A Fine Dish

dish (v) to emit a ready flow of inconsequential talk... babble, blab, burble... chatter, dither... gab, lallygag... natter, patter, prattle, rattle on... yammer, yawp...also...chew the fat, shoot the breeze, sling the bull.... and (n) a container to serve food -or- the food contained in the dish ....(archaic slang) a hot mama

Location: Rock Creek Township, North Carolina, United States

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Clear Channels

On Friday I had a meeting with one of Guilford County Schools Support Officers regarding an ongoing difficulty that one of my boys has been having in school. What a shock to me when she chastised me for not communicating with the principal of the school. Apparently the principal had told her that I was not in contact with them--despite the 96 e-mails that I have in hard copies as well as electronic backups. In the interest of doing everything that I can to make this situation better for my child, I decided to sit down once again, e-mail the principal and reclarify the issue. In preparing to do so, I re-read all of the emails I had previously sent. That's when I found the following that I wrote on December 12. Except for taking out direct quotes from the principal and explaining in brackets what she said and deleting names, I present the following for constructive criticism. Please, friends, tell me--have I lost my objectivity? How can I be more clear?

Dear Ms [prinicpal's name],

In the interest both of clarity and for Chris' sake, let's try again.

In our phone conversation I expressed that I felt that after working for nearly a half an academic year with Chris' math teacher, I felt that a move to a different classroom may be appropriate for both his personal and academic well being. This was after Chris and I met with his team, we made commitments to a plan but that plan was not followed through. This was not an isolated incident but the latest in a series of inconsistencies in planning and execution stemming from the very first weeks of school. You said that a move was not possible since placement in classes was based on aptitude and EOG scores but invited me and Chris to meet with you and his teacher to discuss flexibility within the currently placed teaching strategy. You also asked if Chris was 'EC' and mentioned that in middle school sometimes adjustments for 'EC' children were necessary. I told you that Chris is in the AL program--I didn't know anything about 'EC.'

When we met you asked me to state teaching strategies that had worked in the past. I expressed some confusion since I am not an educational professional. I can speak for Chris as a parent but my knowledge of the latest teaching practices is limited. I had recently spoken with a math teacher who had explained to me a theory currently used in math instruction where a teacher gives a short mini-lesson, allows students to work in small groups to explain concepts to each other then the teacher once again goes over the lesson. I believed that this is the strategy that is in place in Chris' classroom.

I explained that it is my understanding that this strategy takes a great deal of coordination and monitoring on the part of the teacher and co-operation on the part of the students. I gave examples when this was not working for Chris as he was not getting enough direct explanation on the concepts from the teacher and that his peers were not always cooperative. I cited at least one instance when Chris had asked a peer partner for assistance only to be told "I know how to do it and I am not telling you."

In regards to your statement in yesterday's email--

[the principal claims that during the latest conference I had identified a series of teaching practices that happen to be what they claim to use in Chris' classroom and that even though they used these very best strategies, Chris was not making the grade]

First--I could not quite say what you claimed I expressed because (again) I am not an educational professional so I don't know what some of these things are. I do know that (again) it takes more cooperation, coordination, and monitoring for this model to work. This is just not happening. As well, as stated in the team conference, Chris has been isolated from peer learning groups and peer partners so he has missed out on these opportunities to implement important portions of this strategy.

Second--Chris has been ready and willing to go to tutoring for reteaching and has been denied the opportunity or he has gone to tutoring and has not been offered assistance. He has brought in his work but offered no instruction. In the last two weeks of attempting to access reteaching he has recieved instruction only one time. His experience of tutoring more closely resembles a study hall where he is given time and space to try to work out algebra by himself.

Third--when you asked what strategy might better this situation, I said 'direct instruction.' Because (again) I am not a teaching professional, I would like to clarify what I mean as 'direct instruction' rather than what might or might not be known as 'direct intruction' in any educational strategy literature. I mean that Chris needs someone who knows how to do algebra to explain to Chris how to do algebra.

In regard to Chris asking for help--

[the principal notes that during the conference I had asked what Chris needs to do to get help and the teacher said he needed to raise his hand and ask a question]

I explained to you that Chris has been asking for help since the beginning of school. His method of asking for help is to say to the teacher "I don't understand." I did not ask [teacher's name] what the etiquette in the classroom was (raising hand during class) but what her expectation was for questions. She said that the student needed to have a very specific question, for example--

"I do not understand whether to use the associative or distributive property in this function equation."

I explained that Chris has so many gaps in his understanding of algebra that it is not possible for him to form questions with this specificity. By gaps in his understanding I mean the concepts that he did not understand previously which were not explained clearly or were not retaught and that are necessary to perform the next set of operations in the sequence of Algebra I.

I have found evidence of these gaps in his quizzes. I don't understand why his teacher cannot look at his quizzes and realize where Chris is having difficulty and explain to him the correct procedures.

I explained that "Chris doesn't know what he doesn't know." This means that he thinks he is doing operations correctly because he doesn't know that he isn't doing them correctly until he gets his test or quiz back and the answer is marked incorrect.

