Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Carnival of Education Is Open

The 69th Carnival of Education is ready for your perusal over at Education In Texas. Go on over and get a head start on your summer reading. I can always count on the carnival submissions to stir my writing urges.

Thanks, Mike for presenting the submissions in a sequence that is easy to read.

Go on now…, read, and then read some more!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Rambo Is Alive and Well and Living In Atlanta

Who knew? Apparently Rambo has been living in Atlanta all this time we were all unaware. Read this amazing story from the Atlanta Journal newspaper that I heard on my way to school this morning.

A former Marine who police say killed a woman that attacked him during a gang robbery attempt told reporters Tuesday he acted only to save his life.

"My first instinct was to run," said former Cpl. Thomas Autry, 36. "Those kids were younger than me. They caught me and cornered me. It was about life preservation.""I'm sorry this whole thing happened. I hate this world has gotten to the point where it is predatory," said a shaken Autry.

The pack of would-be robbers, including a 17-year-old woman, might have mistaken the tall, thin, waiter for an easy mark, said police. But, the bandits picked the wrong victim, said Atlanta police homicide Detective Danny Stephens. The former Marine, cornered by his pursuers on Penn Avenue at 4th Street, fought back with a pocket knife in a deadly melee that left the young woman dead and a man in his late teens seriously injured at a hospital.
Autry suffered minor injuries, including a cut to his hand.

The woman, identified as Amy Martin, had just had a birthday May 10, said Investigator Mark Gilbeau with the Fulton County Medical Examiner's Office. An autopsy was expected to be completed Tuesday. "Cause of death will be stab wounds, but we don't know how many yet," Gilbeau said.

Early reports were that Martin was pregnant, but the autopsy concluded otherwise, said the Fulton Medical Examiner's Office.

The teenager lived in an apartment at 3000 Stone Hogan Connector in southwest Atlanta, south of Greenbriar Mall near East Point, Gilbeau said. A young man also stabbed in the robbery attempt remained in critical condition, he added.

The identities of the surviving suspects, who Stephens said are believed to be linked to "a lot" of pedestrian robberies in Midtown and Virginia-Highland, were not released. They face aggravated assault and robbery charges, police said.

Autry will not be charged, Stephens said. "It was a clear case of self defense."

Stephens said Autry had left his job at the Jocks & Jills restaurant in Midtown and was walking along Penn Avenue when a blue Cadillac pulled alongside and three men, one armed with a shotgun, and the woman jumped from the car.

"This group had robbed two men on Piedmont earlier Monday night, taking a video camera and a cellphone," Stephens said.

"Autry takes off running, and they chase him. During the chase, Autry's trying to get into his backpack to get a pocket knife, which slows him down," Stephens said.

During the chase, Autry repeatedly yelled "fire, fire," which Stephens said attracted nearby residents' attention.

Grabbing the knife from his backpack, Autry managed to kick the shotgun from the man's hands and stabbed the woman in the chest, fatally wounding her. Stephens said. In the melee, Autry also stabbed one of the male suspects. Another suspect attempted to shoot Autry with a .380 pistol, which misfired, Stephens said.

The suspects ran back to the Cadillac and drove to Atlanta Medical Center, where police arrested them.

Autry, honorably discharged in 1992 after serving in Operation Desert Storm in Saudi Arabia, spoke to a gaggle of reporters from the porch of his apartment about six block north of the King Center in downtown Atlanta.

Autry recounted the attack, saying he first realize something was amiss when he saw a white cat scurry across the road. That's when he turned around and saw the armed attackers getting out of a stopped car.

He said his military training kicked in, but "what really helped me was growing up in New York."
He said he changed his locks after the incident because of security concerns.

When told that many in the metro area consider him a hero for his actions, Autry disagreed.

"The heroes are those guys out there fighting for us every day and not getting respect," he said, referring to military personnel fighting in Iraq and elsewhere. "That [killing the attacker] wasn't admirable, it was fight or flight and I tried the flight."

All I can say is...WOW!

Friday, May 26, 2006

Schools Out For Summer

Last night I was simply exhausted. I posted, I read a little, but yesterday was the first day in a long time that I didn't leave the school building with a bag of stuff to work on. It wasn't that I didn't have things to do I just felt like revolting yesterday. I guess it was the anticipation.

Last night hubby and I finally had napped long enough in our respective chairs to get up and go to bed. It dawned on me as I slid between the sheets that I would wake up to the last day of school. So I began chanting, "Last day of school. Last day of school." Hubby finally told me to go to sleep. Sometime later I felt his hand on my stomach. I woke long enough to realize I must have been snoring. So I said, "Was I snoring?"

He said, "Yeah, you were."

"What time is it?" I asked.

He said, "Twelve fifteen."

"You mean it's only been 20 minutes since we came to bed?" I felt a little silly so I started chanting again. This time I said, "Eight weeks off. Eight weeks off."

This isn't usually hubby's best time of the year. He gets a little grumpy as my summer begins because he would like to be home too. However, he knows I'm not sitting around eating bon bons all the time. I work on plans for most of the time I'm off and in July I usually go to school a couple of hours each morning to get my classroom ready.

In response to my second round of chanting hubby said, "Shut up." I rolled over and went back to sleep.

Around 1 a.m. my son came home and we woke for a bit. I did my chanting again. At least hubby laughed this time, but encouraged me to go back to sleep. Soon I heard his even breathing telling me he had drifted off. I lay there, and lay there, and lay there. Finally I started thinking about all the things I need to do to organize my classroom differently. In my mind I started in one corner and worked my way around the room. The next thing I knew it was 6 a.m. and it was the LAST DAY OF SCHOOL!

