Sunday, March 28, 2010

Disney Part 2

So in just a few weeks, we've made some changes to Disney October 2010. Here are the plans as they stand:

Sat: Hit the road early, drive to Orlando, spend one night at POP! on the Disney property. Turns out this is one of the cheapest hotels in Orlando for that weekend, plus we'll have some cool things to look at while we tour POP! and play at the pool.

Sun: Check-in to Animal Kingdom Lodge and relax. Head to Chef Mickey's for dinner then take a monorail ride.

Mon: Go to Animal Kingdom, then relax at the pool.

Tues: Check-out of Animal Kingdom Lodge, check-in to Wilderness Lodge (this is a change, we are wait listed for Beach Club). Go to Hollywood Studios.

Wed: Magic Kingdom! Start with breakfast at Crystal Palace with Pooh and friends, end the day with fireworks and the parade!

Thur: Pool day before going to Mickey's Not-So-Scary-Halloween Party.

Fri: Magic Kingdom again. Lunch at the Plaza Restaurant.

Sat: Head home

Have I mentioned I can't wait?????????

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Rotten Eggs

I sat in a meeting today, a meeting designated as a teacher "leadership" meeting. A meeting that was simply a gripe fest. I knew it was going to be rough when I walked in, said hello to the people sitting at the table and had no one respond to me. Really? I don't know you, I am here to work on addressing educational issues in our school system and you can't say hello? I think that's the root of many teaching issues in education. We have forgotten how to work productively, instead falling into the death spiral of complaints. I heard complaints about everything from the new teacher evaluation system (which I think is awesome), the governor's push for federal funding to support our wonderful education initiatives (which I think are awesome), to gripes about buying fresh eggs for science labs. Don't we have bigger educational concerns than buying a $1.50 carton of eggs? Seems to me that the future of our children's education is not resting on fresh eggs but on schools and communities who are willing to face important challenges head on with a postive attitude.

In short, I left the meeting feeling utterly beaten down, utterly disrespected by "colleagues", and utterly disgusted with the mind-sets that so many of our children are being exposed to. We as teachers fight day in and day out to be recognized as professionals who are working our hardest to help students achieve success but then we fall into the trap of arguing over eggs. Rotten eggs to me.

Tonight I am reflecting and processing what I heard today and my overall response is one of sheer gratitude to work at my school, surrounded by others who truly care about improving education, and surrounded by people who I know will lift me back up tomorrow, even if I am covered in rotten eggs.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

An Open Letter to the President

Dear Mr. President,

I read with vested interest this morning a newspaper article outlining some of the changes in your proposed education plan. With all due respect sir, you have missed the boat on many key issues in education.

To start here’s my background:

I work at the highest performing high school in my county, a redesigned high school in which students get their high school diploma and a 2 year college degree for free! We are a school with a high number of impoverished, underrepresented students. We draw from all public middle schools, provide county busing to our school, pay for college books, provide tutoring weekdays and weekends, and yet out of 2000+ rising 9th graders last year, fewer than 100 applied. The fact that every parent in our county did not have their child apply is a major red flag about how our communities perceive the value of education. We have about 230 students, with an average class size of 18. Personally, I was student teacher of the year in college, and have been the highest performing teacher in my county, in my content area the past four years. I say that not to be prideful but to show that I have some clue about what I am about to say.

Here are the issues with education and the problems in your plan:

Successful education takes three elements: students, parents, and teachers. You cannot punish one, in your plan the teachers, for what the other two are not doing. More and more teachers are pulling the dead weight of parents and students who do not care about education. Why should they? They can simply drop out, have babies, and get a free check from the government. Sounds great to me! Seriously, we have to create consequences for not getting an education and they need to be consequences aimed at the student and parent.

