate Geisha Blog) have neither central heating nor cooling; in the summer all of the windows are simply opened, and in the winter kerosene stoves are hauled into the classrooms. It is brutal. Japanese weather conditions have trained me for Seattle extremities, and I find 83º afternoons to be "balmy," not "god awful." Similarly, ice cold mornings in the rooms during which the temperatures hover around the mid 50s, I simply see as "refreshing and cool," and adjust my undersweater™ and long-johns.

Kids say weird $&*@!
"When I grow up, I want to be a teacher, a librarian, a principal, or a billionaire or a landlord and own a big piece of land."
 I am trying to think of a good analogy for this week, and am coming up short. I suppose the first week of school is like a student film; you really assume it's all going to come together at some point and make sense, but then, suddenly, it's over.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Rachel K. Setup

I have started going to Gumball Elementary to work with Mrs. Cake every day, and we have been preparing for the new school year together. Mrs. Cake is a prepared and organized person, so her set up was mostly finished by the time I showed up; this left me free to help the other two teachers, who were on vacation or simply out of town for the time that Mrs. Cake was setting up. The majority of my responsibilities were to write names on things. I wrote names on plastic bags, folders, and note cards to put in "tote trays," which are storage drawers that exist in lieu of desk cubbies. The work has been perfunctory, but has been helpful in getting to know many of the students' names (there are almost 90 in the 5th grade whom I will be seeing at least once a week for the next school year). 

A few tips on organization that I have picked up: 

Index Cards:
 Index cards with students' names written on them will serve as notes for the entire school year. Mrs. Cake had prepared 28 note cards to bring to our meetings with the 5th graders previous teachers. The 4th grade teachers talked about students that need special attention or are falling behind in certain subjects. This way, Mrs. Cake will be able to access quick references on the students at any time.

Plastic Bag Collection: 
Take a large Ziploc bag and two small Ziploc bags. Write the student's name on the large bag (Gary, for instance). Then, one one of the small bags, write "Word of the Day," and the other bag, "Vocabulary." As students learn words and Latin or Greek roots, they will write the definitions or examples down on note cards and place them accordingly in the small bags. Next, the small bags will go inside the large bag. The student's small whiteboard also goes inside the large bag, along with two colored markers (green for Greek roots, red for Latin). Now the student has a system for their word learning and for their white boards. 

Colorful, Appropriate Magazines:
Mrs. Cake saves magazines over the summer to bring in for the 5th grade. The students will decorate their composition notebooks with cool images that excite them. Many of these magazines are food-related or science and world culture themed, like the National Geographic. 

Seating Chart: 
Mrs. Cake makes a few seating charts. One of these is written on a laminated diagram of the classroom and has the names of where students are going to be for the first part of school. The other diagrams help her with collecting things like permission slips or school supplies. The school supply diagram has abbreviations by each student's name: K for Kleenex, $ for $2.00 that they need to bring in, N for notebook, B for binder. As Mrs. Cake collects these supplies, she simply circles K when the student has brought in Kleenex. 

There are a lot more ideas for organization, but I will put up photos of the classroom instead of writing about every little thing! 

On the board, Mrs. Cake has set up a purple border for students to know what math to do, and a green border for spelling words and Greek and Latin roots. This helps students to be accountable and responsible for making sure they know that is going on if they miss the directions.

A place for every thing, and everything in its place. 

There is a cup for each table group (all labeled with numbers). If a students needs scissors,  he or she will bring the entire cup over to the table and make sure all the scissors are accounted for before it goes back. 

Markers follow the same logic as scissors. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Rachel K. Acronyms

I promised that I would write more in my blog, and here I am making an effort. 

I joined the staff of Gumball Elementary School for a meeting during which all manner of results and numbers were half-heartedly explained in attractive, powerpoint graphs. We were asked to pinpoint what "we did right," "what we didn't quite get," and "burning questions." Having never worked at Gumball, I had very little to say on these matters, but it was an insight into how boring real life teacher meetings can be. It was simultaneously disheartening and reassuring to see how confused the teachers were, and how many of them were content to sit at their tables and whisper things like, "what does any of this mean?" And the fact of the matter is, these people are teachers; THESE PEOPLE ARE SMART. So, rather than you, the reader, losing faith in the public school system, please instead consider how ridiculous standardized test scores can cause everything to appear. 