All in all it was a good day. I told my students about my sleepless night and how I kept bothering my husband. I told them I was so happy I felt like Snoopy doing the happy dance. I reminded them what Snoopy looks like and then we all did the happy dance together. They loved it. Luckily I'm at the end of the hall so I don't get many walk-bys. They would have thought we had lost our minds.

We gave out awards in our classrooms (fifth grade gets the big hoo-rah with a formal ceremony, as well they should), a parent brought my team and I lunch from the local Mexican restaurant, there were no fights on the playground, and they all made it to their buses and cars to go home with no major incidents.

I go back next week for post planning but the stress level will be so different. Before I left my classroom today I went ahead and moved all of my desks together and stacked my chairs in groups of four. I picked up all the broken crayons and pencils from the floor and removed all evidence of our snack and soda we had during our afternoon movie just to go ahead and give my "office" that summertime feel.

Summer projects here I come!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Fair Tax

The traffic was awful. The crowd built to a point of 4,500 before the fire marshal had to order the doors closed. Estimates indicate there was just as many people turned away than actually made it into the auditorium.

Wednesday night, May 24, 2006.

I know over 62 million viewers watched American Idol, but here in Atlanta 4,500 people attended a fair tax rally sponsored by talk show icon Neil Boortz. Those who didn’t make it in the door got to hear the rally over the oldest radio station in Atlanta, WSB radio (AM750), which airs Boortz’s program daily. Comcast cable filmed the rally and will be airing it on a pay per view basis.

Read Neil Boortz’s review of the evening here. Local papers review the rally here and here.

I didn’t get to go, though I would have like to. I am a fan of Mr. Boortz and generally listen on days I don’t teach. I don’t always agree with him. I think he is way too hard on teachers, but he makes valid points on many issues and he certainly isn’t afraid of speaking his mind. Back when I was a paralegal Mr. Boortz was an attorney and my law firm had a few dealings with his.

While I was carting my thirteen year old back and forth to pick up new shorts (longer ones please, not the kind that don’t even have a crotch) for a trip to Myrtle Beach and getting her to and from church (can’t miss that youth group, you know) I got to listen to the rally. There were some wonderful rousing speakers including Sean Hannity from Fox News and Atlanta’s own Herman Cain. What was really inspiring to me was the sound of the crowd. I had been afraid that Boortz’s Fair Tax rally might flop. What if hardly anyone showed? I’m glad my doubts didn’t come to fruition.

As I listened to Herman Cain I thought about our Founding Fathers and how they were able to give birth to a country considering that most colonists didn’t really care one way or the other. It took several events and situations to occur before longings for liberty ignited, and I think it will be this way again. People are fed up, but few Americans want to take the time to really examine an issue. Few people want to get out of their comfort zone. They prefer others to tell them what to think by listening to the constant stream of sound bytes and text bytes that permeate our lives today. They prefer things as they have always been simply because they have always been. Sounds like education, doesn’t it?

So what is the fair tax? explains it this way:

The FairTax was created by first asking the American people what they wanted out of a tax system, and then having a team of respected economists design a tax system that met those demands. The FairTax replaces the income tax and all other federal taxes with a national consumption tax. The FairTax is levied only once, at the point of purchase on new goods and services. The simplicity of the FairTax frees Americans from our current overwhelming tax code and unshackles the U.S. economy.

The FairTax:
Abolishes the IRS
Closes all tax loopholes and brings fairness to taxation
Maintains our current Social Security and Medicare benefits
Brings transparency and accountability to tax policy
Allows American products to compete fairly
Reimburses the tax on purchases of basic necessities
Enables retirees to keep their entire pension
Enables workers to keep their entire paycheck

The fair tax has gotten some publicity from a book written by Neil Boortz and Congressman John Linder. You can look it over here.

fair tax book

I think we all owe it to ourselves and to each other to examine this issue on our own and make a decision to support it or not to support it. We need to get out of our comfort zone and make our opinions known to our lawmakers and policy writers. This thing might just ignite and either you will wake up one morning and find yourself in a new tax system or a fire will have been snuffed and you won’t even realize it had passed.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Saying Goodbye to Students

I finally managed to get our team awards done yesterday and gave them to my team members so they could verify signatures, etc. I typed up awards for all As all year in each academic area, and most improved in each homeroom. The front office prepared our certificates for all As all year, all As and Bs all year, and perfect attendance----the usual, you know. As a team we decided to give our awards tomorrow so if there is some sort of mistake it can be corrected in time to give a new certificate to a student. As of 3:30 p.m. we still did not have our certificates the office was going to prepare. I hope we get them tomorrow morning.

My plan is to give out awards, have students place them in their book bags, clean out desks, and take up textbooks. I’ll have the students help me clean out files, inventory and reorganize my classroom library, dust, sweep, and step-and-fetch. We clean in my classroom at least once every nine weeks and the little darlins’ love it. I wonder if they are this helpful at home? Never mind, I’m a mom. I know the answer.

One of the things I give out to all of my students is my final farewell letter to them. I’ve taught siblings of my students and invariably someone will say, “Oh, my sister still has her letter.” One young man told me last year that his mom keeps my letter in his older brother’s file with all of his awards.

The first year I taught I tried to hand the letter out and then read it aloud. I ended up crying, they ended up crying, and I don’t have to tell you how young people can become very dramatic. So I usually fold the letter in half and write their name on the paper. I hand them out and instruct everyone not to open their letter until everyone has theirs. Once everyone opens their letter together and begins to read I try to busy myself in a hurry. I put things away, I straighten papers, or I simply walk back and forth acting like I’m doing something. Invariably I catch a few girls and even boys wipe a tear away. Some of my strong, young men will put their heads down and wipe their eyes out of view. Luckily no one tries to hug me or I think I would just die.