Currently, public education is managed by the local, state, and federal government, with people elected to school boards who have no education background or experience. Show me a hospital in which all medical decisions are made by an 18 year old farmer, a 50 year old stay at home mom, a 75 year old retiree, and a 45 year old politically charged community member. They don’t exist, yet those are the same people we let make policy decisions about how our schools will be run. It’s time to get educators making key education decisions, not individuals who have not been in a classroom in several decades. As for school administration, with all due respect to your illustrious secretary of ed, administrators who have not been on-site at a school and actively involved in classroom teaching in the last 5 years don’t know what’s going on in schools. They pay it lip service but they do not know. When was the last time members of your education team planned 180 days worth of lesson plans? When was the last time they were faced with standardized test prep, college prep work, tutoring sessions, and daily interactions with parents? Lastly on this note, let’s think about this. There has been more and more government involvement with education, with worse and worse results. See the correlation?

Lastly, over the past decade teachers have been required to meet more and more standards, yet students continue to fall behind. It is more difficult to become a teacher and stay a teacher today than it was in 2000. Teachers must past exams that demonstrate their content knowledge, complete a set number of continuing education credits each year to stay licensed, participate in school based professional development (in my case, twice a month), create personalized education plans for students at risk of failing, and yet what has happened to student performance? Last summer alone, I gave up three weeks of my family time for professional development. It is not a teacher issue, it is a community issue, a student issue, and most importantly a parent issue. We often hear the cry for more tutoring, more one on one interaction in our schools. We have tutors and one on one interaction. It’s called parents who sit down with their student at the kitchen table to get schoolwork done. It breaks my heart to see more and more of this generation raised by everyone BUT their parent. It is not my job to raise a child, it is my job to educate them and I have an hour and a half each day to do that. Parents have 16 hours to do that.

In closing, I challenge you to rise above the easy rhetoric and the loud political voices yelling about education. Get together with teachers facing the challenges every day. Talk to students who don’t have a political agenda. They’ll tell you what’s going on in schools. If you sincerely try to get to the heart of the matter, we can turn education around. If we listen to the politicos trying to place easy blame, schools will never improve.

With much respect,

Alison Baker on behalf of teachers everywhere

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Disney, Here We Come!

We booked our big Disney trip today- a trip we have been thinking about ever since Jesse and I returned last May from an adults only trip to the World. Here are the details so far:

Who: All of us- Alison, Jesse, and Kellen!

When: October 10th-16th, 2010

Where: Animal Kingdom Lodge Villas (2 nights), Beach Club Villas (4 nights)

We feel so blessed to have connected with a Disney Vacation Club owner who is renting us points for a studio villa at a much cheaper rate than a regular moderate Disney resort! This way we will have a kitchenette to save on some food costs plus we get to stay at some awesome resorts on the cheap!

How: By car (not sure how the car trip will go, any tips, please share!)


Sunday- Arrive, check-in, Downtown Disney (I assume Kellen will tear up the Lego Store...)

Monday 11th- Animal Kingdom and the pool

Tuesday 12th- Hollywood Studios

Wednesday 13th- Magic Kingdom

Thursday 14th- Pool Day and Mickey's Not-So-Scary-Halloween Party

Friday 15th- Magic Kingdom

Saturday 16th- Depart

Reasoning: Thinking about this trip, we heard a lot of comments for and against. In the end, while Kellen may be young (3 1/2), we feel that the time to make family memories is now. Kellen won't remember everything we do, but Jesse and I will, and more than anything, we will enjoy time together as a family. We view this as our last hoorah as a family of three before we think about adding another child (no, not pregnant now...). For me, it's about time away from the normal routine, time to relax, laugh, play, and just spend time interacting without jobs, house, chores, errands distracting us. Those of you who have been to Disney with a small child, I would love to hear some feedback/comments!

We'll keep you posted as the trip approaches!

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Art of Teaching

I read a recent article today that analyzed some of the new data emerging about what it means to be a good teacher. You can read the article at

This article quickly became a talking point around our conference table in the teachers office. What does it mean to be a good teacher? What do we as teachers know about educating students that the general public does not? How do we continue to improve our practice? With these questions swirling, and our own successes and failures being reflected upon, I came up with my own Top Ten Teacher Rules. This is a very short list of some of the things I believe are important to make my classroom the best it can be.