Students aren't kids named Aidan or Beverly or Tien, they are numbers that go in all manner of categories like "Pacific Islander or other," or "special education," or "ELL," or sometimes all three. These categories all have their own numbers -some percentages, some percentiles, and all of them color coded. I heard things like, "this is something to celebrate - the black kids increased their progress in reading by 14.2%!" But really, all black kids aren't reading better, it just means that the handfull of black kids in the specific 4th grade cohort had watched enough sesame street, whereas the previous cohort may have all been refugees from some African country you're pretty sure you've heard of, but pray nobody ever asks you what region it's in... because you're pretty sure it's in east Africa, but really it could be near the Baltic Sea for all you know about geography that is anywhere east of Europe and west of China. 
Geography aside, it is really strange to look at demographics and numbers and to think that a good number of kids who really need to know stuff like how to read and add sums aren't up to grade standard. Can we all just take a moment for those kids? OK, back to the numbers. 

Seattle Public Schools are apparently in trouble; only 35 schools in the state qualify as at or above standard on our standardized tests (all of them with horrible acronyms like the MAP or WASL or MSP, which I guess isn't technically an acronym although it could arguably be pronounced, "misp.")  
On the upside, the 5th grade team seem very happy to challenge their assumptions, change things around and never be set in their ways. Mrs. Cake is my teacher, Mrs. KLRZ is another teacher (she would fit in the "Pacific Islander or Other" category as a Samoan-American), and Mrs. Short, who used to be KLRZ's teacher intern back in the day. I am looking forward to working with them and seeing how on earth planning for 5th grade works when there are 3 people in charge of it. As I may have mentioned, Gumball is an open concept school, so our 5th grade classrooms are all in the same space and the teachers are very involved in one another's planning. 

Eventually the meeting ended, and my friend who will be working in the 1st grade classes (Hannah is her name) drove me home and we listened to Ludacris circa 2003 and it was awesome. 

I hope that I teach in Seattle long enough to create my own acronym for standardized testing. I'm thinking along the lines of FISH (fundamentals of integrated school humanities), RAIN (ritual assessment of intellectual (k)nowledge) or TSFTWHTT (that stupid ****ing test we have to take). I am open to other ideas, too. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Rachel K. Camp

After a summery blur of headaches, white polos, kids, Jersey and too much sleep, I went to an orientation for my student teaching internship at Seattle University; this event represents the end of my summer and the start of the rest of my master in teaching program.

I spent the majority of the summer working at a private technology camp for privileged "indoor children" at the local, big-name university (it lasted 8 weeks, but to say 56 days or even 1,344 hours seems to capture the camp essence more aptly). I was hired to be the assistant director, which is the glamorous office manager position that I held the previous year, in which I did a lot of work and nobody knew who I was. I prefer "backstage" work like that, but I ended up being unexpectedly promoted after pushing the director down a flight of oiled stairs the director fell suddenly ill. It was a daunting position this year because the university elected to close the only nearby, working cafeteria on campus, which relegated 110 people per week to buying our lunches at a glorified 7-11. As the weeks slugged by, my initial enthusiasm for young people and healthful eating subsided and I found myself thinking aloud, "I guess beef jerky is a well rounded lunch, Aidan," or "Sure thing, Aiden (a girl this time), you can totally have 3 sodas today... cuz camp is supposed to be fun. Just don't tell your mom, kay?" The way children choose food and eat it is generally appalling. However, after my third complaint that "the management is too strict on the children eating vegetables and fruits," I gave up and decided that most parents are terrible human beings who want their children to develop scurvy so Angelina Jolie will consider adopting them and they, the parent, will finally have that opportunity to be a career gal. I realize I'm being unfair, but parents can be demanding and ridiculous. Plus, I'm not a parent and can judge other parents freely and without remorse. I had the pleasure of working with some industrious and creative young people, and enjoyed policing their unbridled lollygagging. I also was at the advantage, as being the most in charge person dictates, of being harangued by police officers about negligence (I will deny it until my dying day), sending kids home at 3am for bullying, writing kids up for cyber bullying, writing kids up for punching other kids after an argument about Pokémon, writing kids up for calling each other "fag" on a LAN server, having upset parents scream racial slurs at me, comforting grown staff members as they cried/had stuff stolen/were fired, and playing apples to apples ad nauseam. It was an eventful season, and now it is over, and it is likely that in my deranged condition of liking children and hating free time that I will be raring to go again for camp by March.