As of tomorrow 380 students have received my letter. Here is what it says:

Dear Students:

At the end of my first year teaching I wanted to bring the year to a close by writing a note to my students. This letter has become a tradition---every student who has passed through my classroom has received this letter as my farewell. It is amazing to me that 380 students have received this letter so far. Please take the advice I give you to heart, and never forget that I care about your success.

The following is a poem written by Shel Silverstein---I thought it was appropriate for this point in your lives. Mr. Silverstein wrote:

All the woulda-coulda-shouldas
Layin’ in the Sun,
Talkin’ ‘bout the things-

They woulda-coulda-shoulda done…
But those woulda-coulda-shouldas
All ran away and hid
From one little did.

During your last year of elementary school followed by middle school and high school concentrate on doing things that will have a positive effect on your lives. Choose your friends wisely, listen to your parents and teachers, and do the very best you possibly can in everything you attempt.

On your final day of high school don’t look back on the things you would have done, could have done, or should have done. My hope is that you will look back on a fine, long list of accomplishments that happened because you aimed high, took chances, lived up to your potential, and most importantly you did something.

I will always consider myself to be your teacher. I hope you will stay in touch through the coming years to let me share in your success.

With fond memories of each of you, I remain,


Ah, another year almost over.........

Sunday, May 21, 2006

My Special Soldiers

Two of my adopted sons are in currently serving their country in the Army. My husband and I couldn’t be more proud. These two young men aren’t my blood children but spent an enormous amount of time in our home, along with their sister, from the time they were in middle school and on into high school. Adam and Seth are great, great friends of my son. Adam and his siblings are very special to my husband and I, and they know our door is always open to them.

Adam went into the service first and his younger brother, Seth, followed a couple of years later. Seth is currently stationed stateside but will be heading to Iraq about the time his brother will be coming home. He recently came home for a long weekend and it was great to see him. He stayed with us all weekend and he and my son picked up right where they left off. Going, going, going, out late, seeing friends, on the computer, and eating, eating, eating. Hopefully he will come home again before going “over there.”

When Adam originally found out he was going to Iraq he asked his lady love, Jess, who is also in the service, to marry him. Unfortunately we couldn’t go to the wedding but they sent the pictures. They got married in Florida on the beach. It was lovely. They have been very fortunate as a young married couple that they have been together during their tour of duty in Iraq. What an interesting way to begin a marriage!

We recently received an email from Adam and Jess with pictures of their reenlistment and I want to share them with you.

This is Adam and Jess taking their oath of service.

Still Saying the Oath


Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww! That’s so sweet. Notice the flag folding going on the background. We recently presented a program at PTO and one group of our fourth graders demonstrated how to fold a flag properly. I wonder who does it better?

Notice the background. Adam and Jess are standing on the balcony of one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces. Cool, huh?

These next two are taken from the same balcony. Apparently the buildings around the water’s edge is where Saddam’s top assistants would live.

Balcony View 3

Balcony View 4

Here’s a few of the palace itself.


Main Chandelier 2

Marble Bathrooms

Look at this bathroom. Notice what they are using the “foot washer” for. Crazy Americans!

Marble Toilets Again

Isn’t that just hilarious. Easy access to the tp, huh?

Well, my hat is off to Adam and Jess and their decision to reenlist. I will continue to pray for them both and for Seth too. If you don’t already have a soldier to pray for feel free to adopt my special sons and daughter-in-law.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Looking Ahead-Building Parent Relationships

One more week to go and I simply can't continue living in the mire of the end of year festivities-----the increased off task behaviors, the struggle to keep everyone's attention, the increased disrespect, the fights...and that's just the teacher behavior. Ok kidding aside I'm tired of being negative. The finish line is looming ahead and I want to look forward to next year...a fresh start. I had an assignment from a course I'm taking to discuss ways I could build communication. As I completed my assignment I realized it could serve as a post so here goes....

This school year has been a challenge for me in several ways. I had a group of students who were somewhat immature in behavior and skill level. Seventy-five percent had barely passed our state mandated tests in third grade. Out of twenty-three students I had fourteen boisterous boys. Lessons were often interrupted by inappropriate behavior including what I term fluid speaking where things were said as they popped up in students’ minds and they did not employ the adage think before speak. At the beginning of the year I spent the majority of my Friday nights and Saturday mornings grading languages arts papers and carefully collating them into student groups. These packets were sent home with a cover sheet that served as a weekly newsletter for our class. My history students kept a notebook that contained their graded papers so a weekly packet was not necessary. Parents signed a slip I prepared at the bottom and returned it to me so I could have documentation that the papers had been received. By January I gave this laborious process up as I had endured lengthy notes from certain parents criticizing me for giving their child a zero for uncompleted homework or they questioned the method I employed to grade their child’s papers over, and over, and over. These same parents would break appointments with me for conferences where we could have discussed things face to face or they simply ignored my conference requests. Parents would also write notes in their child’s agenda book asking me questions about items I had addressed completely in the weekly newsletter. It was obvious few parents were reading the newsletter. I also served as team leader for the fourth grade team which resulted in an increase in paperwork and responsibility. I also served as our discipline committee chair and was a member of two other committees on my campus. Personally I have a busy family, a mother in a nursing home who requires a visit every other day so she will eat, and I have been exploring a writing career that you, dear reader, have been subjected to over, and over, and over.