Top Ten Teacher Rules:

1. Know every student's name and use them frequently- in the classroom, in the hallways, in the lunch room, anywhere you see your students.
Let's face it- not knowing someone's name or calling someone by the wrong name comes across as rude and uncaring. Get to know your students, get to know their nicknames, and always greet them when you see them.

2. Use a timer
Nothing will derail a lesson faster than getting off track. I use a timer for all activities in which the students are working somewhat independently ( and yes, I teach high school). They may get 2-3 minutes for a warm-up, 10 minutes for some key questions, 30 minutes for a group activity. By using a timer (I project mine on the wall), it keeps me and the students on task.

3. Keep activities 20-30 minutes in length
Kids don't have long attention spans- enough said.

4. Move, move, move around the room
Physical proximity is a great classroom management tool. It also allows me to quickly interact with students about their work in a private way, and to give lots of pats on the backs for good work.

5. Assign seats and change them randomly
Who are students going to sit by if given the choice? Their friends (Duh, right?). While this can be good, it is also a major cause of distraction. I always assign seats, even in my high school honors classes. As I get to know my students, I frequently rearrange seats to put students near other students I feel they will work well with. Note- I do NOT put them next to people they will best socialize with.

Rules 6-10 coming soon....stay tuned!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

What I'm Reading...

When I look back, I am so impressed again with the life-giving power of literature. If I were a young person today, trying to gain a sense of myself in the world, I would do that again by reading, just as I did when I was young.~ Maya Angelou

To me, there is nothing better than a good book. I can easily read a book in a one sitting, and there have been many nights when I have won the fight against sleep to finish a good page turner. I am so thankful that my mom fostered my love of reading, starting at an early age. Here's a glimpse into my reading world.

Just put down:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.

This started out strong, with lots of mystery but became a bit much for my spirit. I love a good mystery and some of my favorite authors write from a non-Christian worldview. This book just became too much and I had to put it down. It's disappointing when books with a lot of hype end up being filled with trash. Will move on in my reading list...

Some of my all time favorites:

Boundaries with Kids by Henry Cloud & John Townsend

Sacred Parenting by Gary Thomas

These get broken out every now and again for a good meditation before bed, or when I am bored and need something to stimulate my mind. They have really helped develop my parenting mind-set.

Next up on the to-read list:

Raising Happiness by Christine Carter

Though not written from a strict Christian worldview, I have been following Christine's Half Full blog for a while now and love her insights! She is a trained sociologist and mother- we get academics, research, and heart all in one book!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Of potties and pee...

We reached a milestone this weekend. A milestone that is bittersweet, one long awaited while at the same time long dreaded. One of the last vestiges of toddlerhood has been reached- Kellen's potty trained. Our weekend was filled with applause, stickers, and hugs to celebrate our son's proficient potty-ing. From #1's to #2's, we saw it all with no accidents. While I am a very proud momma, I have found myself somewhat teary eyed at this latest step into independence. I won't miss buying diapers but I will miss the baby who cooed at me while getting his diaper changed. I'll miss the toddler who began to see diaper changes as a game, trying to twist and turn away from mommy until subdued by tickles. Most of all I'll miss the laughter that so often came during diaper changes. This may all sound a bit dramatic but I have found myself trying hard to focus on the moments of childhood, trying not to spend time dwelling on the past or dreaming about the future, but rather trying to take in the daily events that make up my life. In his book Devotions for Sacred Parenting, Gary Thomas states:

"When our kids are young, the temptation is to let life slip by, as though a day is an inconsequential penny rather than the invaluable treasure it really is...Why is it that when our kids are young, we can't just sit sit back and enjoy the here and now?"

What moments are passing us by? What are we letting distract us? For me, my tendency to worry has often overshadowed the time spent with my family. My hope for the future is not about the bigger house, the better car, or the best job. It's the simple hope of memories made over potties and pee.