For now, it's time to get back into the swing of my masters program. I'll be working at Gumball Elementary (name changed to protect the innocent/be awesome) in a 5th grade open concept classroom with a kindly woman named Mrs. Cake (protecting the innocent!!!) I have no idea when I'm expected to show up for work there, but I've been told in as many words from the folks at SU that I won't be expected to show up for my masters classes again until September 17th. It is likely that I will have some sort of child-related, educational experiences with Mrs. Cake between now and the 17th, which will be a welcome change to me playing video games all day, napping and playing more video games. I have also watched about 90 movies on netflix instant, and will continue to use its fine product while complaining about the price increase. $2 more a month? Highway robbery!

I will do my best to write more, and to keep an account of this program and my blossoming into teacherhood.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Rachel K. Lynnwood

I’ve been observing and teaching at Lynnwood Elementary School for the past week. The commute is long; the school is in Snohomish County, about 15 miles north of Seattle. I wake up in the morning and grab a bus over to Interbay where Elisabeth kindly drives me up to Lynnwood with her. She is a really nice girl and it’s been fun having chats with her during our carpooling time. She has been observing in a 5th grade classroom and I have been in Mr. W’s 3rd grade classroom with my peer coach, Aimee. A peer coach is someone who I work with one-on-one for the rest of the block, which ends on June 10th. She helps me by observing my lessons and looking for specific things I can improve upon that I designate. She’s not a critic so much as a partner in crime. 

The Classroom: The Neatest Place on Earth
  The third grade classroom is large and very well decorated by the veteran teacher. He has been working at Lynnwood for 27 years and told me that one of the 2nd grade teachers at the school used to be in his class – “and she’s not young, either.” There are 27 students in the class from very diverse backgrounds and ethnicities, which is extremely exciting for me since I am interested in international teaching! Hurrah!
Who says math isn't Hi-Laaarious?

 For our first week at Lynnwood, we are focusing on the elements of lesson design, which we’ve been learning in class. The teacher is extremely thorough with his lesson plans, which makes for a nice observation experience.
And the plants were measured, and there was much rejoicing.
 On Friday, Aimee and I taught a cooperative lesson on finding averages. The learning target was to have students be able to find a mathematical average for their plant heights. To find the average, they were to use centimeter block manipulatives instead of simply doing it numerically, which they will learn next year. It was a bit bumpy because Aimee and I have very different teaching personalities, but overall I think it was a fine first lesson for us. It will be good to work together in the future with a focus on how we can cue each during a lesson. Furthermore, it will be challenging but rewarding to focus on how we can each help each other grow as a teacher and utilize our respective strengths and passions in the classroom.
I learned about so many sizes of milk!
 Next week we’ll be back on campus and learning more about psychology and development. I’m looking forward to seeing all the grown ups again and to wearing jeans!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Rachel K. Rainbow Lodge

in North Bend, WA (Where Twin Peaks is!)
On Monday morning I embarked on a mini road trip with three of my cohorts for the arts and culture retreat at Rainbow Lodge in North Bend, WA. The girls I drove with are really nice; Hannah and Amber want to teach elementary school and Hilary is looking to teach math or English at the high school level.

The lodge was very beautiful, settled in the tall pine trees and looking smoky in the shadow of the mountains around it. It rained the whole time we were there, but it the moisture made everything seem cozier on the inside and lusher outside.

The objective of the arts retreat is to look at how visual arts, music, dance and drama can be incorporated into everyday classroom study. This, they tell us, is important in that it is a way to connect students' creativity into their learning processes (also it is of value since the arts have zero budgets in most schools and students don't have opportunities to learn them.)