For the past two years my thoughts about parents have become increasingly more negative as the numbers of my students with positive behaviors has decreased. If they don’t care to keep their appointments with me why should I care? If they are ok with sending their children to school inappropriately dressed and unclean why should I care? If they are ok with their child’s disrespect to an adult, bullying another child, or simply refusing to complete class work why should I care? If a parent feels they are doing their job by telling school personnel to let their child starve if the student forgets to bring the lunch he is required to make for himself each day why should I care?

I should care. I am the only link between the parent and their child’s academic future. I should care because during the time their child is in my class it is my job to do whatever it takes to get them to understand the high stakes involved in today’s educational journey for every student. I should care because I know what it is like to have a surprise sprung the night before a report card or when the report is brought home that my child is not doing as well as they could. I should care because I know as a parent what a struggle it is to work, take care of a home, and simply try to survive each week without the added burdens that schoolwork can be in some households. Quite simply I should care because I am the teacher.

For this reason I had already identified for myself that I needed to get over my fear of continuous confrontation when dealing with parents and welcome this opportunity to reflect on a course of action for the coming year.

Parents need to know the classroom policies regarding types of assignments including homework. They need to know about late assignments and extra credit. They need to know about make up work and projects. They need to know about needed supplies and notebook specifications. For the last six years I have produced for all of my classes a syllabus much like you receive in a high school or college course but pared down to meet the needs of a fourth grade class. This is usually given out the first day of school and the first homework assignment is to obtain a parent signature on the syllabus. Students keep the syllabus all year in their notebook so that it is handy for future reference. When students ask me a question during the year concerning something I know is on the syllabus I tell them, “I think I gave you that answer in your syllabus. Why don’t you look it up? If you have another question let me know.”

Another document that I prepare for parent as well as student use is something I lifted from Harry Wong. I give my students a study guide at the beginning of each unit. The study guide is one page containing all of the vocabulary words, the essential question for the unit as well as six to seven key questions. Information regarding the text pages we will use, the unit test date, project information, and extra credit information is also listed on the study guide. Not every parent utilizes it, not every student can keep up with it, but it does help a bit as one more piece of the information puzzle I need to provide for parents.

Since I haven’t felt as if I have had good parent contact this year, as well as the previous two years, I know that I must do a better job of contacting parents by phone and email. I have wonderful relationships with the parents who are in the building constantly. Most of these parents are volunteers or serve as a member of our excellent substitute teacher team. I feel as if I can speak with these parents honestly because they are aware of what happens in our building on a regular basis whereas parents who are not involved to that extent sometimes have an unrealistic view of what school is today. I know that these involved parents realize that if I criticize their child it is because I do have their best interests at heart and I am trying to help. I need to have that kind of relationship with all parents, not just the ones who are brave enough to come into the building on a regular basis.

Relationship building….that’s my mission. I think I already have some good pieces of the puzzle in place, however, I need to get over myself and call, call again, and call some more. Once I have my rosters in a few short weeks I need to call and introduce myself. I need to prepare some questions during my time off that well help me keep the conversation focused on their child and his or her needs as a student. What do you like best about your child? What is your child’s strengths? What discipline strategies do you follow at home? Who is at home when your child arrives? Who will be helping your child with his/her homework? I need to note previous low grades, previous low test scores, previous excessive absences or tardies and address them in a positive manner. I need to make myself available in this introductory phone call for questions the parent may have. Phone calls should continue through the first nine weeks and on into the year. Phone calls should not be made just when there is a problem. I believe that I could take my rosters and divide up the phone calling so that it would manageable for my busy schedule throughout each nine week period.

Another strategy to continue building and maintain good relationships all year long would be to continue with my weekly or bi-weekly newsletter. This could be sent home as before, but this time I could employ the students to help me with the collating. This would give the student more ownership of the packet of papers and they might be more willing to get it home when they should. I also would like to send the newsletter by email when possible and make it available on line. I want to develop a classroom blog where parents could see daily updates on what we are doing the classroom as well as pictures that could be uploaded for viewing. Student work could be posted and my writers could have their works published.

I believe that I have here a good framework for cementing good relationships with parents. The key is communication. I am sure that I will still have a few parents balk at my overtures for a good relationship, but many more can be brought on board by a simple phone call. I am the teacher, and there really is no excuse not to pursue relationships.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Mythbusting 'So Help Me God'

My email to the Library of Congress read as follows:

Our students have been researching various presidents over the last few days. We have found several different Internet sites regarding the inauguration of George Washington and the words "so help me God". Many people have quoted the Library of Congress as their source for stating that GW did add those words to the end of his oath of office. What is the definitive answer to this question? We have found other Internet postings and sites that report there are no primary sources that state GW stated "so help me God". Thanks for your help.

Librarian Number 3 of the American Memory Team responded:

I am afraid there is no definitive answer to that question. Some testify that he did, others are silent.

As one student said, “Well, that was a lot of help!”

The conception of this email exchange began with this post where I was challenged by a reader to contact the Library of Congress. I believe that Casandra was hoping the Library of Congress would provide me with some of the sources they have provided to others in the past, but they didn’t. It would seem Casandra and I were unaware that there have been large amounts of research going on in recent months by folks on a mission. I am certain that I am not the only person to contact the Library of Congress in recent months with a similar question. I guess they finally wised up and decided to avoid the whole thing.