Before we met last week you said that we were meeting to discuss flexibility within the parameters of the current teaching practice in order to better assist Chris in accessing Algebra I concepts. During the meeting you once again asked about 'EC' and explained that this refers to 'exceptional children' which I understand to mean children whose capacity to reach their potential is hampered to a degree outside of normal parameters. You said that you wanted to consult a program administrator for exceptional children. I did not then and I do not now consider this a necessary step and stated that at the time. There is nothing in Chris' performance during elementary school or his first year in middle school to suggest that Chris is 'EC.'

Chris is frustrated because his needs are not being met in the classroom. I was under the impression that last week's meeting was part of a process to develop flexibility in the classroom to meet his needs now. Chris needed his needs met two months ago. He has been damaged by the classroom practices. He has been humiliated and demoralized. Chris does not need for a team of people to observe him and pore through paperwork and spend more time talking. This will only extend his suffering and further erode his confidence and sense of self as a learner.

So. Now that we understand that a prolonged study by the SSST* is not necessary, please let me know what flexibility will be worked into the current teaching strategy in order to better meet Chris' needs and when will this begin to be implemented?


Chris' mom

*SSST is the School Student Support Team which examines students and when appropriate refers them to Psychological Services for labeling (mentally retardation, learning disability, emotional/behavioral disturbance) and special services

Sunday, January 15, 2006

What Not to Wear

Perhaps on these pages I have gloated a bit. Yes, I am a master of the kitchen, a carrier of the cooking gene and practitioner of culinary expertise. I have tented my fingers and poked fun at those poor mortals who sieve stock down the sink or can't measure a tablespoon by eye. There is a downside to my genetic makeup. While in the kitchen, I am queen, in the wardrobe I am the family jester.

The fact is--my fashion sense, that is lack of fashion sense-- is legendary.

Jeans. Sweat pants. Ripped t-shirts. Knee length sweaters. Black, because I fell under the misconception that black goes with everyone and everything. And of course being the youngest, Second Hand Rose had nothing on me. As a child of straightforward country folk, my clothes were functionary. Form was secondary, my one and only consideration was that it covered the places that needed to be covered. And pockets. That's all I cared about. Pockets. And what did I put in my pockets? My jack knife. Twine (the kind from hay bales, of course). Acorn caps because I couldn't manage to whistle between my teeth. Worms. Yes, worms. I liked to fish.

Was this a problem? Not for me because as a child, I didn't do the laundry and I didn't do a lot of shopping. May I offer my mother, here on this page my deepest gratification. Thank you, mom, for allowing me to live past the age of twelve.

I have terrible taste in clothes and I really hate to shop. I hate changing my clothes in a little room with flourescent lighting. I hate full length mirrors. I hate price tags. I hate spending money on something when I would really like to be barefoot and draped in a poncho if it happens to be chilly. So after forty years on this earth, what has been the result? Brace yourself, I am inserting a picture here--

For the last year or so my mother has been gently suggesting that I might get a kick out of a show she enjoys called 'What not to Wear.' I only pretend to be thick, I knew why she repeatedly mentioned it. It's self improvement time!

A couple of weeks ago while getting ready to start a new job, I turned on the TV for background noise and guess what was on. Uh-huh. And guess what kind of a woman they were helping out. Yes again. A middle-aged woman who happened to be about my height and weight and wore the same clothes as she did in high school. Because she was in her comfort zone. Because then she didn't have to make any decisions. Because it worked once. Because her clothes were functional. And you know what else? Even I could see that she didn't look that hot. She looked frumpy. She looked like an old, old woman.

Oh, boo. I hated that show. I came up with every one of her excuses a beat before she came up with them. I held hope with her to have that hope squashed every time. And I took notes. And I took action.

First I pulled out all the clothes tucked around my room and examined why I have boxes and bags of outfits that even in their era were hideous. And I didn't even buy them. And I never even wore them. People gave them to me. It's like this. Someone, say she's a size 12 buys an outfit that's a size 6. "I'll diet until that fits me," she thinks. A year goes by. She's a size 12. Two years go by. She's still a size 12. Ten years go by--and she says--"Ahh. ZhaK. She looks to be about the right size. I'll give it to her!" And because I love the person (and have absolutely no taste) I take it! It's never about the style or the color or the material. It's all about the size. And what do I end up with? Take a breath again. Another picture.

Yes, this lovely TURQUOISE LEATHER outfit is a delightful floor length slim cut skirt (to make it impossible to walk) and knee length oversized puffy jacket has padded shoulders and false pocket fronts. This, this outfit is, it's the family fruitcake of the fashion world. It has been handed around from person to person year after year after year because no one really wants it but no one wants to throw it away.

Last week I took all of the clothes that I don't wear, that don't match anything, that don't fit, or how about this? are just flat out hideous and stuffed them in a Planet Aid receptacle. They're gone. Maybe they can be buried and recycled as fossil fuel or fertilizer some day. Don't know. Don't care.

So this is what I'm left with.

It is very far from perfect but it will get me through the first couple of weeks of work. In most cases, the necklines are too high and the skirts are too long. The blouses are too plain, the skirts way too conservative. But they will do as I pick up real clothes, appropriate clothes, fun clothes and for the first time in my life, clothes that actually look good on me because it's OK to consider form as well as function.