We learned all about the cognitive development of children, young adolescents and teenagers and how movement and music is integral to helping students at these stages of life. We got to sing and play instruments and dance around, although dancing around after lunch seemed to have set off some kind of stomach bug that I had been developing all morning. Yes, I had a stomach bug AGAIN.

So, I was forced to retire halfway through dance class (and I was having so much fun, too.) I spent the rest of that evening in bed trying to feel better and falling in and out of fitful naps. My roommate, Aimee, also had a stomach bug along with another girl down the hall, Renee. It must be going around schools since I seem to have caught it twice now. In any case, the retreat sort of lost steam for me at that point and I really wanted to go home, but the show had to go on!

Drama was a lot of fun, and after resting in the afternoon I had the energy to participate during the evening activity. The teacher was extremely positive and encouraging to us and I think it will benefit how I manage my classroom in the future; the teacher told us it was important to keep kids active and to help them see mistakes in behavior or academics rather than pointing it out to them or to scold. I like that -- more smiling in class! Huzzah!
Roger Shimomura's Depiction of Ichiro Suzuki in an Internment Camp

The next day we had visual arts, which was less titillating than the other art classes we had participated in. The teacher was nice and gave us some tools to talk about visual arts, (we looked at some work from Roger Shimomura) but gave us no advice on how to teach visual arts as integrated through other subject matter. This is a damn shame; Roger Shimomura's artwork spans the history of Japanese internment camps AND pop culture (as seen above). There was also some tension between a few of the cohorts about eastern versus western artistic expression that was not led nor diffused by the teacher and left many of us feeling sour. The notion that our opinions may not be valid because someone of Asian descent says "you're wrong," without giving a supporting argument. Really, it was an example of how not to run a classroom, which may be as educational as learning how to run one well.

The last item on the agenda was to make and present our "culture boxes," which are essentially dioramas that discuss our family culture and sense of self. It was pretty fun, although we didn't do very much with the end result. Now I just have an amazon.com box covered in photos and stickers and nowhere to put it!

After a quick wrap-up, we left North Bend and yammered to each other all the way back to Seattle. All in all a good trip, but I'm starting to worry that doing new things seems to give me STOMACH DOOM. Since we had to present artistic projects at the end of the day, I wrote the following poem:
(something to note is that the "golden apple" award is a teaching award that was given to the movement teacher.)

Ode to Rainbow Lodge (and my Immune System)
Rachel Kay

The rainbow lodge is a magical place,
Where the arts and new teachers come face-to-face,
Yet alas, for one of these teachers was ill,
A week with the children did her immune system kill.
So what was in store for this invalid sap?
How would she manage to feather her cap?
The answer was art, drama, music and dance,
Though her body so ached and wobbled her stance.

First there was music – rhythm and song,
Who knew we had hidden our talents so long?
We warbled in languages nobody knew,
We stomped and we clapped and our confidence grew.

We then went to dance class and left the warm chapel,
To learn about movement from our Golden Apple,
We twisted and turned and jumped through our spaces,
We learned about math, and took our minds to new places.

In the evening we played with the man we called Barry,
We tried poems and costumes, though some were quite scary.
Though dressed like Steve Jobbs, he engaged us all night,
We were welcomed as teachers and cured of stage fright.

And though she did spend more time sick than time well,
And being bereft of the food was HER HELL,
She will remember this voyage with fondness, not ire,
Because it so strengthened her teaching desire.

Here is another one of my favorite Shimomura pieces for no particular reason.
Roger Powah~

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Rachel K. Koi

I started my two weeks of observation in schools at "Koi Elementary," let's call it. The building is huge and new and shiny and I got the chance to observe a 4th grade class. My cooperating teacher is Mr. B, who is a former JET alumni just like me and spent some time in the countryside of Hokkaido, Japan. He also graduated from the same MIT program that I am doing!

The school is fancy. It reminds me of the one I went to as a kid in Virginia. It's a little strange walking into a white-bread school with happy shiny kids and fancy shiny parents every morning after talking about disenfranchised, underprivileged children for a week straight. Still, a learning opportunity is a learning opportunity and the staff room has BROWNIES.