Within the last few days there have been new additions to the Internet regarding George Washington, the presidential oath of office, and those four little words--- ‘so help me God’. The first posting can be seen seen here with an additional one here. The first post by Matthew Goldstein appears to be a carefully researched inventory of sources along with information advising if the source can be verified or not. Here’s a taste:

One of the first claims that any president added those words to the oath are found in a book published in the 1856 (The Republican court; or, American Society in the Days of Washington, by Rufus Wilmot Griswold ), and in several books to follow, such as Washington Irving’s Life of George Washington (1857), Centennial Anniversary of Washington’s Inauguration (1892), and The History of the Centennial Celebration of the Inauguration of George Washington (1892).
Those books, and others, mention various eye witnesses to the recitation of the presidential oath: Robert Livingston, Samuel Allyne Otis (1st Secretary of the Senate), Roger Sherman, Richard Henry Lee (a friend of George Washington), Alexander Hamilton, General Henry Knox, General Arthur St. Clair, Baron Steuben, John Adams, George Clinton (Governor of NY), Philip Schuyler, John Jay, Ebenezer Hazard, and Samuel Osgood, for example; all of them died before 1830.
The claims that George Washington added that phrase all appear to be repetitions of the dubious second hand contents of a single book about George Washington’s 1789 inaugural that was published 67 years after the fact. The claims that all subsequent presidents used that phrase is clearly false. It was appended rarely starting in 1881 into the early 20th century and then was appended most or all of the time in the late 20th century.

The second site,, also gives a list of sources that state Washington added the words ‘so help me God’:

The oath of office for United States president, as specified in Article II the constitution, does not include the phrase "so help me God." Contrary to the Architect of the Capital description of President Washington's Inaugural, the National Endowment for the Humanities grades 3-5 lesson, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, Donald R. Kennon, Chief Historian, United States Capitol Historical Society, and Dr. Marvin Kranz of the Library of Congress among others, there appears to be no reliably corroborated contemporary evidence that any president voluntarily appended those words to the oath of office until Chester A Arthur's 1881 inauguration Perley's reminiscences of sixty years in the national metropolis Poore, Benjamin Perley, 1820-1887. Philadelphia: Hubbard, c1886. Pages 428-429. Both the New York Times (page 5) and the Washington Post of September 23, 1881 report that Chester Arthur appended those words to the oath of office.

So why are these two researchers working so hard to prove ‘so help me God’ was not uttered by George Washington? Are they constitutional purists? Are they simply interested in getting history right? Are they consumed with the fact that the National Endowment for the Humanities might have a myth stated as fact on one of their lesson plans? Are they anti-God? Ah, elementaryhistoryteacher might be getting warmer. Matthew Goldstein states:

The falsification of history regarding "So help me God" being appended to the presidential oaths thus qualifies as one more example of a creeping establishment of monotheism along with the better known examples of the annual day of prayer, the new national motto, the printing of the new national motto on all currency, and the revised pledge of allegiance. [What Mr. Goldstein is referring to concerning the “revised pledge to the flag” is the words ‘under God’ which was not in the original version.]

Me thinks that an argument before the Federal District Court in Sacramento on May 19th may have everything to do with the information I have stumbled across. Remember Michael Newdow? He’s the Dad who doesn’t like his daughter reciting the pledge to the flag each morning at school because of the words ‘under God’. See an article regarding the upcoming court date here. The subject of Newdow’s argument before the court this time are the words ‘in God we trust’, our national motto.

Many Americans react very negatively to Mr. Newdow and folks like the two researchers I refer to. Doug Powers is a good example of what is out there.

Newdow states he is not an Atheist activist but whether he wants to be or not he attracts many people who feel disenfranchised by the mere mention of God on our money, in our pledge, or presidential oath.

Do I see their point? Yes, if I attempt to be fair, I do see the point of view of someone who does not believe in God or of someone who believes in a strict separation of church and state. The Constitution does not give us either/or scenarios. However, myths can become entrenched into the psyche of the minds of citizenry to the point that they are hard to eradicate.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Da Vinci Code

This Friday the movie version of The Da Vinci Code opens. Will I go? I don’t know. I finally bought the book last month when my local Walmart had the book marked down to $4.95. Gee…that sounds kind of redneck, doesn’t it?

I already knew the plot line and many of the “clues” and locations depicted in the novel. I find the whole thing interesting simply because I enjoy a good scavenger hunt. I also enjoy following a historical event, researching it, and attempting to connect events together that might not really be related.

Dan Brown did a masterful job taking a few real historical events, real historical locations, religious teachings, real people, and several theories to string them together to create a great read. Even though I knew the framework of the plot and had prior knowledge regarding the various theories about the supposed bloodline of Jesus I was still unable to put the book down. My main interest as I turned the pages was to see how Dan Brown put the “evidence” together.

I understand my Christian brethren who object to the book. It is hard enough in today’s world to fulfill the Great Commission without wild theories about a bloodline of Christ reaching into the twenty-first century. I understand how people who don’t know much about Christianity other than the bad press the Catholic church has received regarding abuse of children at the hands of priests would see the “evidence” referred to in the book as yet one more nail in the coffin to convict the Catholic church of wrongdoing. I mean they haven’t exactly put out a good image over the last few years. Other denominations of Christianity have had their issues as well.

It would seem that many Christians are simply afraid of challenges to what has been taught for so many hundreds of years. Many feel that by simply bringing the book into their home they are inviting the Devil by introducing doubt into the foundation of Christianity. Over at Over at Civil War Memory, Kevin Levin writes about the “inability of many to suspend disbelief and play with the ideas [presented in the book] for a short period time.”

I don’t believe the average person can do this. I know many people that still believe that if it is written down and published it is true. They believe the tabloids in the supermarket line. The average person including the average Christian simply wants to be told what to believe. They want a formula for living their life where they can simply plug in variables that fit the formula so they can get on with it and go to the races on Sunday, go play golf, watch American Idol, or drink their 12-pack on Sunday afternoon.

