Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Letting AP students take the helm...

As teacher my greatest weakness is giving control to students. I like control. I like being in control. I have a deep seeded fear that by letting the students take control something will fall apart. I am sure there is something of this fear in all teachers. The deepest manifestation of this fear happened when I had long-term subs for maternity leave. What will happen with my classes?! Will they learn? It's taken time, but, slowly, I have learned to let some of that control go.

In an attempt to turn over control, I developed a project on the "isms" of 19th century American Literature: romanticism, realism, transcendentalism, and naturalism. I taught my AP class the slave narrative (or, narrative-ism, my students joked that it needed to be an "ism", too). I modeled how to review the time period, choose texts for reading, and run a discussion. I am a HUGE fan of the discussion in AP class, so my students are very familiar with formal and informal discussions. After we finished slave narratives I introduced the project. I needed 8 groups of 4 students each (yes, 8 groups, it's a big class) and each group randomly drew an "ism". I had the "isms" doubled up, which proved to work out well because it allowed students to cover a more diverse body of writing. I gave students 3 library/computer days to work on their projects. They needed to include the following: information about the time period, information about the writer they chose to research, a piece of text for the class to read, and discussion questions. Each group had to complete a 45 minute presentation on their time period including discussion time. This is how I would teach the -isms. Less me, more them.

So, how is it going? Well, my first group went today, the transcendentalists. One grouped focused on Emerson, the other on Thoreau. For going first, I was happy with the work from both groups. I was particularly impressed with their ability to run the discussion. I think being able to discuss questions that are posed is important, but, even more than that, being able to deliver the question and offer follow-up and insight about the topic is even more impressive. Going forward, I have groups who will be teaching Dickinson, Whitman, London, Crane, Chopin, and James. I have a group who will be using artwork in addition to poetry. I have students who are arguing over the merit of literary works and creating meaningful questions for the study of rhetoric. I am really proud of the work and learning that is happening.

Working with my AP class this year has truly been a grand adventure. I love teaching AP, I think the program offers an incredibly rich learning experience for those willing to put in the time and effort. I tell all of my students that once they find their niche, once they find the subject that they really love, they need to try and take an AP in that subject. I can't wait to see what the rest of the school year holds with these students. Not every moment teaching is beautiful, but when things work, being a teacher, or, really, witnessing, learning, is truly magical.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

On the eve of Jackson's 2nd birthday

Dear Jackie-boy,

I am sitting here on the eve of your second birthday trying to remember how I felt 2 years, waiting for you to enter our world. I was so nervous as I anticipated welcoming you into our family. I wasn't nervous about you, well, I wasn't nervous about the taking care of a baby aspect of you. I was nervous about your role: little brother. How was I going to balance 2 children under two? How would you fit into our family? How would my heart grow? In the instant that you were born, I knew that I didn't need to worry. You fit into my arms, you fit into my heart. It just grew. It needed a little extra space, because, baby boy, you were born resembling a 3 month old! There you were, though, already assuming your new role, little brother. I loved you instantly, I love you even more now.

Jackson, you are smart and funny and crazy and outright silly. You are sensitive. You are laid back. You love your sister. You have mixed feelings about Fred (who wouldn't?). When you allow me to look into your eyes (when you aren't "sleeping") I am overcome with the joy that you are mine. I can't believe I get to share your laughter and light every day. You say silly things; you tell me your name is poppy or uncle Tim or Olaf. A few days ago, you told everyone at Lily's school your name is Evelyn and you are 3. You love your "ash" (or pacifier) and walk around asking for ash (which, buddy, sounds like ass...and daddy and I joke about that...). When you want something, you go after it. Like DVDs, which you drag your stool to and then remove one by one until you find the one you want. You are just you, and I love you for that.

You and Lily occasionally have your spats, usually over a toy, but you two share so much love. When Lily is sad she will go straight to you and ask for hugs. When you are told "no" and get sad you go right to her. I hope that you and Lily will always share that love and connection, and, when facing this big world, remember to hold onto each other and walk on together. (Also, she calls you little buddy, and that just melts my heart every single time!)

