Thursday, September 28, 2006

Is It Friday Yet? At Least It's Carnival Time

I don’t know about you, but this has been an exausting week for me. I have more and more “things to do” than things I can count as “ta-dahs” (finished items). Nine week benchmark tests are looming and after 11 days of testing we are furiously attempting to tie up loose content ends.

One bright spot has been Studentteacherguy. He has been great. He has pitched right in, put with up the last week of CRAZY SCHOOL during our final days of testing, and is firm but friendly with the students. He is learning so much, and I am learning from him.

Studenteacherguy’s main focus during this time in the classroom is to teach science and math. Today he worked with my homeroom doing a science activity in the hallway. Part of the plan involved using toilit paper where kids had to measure and figure out distances between planets. As I taught my third and fourth period Language Arts classes my homeroom students were in the hallway busy with the activity. Every now and then a student would catch my eye through the windows around my classroom door and we would smile and wave to each other. That was the only hint an activity was taking place. They never disturbed us. Studentteacherguy has good control over the students. He took several pictures to document the activity. I hope to post a few here when he emails them to me later.

The 86th Education Carnival is up over at the Education Wonks here. There are several thought provoking posts to peruse through so go take a ride on the ferris wheel.

One particular post that grabbed my attention concerned a blogger whose son was forced to stand and say the pledge though he highly objects to the “under God” section of the pledge.

I’m interested. What do you think? Does the pledge have a place in our classrooms? What is your procedure if a student objects to reciting the pledge?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Doing the Texas Textbook Shuffle

Mark, over at Texbook Evaluator here poses thoughtful questions about the Texas principal recently removed from his post because he kept textbooks under lock and key for nearly a month of school. I had thought about crafting a post about this, however, Mark has done a much better job. Go take a look.

Monday, September 25, 2006

My Friend Homer

I try to have a read aloud in both of my language arts classes. Sometimes it’s hard to fit it in, but I feel strongly that students need to have fluent reading modeled for them continuously. I have several books that I keep in a special plastic container labled “KEEP OUT”, “THIS MEANS YOU”, “BEWARE”, and “PERSONAL PROPERTY OF MRS. C”. Inside the tub are my very personal copies of certain titles….Treasure Island, Moby Dick, Frindle, every installment of Lemony Snicket’s books, and many, many more. I try to fit in read alouds with social studies as well…mainly with short picture type books aimed at upper elementary and middle grades (yes, there are quite a few) and the longer chapter books as well.

I had finished our read aloud and had to make a new choice in a hurry. I relied on an old friend….a sixty year old friend to be exact. His name is Homer Price and he was already nearly thirty when I would steal away to a quiet corner hoping my sister hadn’t noticed I had lifted her copy of the Robert McCloskey classic.

I introduced the book to my students by hugging the book dearly to my chest and exclaimed, “I love, love, LOVE this book. I think you will love this book too.” I then showed them the cover and began telling them how I read the book even before I could read. I asked, “Did any of you ever read a book before you could actually read?”

A few hands went up. I inquired with one young man, “How did you do that? How did you read without actually knowing how to read?”

Very matter of factly he answered, “Well, I looked at the pictures very closely and tried to figure out what was going on. I would make up in my head what made sense.”

Several other heads nod. I agreed with the young man and told the kids I did the same thing as a child especially with Homer Price. The pictures are spectacular in a McCloskey tale. There is rarely color, but oh the detail. This picture from the chapter regarding Uncle Ulysses and his doughnut machine is one of the best. Look at all the detail. I showed it today as I began reading the doughnut chapter and the kids were mesmerized by all the detail as I passed the book around. Just post this picture and ask kids to make up stories and what tales they will weave.


Now you may be asking, “Elementaryhistoryteacher, what does this have to do with history?” Hmmmmmmm, well first of all I made sure my kids noticed the pubish date of the book. It was first published in 1943. “Gee,” I asked my students. “How many years ago was that?” Lot of question marks met my gaze. “Discuss this in your groups. How would we figure this out?” I won’t go into it here, but let’s just say they were very creative in trying to figure this out. I was a little disappointed they didn’t already know or shall I say….remember how to do this. We had a short lesson in figuring out dates and years elapsed and discovered Homer Price was published sixty-three years ago. One young man raised his hand and said, “Mrs. C., I didn’t know you were THAT old.” I stared at the young man, I stared at the other kids, I stared at Studentteacherguy who was standing at the back of the room greatly amused.