I started off my observation roughly, waking up at 5:30am on the first day. Don't worry -- thanks to spring forward, it felt like 4:30am. I got up at this ungodly hour so I could turn in my application for a leadership scholarship at Seattle U, which as it turns out must be turned in by hand. I arrived on campus about 10 minutes before the buildings opened. My stomach hurt all morning, but I figured it was just because I woke up so early. I slid the scholarship application under the door of Madam M and left to catch the bus going to Queen Anne for my first day at Koi Elem. I felt sick on the bus the whole way to school and had to duck into the bathroom before going upstairs to meet my cooperating teacher. Mr. B is a great teacher and he's very nice about answering my giant packet full of questions! The kids so far are great, although a lot of them have focus problems and the class climate is really chaotic. I didn't eat lunch because I was still feeling queasy, and I ended up having to leave school an hour early to go home and pass out with a fever. What a day.

I came in late to school the next day, but was feeling much better and jumped right into the world of short desks and birthday cupcakes and feelings and child development. Mr. B's class was really fun and I was especially liked by the girls in class. I liked most of the students very much, though some were really obnoxious, but I'm not really sure if that's because they are in 4th grade or because 9 of those kids had some kind of focus issue and the class was CA-RAY-ZEE the entire time I was there.

Some funny things I noticed during my two weeks there is that 4th graders never have any teeth in their mouths. There were loose teeth and lost teeth everywhere! Isn't it so strange that we accept as 8 and 9-year-olds that it's OK for our teeth to fall out of our faces?! I now have dreams where my teeth fall out when I'm extremely anxious about things... but at one point it would just mean that the tooth fairy was coming to give me a quarter! Thinking back though, I guess losing teeth is still better than having braces. Another observation is that it will be exceedingly easy to get DIABETES at elementary school from the amount of birthday cupcakes that come through the doors. I must be vigilant.

Still, it was interesting having a huge book of directions to follow in how I observed a school. Instead of jumping in and doing what I thought was best like I've done at tutoring or during summer camp I had to watch and listen, which are difficult things for me to do! I wrote my analysis paper in a little over a day (it was 36 pages and boy am I glad to be rid of it!)

All in all, 4th grade is pretty cool. I'd like to observe some older classes since I still think that teaching 5th and 6th grade students is my goal.

Now I say goodbye to Koi Elem. and hello to my arts and culture retreat, which starts on Monday of next week.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Rachel K. Reflection

This was the first week of my year-long Master in Teaching Program at Seattle University. I started the morning off by walking to my new bus stop with my roommate. He wished me luck and I boarded the No. 12 bus up to First Hill. The journey is harrowing! The bus goes straight up the hilliest of Seattle hills for about a mile before reaching flat road again. It makes me wonder just how safe the breaks on the buses are. One faulty move and the bus goes careening down Madison st., killing all in its path! Dramatically shattering through the Seattle Public Library and ending its fateful journey in the young adult section. And then I would be late to class.

We were told to sit with new people every day, which we did after arriving in the large classroom before 9am each morning. It was a great way to meet a lot of people, and I didn't find that I was settling into a group of friends during the week, which was conducive to meeting MORE people.

The class for the first three weeks is called "The Teacher as a Reflective Decision Maker," due to its name, we are all pushed to do a lot of introspective thinking in terms of our beliefs and personal goals as prospective teachers. The cohort (fifty four of us) spent its time making creative group projects, independent thought projects in silence, short movies advocating for technology in the classroom, and a LOT of group discussions. We talked about anything and everything and I felt exhausted after each seven hour day of voicing my beliefs, honing my collaborative skills and reflecting on the days events.

Every evening I was expected to write short reflection papers about how I felt about what we were learning and how it was helping me to become a better teacher. These were difficult because of the broad topics given, but after a few of them I was feeling confident about my short paper-writing skills. Reflectivity is coming easier to me now, too. It isn't often that I've been asked to think introspectively about what I've read or discussed in a group.

At the end of the week I went out with the cohort to the garage, a local and enormous bar located next to Seattle University. It was awkward at first, but after half a glass of wine, it was a great pleasure to get to know so many of the people I had spoken with during the week in a casual setting. I rode the bus back downtown with Renee, a prospective high school history teacher with a penchant for Seattle trivia and Amber, a prospective elementary school teacher who will be accompanying me at Koi Elementary School (name changed to protect the Innocent) next week for observation. We had some chips at Chipotle and then I called it a night and went home to celebrate my weekend and a week of class well done.