Dan Brown’s novel, and that’s the point here….it is a novel which means it is fiction, ruffles too many feathers. The story upsets the applecart making people face what they truly believe. The average person does not want to think for themselves. They don’t want to research the aspects of the novel and determine for themselves what is proven and what is not. They simply take things on face value. You see…as a Christian it bothers me just as much that my fellow Christians believe simply because a pastor tells them to, or their momma told them to. We are to mature in our Christianity and that means researching things for ourselves. Why were certain books left out of the Bible? How did the King James version come to be? Why do Baptists baptize? What is the Reformation and how does it effect me today? Christians need to know what they believe and why they believe it.

Like I said before I don’t know if I will be going to the movie. Reviews from the Cannes Film Festival are already out and…..well, here’s a teaser I took from a Reuters article linked to by Matt Drudge :

"I kept thinking of the Energizer Bunny, because it kept going and going and going, and not in a good way," said James Rocchi, a film critic for CBS 5 television in San Francisco and the online outlet Cinematical. "Ron Howard makes handsome films. He doesn't make bad ones, but he doesn't make great ones."
One especially melodramatic line uttered by Hanks drew prolonged laughter and some catcalls, and the audience continued to titter for much of the film's remainder.
Some people walked out during the movie's closing minutes, though there were fewer departures than many Cannes movies provoke among harsh critics. When the credits rolled, there were a few whistles and hisses, and there was none of the scattered applause even bad movies sometimes receive at Cannes.

Hmmmm.....considering I waited to read the book until I got it at a rock bottom price I may wait until the movie reaches my local dollar theatre or better per view.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday to you!
Happy Birthday to you!
Happy Birthday, dear elementaryhistoryteacher,
Happy Birthday to you!

I’ve spent the morning pondering over past birthdays. I have lots of memories of special days filled with food, fun, and friends. Fantastic gifts and creative party themes filled my youngster years. I remember all of the wonderful creative cakes ordered from the Rich’s Department store bakery slathered in carefully constructed clowns, balloons, and later roses made from ooey, gooey frosting (not the new lite kind---I’m talking confectioner’s sugar and Crisco…pure indulgence). These were so special my sister and I would scrape off some of the decorations and wrap them in aluminum foil and keep them safe in the freezer until months later when we could savor our birthday cake again.

Of course I have been thinking more about those milestone birthdays------age 10 (finally…double-digits), age 15 (learner’s permit), age 16 (on my own in a car), age 18 (back in 1980 that meant being legal in Georgia----I could finally go and listen to a band and have a drink), age 21 (really legal but scary----no more Daddy support unless he offered), age 22 (wife), age 25 (mother), age 30 (oh my gosh!), age 40 (OH MY GOSH!), and now 44.

I suspect I need to get busy on that life ‘to do’ list because my next milestone---50---is looming ahead.

What’s on your life ‘to do’ list? I really want to know…so stop lurking, take a minute, sign in and clue me in. That will be, dear reader, your present to me.

Consistency, Consistency, Consistency

So, Thursday was a much needed planning day for my team. We met in our parenting center equipped with standards, unit books, and other planning resources. Substitutes took our unruly children and we were free to hold conversations at leisure instead of on the run in the hallway. We were able to go out to lunch like real people do during the workday.

Part of our time together was spent creating a rough framework for culminating assessments for a few of our social studies and science units. Our system supports the Backwards by Design method so these assessments are not necessarily paper and pencil tests but rather opportunities for students to show us what they have in their heads. We brainstormed great ideas that will measure mastery of specific standards. I’ll post some of the social studies ideas soon.

I teach with a wonderful group of ladies. Three members of our team are veteran teachers in the most extreme way….one has 27 years experience, another has 30 years, and the third has 35. I don’t try and kid myself…I’m not team leader because I am so organized or knowledgeable. I’m low man on the totem pole compared to my capable teammates. I’m paying my dues by serving them as team leader.

During our brainstorm session as we were coming up with ideas for the culminating assessments my experienced colleagues’ conversation went something like this:

“Remember when we used to teach?” said teacher one.

“No! Remember when we were trusted to teach?” countered teacher two.

Teacher three said, “I remember when we didn’t have to all be doing the same thing or something very similar.”

“Yeah, you could walk down the hall and hear different things being done instead of the same lesson, the same graphic organizer, or the same projects hanging in the hallway,” teacher one agreed.

They continued to lament that the creativity has been sucked out of education due to NCLB and the accompanying testing mentality. I agree somewhat. I mean, I think I’m fairly creative…sometimes. I still think the number one problem in education has to do with consistency. However, I feel I need to elaborate on what I mean.

We need consistency with discipline. Children need a firm hand with clearly defined limits and teachers need administrators who have support from the system level to do what is need to have order in the classroom. Too many of our violent, disruptive students have too many rights while our students who want to learn seem to have none.

We need consistency with curriculum. I’ve written and rewritten units too many times in the last seven years all in the name of conforming to the latest ‘be all and end all’ method to get those scores up. Don’t even get me started on the consistency of the state mandated assessments. How can students be successful if the state monkeys with the test as well as the standards we teach every year?

We need consistency with parents. It’s a two way street. We need to contact parents consistently as well as have them contact us. Some of my parents were going like gangbusters in August, September and October. By Thanksgiving break they were virtual strangers to my email inbox and I never could seem to get them on the phone. One of my goals for the upcoming year is to attempt to build a personal relationship with every parent. I didn’t say I would….just that I was going to make an attempt. I need their help. I cannot do the job I’m expected to do with it.