Jackie-boy, I can't believe that you are two. Time truly flies buddy. It seems like yesterday that you made your big entrance into the world, like superman the doctor said (by the by, buddy, being born like superman is very cool, except it hurts mommy...thanks for that). I love you more each day. I know this next year will bring new fun and surprises. I can't wait to live it and learn it and love it with you. Thanks for being my sunshine, little guy!

Love, your mommy

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Vaccines. Just do it.

Lately, there have been a flood of Facebook posts about vaccinating children against common childhood illnesses. This is in the wake of a measles outbreak in the United States that has been traced back to Disneyland. I have been trying to find the right words for this post, and as I started it days ago, that has clearly been a challenge. Some of my FB friends recommended things like, "vaccines: just do it" or "get your &%#* kids vaccinated". While those certainly sum up my sentiments, I was looking for something a little more...eloquent.

Vaccinating my children seemed like the easiest parenting decision I had (and will have) to make. Protect my kids from potentially deadly, and now preventable, diseases? Uh, duh. Sign me up. I mean, I already do things like put my kids in appropriately installed car seats, which protects them in the case of an accident. An accident that may or may not happen. I would never just put my kid in the car and go. I take precautions for their safety. I also do things like look both ways when I cross the street. Just in case there is a car coming. I put locks on the oven, on drawers, and on the cabinet with dangerous chemicals in it. Just in case the kids get curious and explore potentially dangerous areas. I do all of these things in case my kids do things that could lead to an injury. I look at vaccines no differently. These are shots that prevent a potential disease. While these disease may not always be deadly, they certainly can be. I also know that there is a possibility of an extreme side-effect with the vaccine, but there are also potential side-effects for antibiotics that my kids take when they are sick. I still give them the medicine, though, because the risk outweighs the danger of the infection spreading.

I think, however, the biggest problem I have with the latest vaccine tug-of-war is the rhetoric used (on both sides). One argument I have heard is the, "well, I had __________ when I was a kid, and I am fine." Ok, so you were fine, but a child who is immuno-compromised probably won't be fine. A child who is too young to get a vaccine, say a newborn, probably won't be fine. And, if you don't vaccinate your child, and your child passes along the illness to one of these children, things might not be fine for them. And, you never know, even if you got whatever fill-in-the-bank childhood illness, your child (even your healthy child) might not be fine. That chance of a really serious problem with the illness, however small, concerns me enough to get my kids vaccinated.

Next up: big pharma is just trying to get rich. They lie. They just want to make us think we need these medicines. Ok, I can't even write about this because the argument is so dumb. Go talk to child suffering from polio in India because he or she cannot afford vaccines that we can easily get in the United States. I am sure that child would have liked to received a vaccine to save him from paralysis.

I have also heard that these disease just died out on their own over time. Oh my goodness. No. Vaccines made the diseases go away. Please wake up people. They have eliminated common childhood diseases. The disease didn't just die out.

The last argument I have heard lately is, "well America is a country that values freedom, so this is just an extension of freedom (to choose whether or not to vaccinate children). Ok, well, if we are going to be truly free then, perhaps, we can stop telling women what to do with their reproductive organs. Maybe we can stop condemning people for their sexual orientation. If we truly value freedom, then shouldn't this idea of choice be extending to all, for all situations. This argument just completely snowballs out of control. (By the way, if someone truly values a "right to life" then I would hope they would advocate for vaccinating because, by not vaccinating, you might be taking away another person's right to life by passing on an illness that could kill them.)

Oh, and, I can't believe I almost forgot this one. Dear everyone...vaccines DO NOT CAUSE AUTISM. The people who put that article out have since rescinded it.

This generation of parents grew up without diseases because our parents vaccinated us. We don't know what measles are like, or polio, or mumps. Our parents did know what those diseases were like, so they got us vaccinated. They didn't want us to experience the disease that they experienced (or friend experienced or family members experienced). Our generation has become complacent. Too many of us have said, "oh, well, it won't happen to me or my child." This argument is also completely fallacious.

At the end of the day, I can't tell anyone how to parent or what is best for their child. Most, if not all, of my friends vaccinate their children, and the public school system where I live requires vaccinations. Vaccines, to me, just make sense. So maybe, in the end, "just do it" is sufficient enough.