I'm feeling very affirmed in my decision to attend Seattle U over UW. I think that introspective and reflective learning is going to do me a world of good in the field of education. Also, I made a lot of art projects during the week! I had forgotten how fun it is to color with markers! Examples live below:
Eerily drawn as a visual representation of learning disabilities the day before the tsunami hit NE Japan

A visual integration project as a reflection of what I learned throughout the week.

On a non class-related note, I have been glued to the news about the tsunami and earthquake disaster that hit Japan last Friday. It is difficult on a personal level to be so far away from Japan during a time like this, but it is a great comfort that so many of my family, friends and coworkers are able to give donations and support to those who need it at this time. 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Rachel K. Rachel

Gasp! There has been murder done at the Pike Place Market! Well, attempted murder. Of a PIGGY BANK.
Rachel the Piggy Bank at the Pike Place Market

The story is best explained in an article by Maureen O'Hagan in today's Seattle Times.

Market pig vs. Prius: And the winner is?

Maureen O'Hagan

Pig VS Prius

The time: the wee hours, Saturday.
The place: Pike Place Market.
The matchup: pig-versus-Prius.
The pig weighed in at about 550 pounds. The Prius a whole lot more.
And the winner? The pig, by a squeal.
According to James Haydu, a spokesman for the market, the battle was over in seconds.
The way the police told Haydu the story, a taxicab was waiting for the light to change at the corner of First Avenue and Pike Street when it was rear-ended by another vehicle. The force sent the taxi careening.
"The driver of the cab panicked and, for whatever reason, turned left into Pike Place Market," Haydu said. The taxi, a Prius, hit the pig.
The Prius was pretty beat up. The pig, known as Rachel, survived. She was down but not out.
The force pulled Rachel's feet from the cement that held her.
After the accident, two construction workers came by, hoisted her onto a dolly, and wheeled her into storage.
"She'll be up and running once we can pour new cement," Haydu said. Well, maybe not running, exactly, but you get the drift. She'll be back in her spot as the Market mascot soon.
And the cabbie? According to Haydu, he was taken to the hospital, treated and released.

Yes, it's true. Rachel the piggy bank in the Pike Place Market survived her attempted assassination by an ill-tempered Prius cab. (Yes, Seattle has hybrid cabs. ) Kevin and I discovered this while brunching at the Pike Place Grill, which has a great view of Rachel usually. We took these photos following our feast of eggs benedict and chili cheese omelette. 

"Taking a sick day -- Will be back to help the market's seniors and kids. Th-Oinks."

"We miss you, Rachel! Get well soon."

I have doubt over the events of this Prius accident. The distance from the traffic intersection at 1st Ave & Pike St. is at least 60 feet away from the brass pig. How fast was this alleged rear ender going? Do Prius breaks actually cause the vehicle to accelerate in ridiculous directions? I call shennanigans on the whole thing. Perhaps it is all a conspiracy, wrought with mystery and secret sausage. Secrets sausage? Yes. 


Monday, January 31, 2011

Rachel K. Orientation

This evening I went to the Seattle University Master in Teaching Program Orientation. It was my first opportunity to meet the 49 other lucky ducks that I will be going to school with. These are the people I will be drinking wine with. The people I will be borrowing pencils from. The people whom I will be sabotaging for future job openings.

There were a lot of left-handed folks, which made me feel instantly at home. I met a nice girl named Crystal, who had the blingiest engagement ring I ever did see. She told me that she had actually deferred from the fall program so that she could get married. I replied in turn that I would rather go through grad school twice than plan a wedding.

I also met a fellow southpaw named Jim-Jiminy, who wants to teach the same grades (3-6) as I do! Huzzah! Surely Jim and I will be capital chums in no time.

Before the orientation began, we played a "get to know you" game in which we had to find people who met credentials on a piece of paper.

I say, have you climbed a mountain? No? How about.... have you ever been to Egypt? Yes? Prodigious! Do tell me your name, as you have done me this kindness.
 It was a great opportunity to meet some of the 50 colleagues, and I even met a few girls who share a neighborhood with me. One of them has a car.... 