We need consistency with administrators. Too often they tell us one thing and a colleague another. Too often they will discipline one student with in school suspension when out of school suspension is more appropriate. A few weeks ago I read a post over at Alpha Shrugged called ‘Dark Clouds, Silver Lining’ that fits well with my rant. By way of Dan McDowell at A History Teacher, Al was making the observation that the “ever expanding bureaucracy seems dominated by entrepreneurs.” He stated further,

“We're living in an age wherein teachers, much as they might want to make, as much as they might hope to make, as much as they might actually succeed in making a difference with individual students, are viewed as interchangeable steps on an invisible ladder by the people who revolve through the leadership door. We want to be consistent. We need to be consistent. Because when you get right down to the bottom line, none of it works without us. We are the school.

And then every two or three years the wind changes direction…”

The longer I teach the more his words ring true to me.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

The Star Spangled Banner---Why It Should Be Our Anthem

As I admitted yesterday I have thought about several things to post about but actually coaching the ideas from my brain and onto the computer screen has been difficult. In recent days there have been large amounts of press concerning the altered national anthem. I understand that a word for word translation might be difficult to do, but the new translation simply alters the original meaning of the song. The song gets a bad enough rap as it is without changing the meaning behind it. Many people complain that it is hard to sing and the tune was originally a drinking song.

I think the reason many Americans have a hard time with the Star Spangled Banner is they simply don’t understand the history behind the song. Some of our fourth grades have been researching the history behind the Star Spangled Banner getting ready for a PTSO presentation for May 9th. When we discussed the War of 1812 this week that particular group was really excited since they were already aware of many of the details, so I sat back and let them teach the others, and then I filled in the gaps.

I believe if Americans truly understood the significance of this song and could feel the same emotion Francis Scott Key felt as he wrote the poem they would appreciate the song so much more. Ms. Cornelius has beaten me to the punch and posted an excellent review of the War of 1812, so I won’t relive those exciting details here.

Let’s put some things in perspective though. The U.S. was a new nation-----less than thirty years old, and Great Britain was still slapping it around. They would have loved to take over their former colonies which had now grown to include the Northwest frontier and the Louisiana Purchase. Many could argue that the War Hawks from the south and west pushed Madison into declaring war but once he did there was no turning back.

After burning the White House, the Capitol, and other Washington buildings the British sailed on up the Chesapeake Bay towards Baltimore. The British tried to take Baltimore by land battle but failed, which led to the inevitable bombardment of the fort.

Francis Scott Key was a Baltimore lawyer who was actually against the war. He became involved in the bombardment of Ft. McHenry as he attempted to win the release of an American doctor, William Beanes, who was being held on a British ship. Key was successful but found he was unable to leave the British ship as the bombardment had begun. As I told my students….imagine the horror of being caught with the enemy as your side begins to fire upon you. Imagine the fears of the people of Baltimore as they watched and waited all night through the bombardment hoping with each flash of the bombs that they would still see the flag over the fort.

The gigantic flag that Lt. Col. George Armistead had hired Mary Pickersgill to create had served a purpose. Armistead wanted a flag so large that the British would make no mistake as to where the fort was and Armistead wanted the people of Baltimore to know that the Americans were still in control of the fort throughout the battle. Ms. Pickersgill had to use the floor of a brewery to work on the flag that measured 30 x 42 feet. Each star on the flag is two feet across. For her work, much of it done on her knees, Ms. Pickersgill was paid $405.90.

The poem that Key wrote expresses his fears through the night as he witnessed the bombardment. His words also express the joy that all of the citizens felt as dawn arrived and the flag was still there.

So why should we care today? I allowed my kids to volunteer answers and they were all pretty good, but here’s what I told them….The War of 1812 was a defining moment in time for our country. It was our first test. Did we have what it takes to come together and face an invasion? The surge of nationalism that erupted after Ft. McHenry and the following Battle of New Orleans (actually fought after the peace treaty had been signed) cemented the United States as a country----not a loose collection of states. Of course, it wouldn’t be our only test…the Civil War would serve that purpose, but the pride and confidence that the United States gained led to the issuance of the Monroe Doctrine. This placed Europe on notice that they were through in North America, and that we would take notice of any further involvement in the Carribean and South America.

The American Revolution did not make us a country. It only gained our independence from Britain. What made us a country was the War of 1812, and every American should remember this each and every time they relive the emotion that Francis Scott Key transmits to us through his stirring words. At this point in my lesson we all stood and sang our national anthem, and this time the kids sang it with pride, dignity and a better Americans.

Visit Bookmoth and reread the words to the Star Spangled Banner with new or reminded understanding, and to those who want to mess with MY anthem…don’t.

UPDATE: 5-8-06 Check out an article at History News Network that has additional historical information on this topic. The authors have made some very good points. They also linked to this very post that you are reading. Check out the comments on their page for my response.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Two Roads Diverged...

So it was 8:00 p.m. and I thought I’d check my email and then get busy working on a post or two for this blog as well as American Presidents. I have neglected my writing for the last couple of weeks and find myself waking up in the middle of the night and while I’m in the car thinking of things to write. However, it just doesn’t seem to be flowing lately. The ideas are there but the will isn’t. As you can tell from my last few posts I’m simply limping along until our final day.

Anyway….I checked my mail and had a nice “keep your chin up” message from Mike in Texas. Thanks Mike! Then I made a fatal mistake. I pulled up this site. Do you do that with your blog? You know, click on it just to make sure it’s there…that it is loading right, etc or just simply to admire your little space on the web.

There it was… “my blog”, and before I knew it my itchy clicker finger moved over to my links list and began clicking away. There I went down that Internet superhighway just to see what I could see. I’ve discovered that my link list is actually a very large black hole that sucks me in and keeps me from doing what I really need to do. Before I knew it I had lost two whole hours.