As our orientation began, we heard from two notable people. The first, Madam M., spoke to us about the program itself, answering each question with an indelible smile. The program will be challenging, but the professors I've met seem quite capable and all of the advanced readings were given out to us, so at least there is the opportunity for preparation.
After a short recess of cookies and lemonade, we returned to our seats and heard about the "field" from Captain G, as I will refer to him. His aim was to explain to us how he places us and what he tries to take into consideration, such as geography. He is undoubtedly a veteran, and I think myself lucky to have him on my side.

SU is known for having the highest success rate in teacher placements in the state, at least in 2007. Hopefully with my dashing good looks and first rate resume, I too will reap the  benefits of a meager salary and classroom full of spitballers. It is the dream.

For the rest of February I will be working on my independent studies, which include economics and life science for elementary school teachers. I hope to spend a great deal of time in the SU library, which I haven't visited yet. However, an impending sore throat may cause an untimely delay in this. I will continue to drink tea and stay vigilant.

NB: All names have been changed as I was warned about the consequences of having social media available to the public. Names have been changed to protect the innocent. And for funsies.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Rachel K. FAFSA

I went to visit my family's home in Virginia after University of Washington classes were finished and my math course at Seattle Central was completed. I got straight As! This is equally exciting as it has been in the past. I wear my Hermione Granger badge proudly.

While home, I talked to my parents about the troubles I was having making a decision over which school to attend. My parents told me that I should choose the school with the better reputation. But they BOTH have great reputations! Finally, after sleeping on it for the maximum time allotted, I decided to join the ranks of the Redhawks and send $500 to Seattle University.

The decision felt right enough, although I almost always have "buyer's regret," as some call it. In the end, I liked the idea of being in and out of a program quickly and getting out into the job market. I'm ready to DO things, and I don't want to waste any more time.

I returned to Seattle with a decision made, and promptly canceled all of the classes I had worked so hard to enroll in. The refunds of thousands of dollars made me feel better and better about my SU decision.

Now that I am all signed up for SU and they have received my generous and non-refundable donation of a few hundred smack-a-roos, it is time to get busy for an ACTUAL program, rather than getting busy on preparations for an actual program. I feel like I've leveled up!

Paperwork came and was filled out, an online portal account was registered for, and the last thing to do before starting classes in March was to apply for financial aid and get some money wired into my account (like magic.)

Of course, I had no idea how to go about getting money in my account. I knew that the money would appear and that they would expect me to pay it all back at some point, but I wasn't certain of any of those important application steps. So, I spent most of January looking into finances, which are my least favorite things to look into.

  1. Head to www.fafasa.gov -- NOT -- fafsa.com, which is the same thing, except they ask you to pay $60 instead of $0. Shame on you, fafsa.com. In fact, FAFSA stands for the "FREE application for federal student aid." 
  2. Start filling out the 2011-2012 FAFSA. 
  3. Panic when the webpage prompts me for my 2010 tax information, which I do not have. 
  4. Head to Seattle University's student services center and talk to a nice man who knows many things about FAFSA.
  5. Become informed that I need to fill out the 2010-2011 FAFSA, not the 2011-2012 FAFSA. 
  6. Panic because I do not have my tax records for 2009, which I now need. 
  7. Contact IRS and have free 1040 transcripts sent to my house (it is extremely easy and I will link to it here in case anyone else has this issue.)
  8. Receive 2009 tax transcripts and do a dance for joy.
  9. Get back on fafsa.gov to fill out my 2010-2011 FAFSA. 
  10. Realize that by entering my SSN and TIN that the FAFSA.gov website already has my tax information from 2009 and I didn't need to request a transcript in the first place. 
  11. Face palm.
  12. Fill out FAFSA. 
I imagine these 12 steps would be abridged to 3 simple steps if one is good at reading directions, which I am clearly not.

In any case, I am now able to borrow thousands of dollars from Uncle Sam for my first quarter of school, and will be able to borrow thousands more for the 2011-2012 school year soon.

And that is how I learned how to set myself up to owe thousands of dollars in 12 simple steps!