I guess we need to do that every now and then. Just sit and read what others have written or what they have found to share. I went around to various folks and read and clicked their links and commented when I felt I had something relevant to say. I found some interesting things. I decided I would detail a few of them here.

ahistoricality shares a link to the Discovery Channel that details their efforts to get the public to phone in regarding a list of the “more recent” seven wonders of the world. A number is provided where you can call in your vote. Since I didn’t have a say the first time around I think I’ll call in my list. I think I would choose Angkor, Cambodia; Easter Island statues, Chile; Machu Piccu, Peru; Stonehenge, Amesbury, United Kingdom; Timbuktu, Mali; Acropolis, Athens, Greece; and of course, Pyramids of Giza, Egypt. It was actually harder than I thought it would be to choose.

Want some information about the world’s wealthiest leaders? World of Royalty links to an article that I found interesting. Reading about the lives of royals was one of the main reasons I became interested in history as a young girl. My high school library had several books by the author Jean Plaidy who wrote historical fiction with actual kings and queens of England and France as the main characters. She also wrote gothic mysteries under the name Victoria Holt. Royal lives whether actual biographies or somewhat fictionalized has always fascinated me simply because of the direct line of succession. How interesting it must be to have your family tree so well researched that there are no gaps….

Mr. Lawrence posted about a student who had to be restrained. The administrator who had to actually do the restraining was hurt. Mr. Lawrence was wondering why the administrator didn’t call the police. In today’s world you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If the police had been called administrators would have been called insensitive and would have been accused of taking things too far. Please don’t get me wrong. As a social studies teacher I have many special needs students in my class room every class period. Most attempt to complete their work, listen to me in class, and participate in discussions. Many are verbal learners so they usually ask fantastic questions. Most of the time the special needs students make connections and ask questions that many of my regular education students wouldn’t dream of asking. However, a few special needs students are regularly violent or are so overwhelmed by the stimuli in the regular education classroom that they cannot attend to school work. They speak out accusing other students of looking at them, threatening them, or simply hissing at kids to get their attention. They throw things, walk around the room and pull things out of cabinets or drawers, and from time to time leave the class room without permission knowing I can’t follow them. I document every episode. You would think after a handful of such episodes it would be logically assumed that the regular education classroom is not the proper place for certain students. The students themselves are attempting to tell us they are in the wrong place by acting out constantly. Just yesterday we had a meeting on a young man who has terrorized one of my history classes all year. After utilizing many different strategies I finally got the young man to at least sit quietly in a chair during class around December. However, to this day he has yet to pick up a pencil or attempt to complete any class work. Finally, the science teacher and I were listened to and the student’s time with the special education was increased. But at what cost? The other students in my room were terrorized all year. I was subjected to undue stress every day as I never knew if I would be hit, if another student would be hit by a flying chair, or if we would have the joy of listening to a string of profanity that this young man would let fly at the most inopportune times. Most importantly this troubled student missed out on an entire year of social studies and science instruction because he was in an environment that was not conducive to his needs for learning.

Someone has finally penned a post that gets a big AMEN from me. In the post “The Third Rail” dehavilland very correctly reminds us that parents need to be involved in their child’s education. Now I know the “No Excuses” crowd will say that educators can and do very well without parent involvement but think how much better it would be if every parent worked with their child for 20 minutes-----even if it was simply to go over the school day to see what the child worked on. I sat in a conference last year with a parent who told me it wasn’t her job to read with her child. Her tax dollars were paying me to do that. Meanwhile her child continued to wet his pants at least once a week in my class, sucked his thumb daily ( a ten year old), and had to be threatened with a write up to get any work completed. Yes, I know that that type of behavior can be evidence of child abuse. I did refer it to the social worker and counselor.

Finally, many thanks to Assorted Stuff for posting a link to this site. I have been very concerned with the fact that I can’t access many sites on my school computer including my personal email address. Many educational sites are blocked as well. This blog looks like it will continue to be an interesting read in the future.

Two roads diverged on the Internet superhighway and I chose to meander down that unknown side road. It was an interesting three hours.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Pie In the Sky

It’s been another difficult week. I will save you the boring, grisly details but to say that elementaryhistoryteacher is plumb tuckered out mentally and physically would only be a mediocre description of my educational experiences this week.

Rather than focusing on the past I’d rather share with you a more uplifting, forward thinking way to end my week. Yesterday my team and I met in my room for our weekly team meeting. As usual I had a lengthy agenda. I reminded the fourth grade teachers about a survey we are required to take online. I obtained the names of the necessary volunteers for the PTSO sponsored dance/gathering coming up any day now. I gave a deadline for award lists to be given to me so the certificates can be prepared. We discussed end of the year exams, career day, field day, and culminating projects. We finalized some details for the PTSO meeting where our grade level will be responsible for the program along with the fifth grade.

Finally, we discussed our team planning day coming up on the 11th. We will have all day to plan and discuss curriculum next Thursday. We will also have the opportunity to go out to lunch like other adults. Substitutes will be covering our classes. I gave my team an assignment. I asked them to take the next few days to seriously think about their year. What worked? What didn’t? If they could have the best fourth grade ever what would it look like? I told them to include projects, field trips, events, lessons, activities, procedures, student recognition, ways to motivate, and ways to involve parents. Finally I said, “Ladies, think outside of the box. Your goal is ‘pie in the sky’. What would the perfect fourth grade year be like if there were no obstacles?”

I’m hoping to have real meaningful dialogue next week to begin building that perfect year. I want to take an idea or two from each person and formulate a plan to achieve it. I’m anxious to hear their “Pie In the Sky Lists” and even though I’m beat up and worn slap out I’m looking forward to next year.

So….I’m wondering….what would be on your pie in the sky list. What kinds of things would you like to implement?