I finally said calmly, “No, sweetie. I’m not THAT old. The book was already thirty years old when I began to read it.” I thought to myself, “Self, get on with it. You can bang your head against the door jam later after everyone has gone.”

So, you can use a classic piece of literature to teach how to figure elapsed years. There’s more…….We very quickly discussed what might be going on during the 1940s. More stares. I try again. “What happened on December 7, 1941?”

“Oh, oh, OH…I was looking at one of your books during testing and it was about Pearl Harbor. PEARL HARBOR!”

“Yes, your right. Boys and girls our country was involved in World War II during the 1940’s. Does anyone have a grandparent or great-grandparent that fought during World War II?” Several hands go up. Even though the book does not bring up talk of the war there are hints about the 1940s and American life during that time. By pointing out these details I am allowing the students to develop prior knowledge about the time period and they can layer it on what they already know. Homer’s family owns a tourist camp, a type of motel, which used to be very popular in this country during the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. There’s a sense of small town life and a time when people were friendly and kind to one another. We discuss why Homer builds radios and why when he goes to the movies he is there for several hours…..a cartoon, a cowboy serial, a superman seriel, a news reel or two, and finally the movie. This is a time period alien to my kids….gee, it’s alien to me as well. Most of us own at least two televisions and movies can be downloaded right from the couch. We can’t think of a time when they weren’t in everyone’s homes. In the chapter we began reading today Homer’s mom and his Aunt Aggie go to a women’s meeting where they are going to do some sewing for the Red Cross. I ask, “Ok, why would Mom and Aunt Aggie work on sewing for the Red Cross?” Kids correctly arrive at the fact that the women were contributing to the war effort.

Even Studentteacherguy seems smitten with the stories. He listens right along with the kids and mentioned today, “Wow, those are great pictures.” I reminded him that new literature is great, but we should NEVER forget the classics and their importance of teaching so many different things to our students.

It also doesn’t hurt for students to see us relive moments from our childhood either.

A wonderful set of essays regarding Robert McCloskey who is no longer with us can be found here and a biography can be found here. Also Economics can be a hard topic to crack with nine and ten olds, but an old lesson plan on the Internet found here has been a big help to me in the past.

Friday, September 22, 2006

After Reflection...My Response to the USA Today Article

I’ve been somewhat quiet about the USA Today article seen here because I wanted to be clear in my own mind what it all means to me. I decided to let a few days pass, have a glass of wine, and then let it all pour out.

Greg Toppo contacted me around July 19th right after mother had died. It was a really strange period, but I was more than glad to talk to him. I had to clarify why I had started this site and what my goals were. I agree with what I said at the time that my writing for this site “helps me gather [my] thoughts and speak for myself.” I love to write about social studies curriculum especially historical content when I am able to tie in my experiences in the classroom and from my past. It also doesn’t hurt to see the different viewpoints, check up on the newest research, and simply converse.

Not only is this a place for me to explore my desire to write and perhaps serve as a conduit to another career (Publishers, where are you?), I also feel strongly that this site allows me the opportunity to express the joy, the anger, the frustration, even the wonder at what I do and how people react to my profession. I was quoted in the article saying, “As a teacher, I feel like people don’t listen to me. Parents don’t listen to me, politicians don’t listen to me, the media doesn’t listen to me---but everyone tries to tell me how to do my job.” I could have probably added some other groups in the mix such as some researchers, authors, pundits and the biggie for me…my professional educational organization (union).

In a previous lifetime I was a paralegal. I always felt respected. I always felt like my knowledge was valued even by the attorneys I worked for. I long for that sometimes.

What many people don’t realize is the nature of the process of blogging. Alexander Russo from This Week in Education got it right when he said in the article, “It’s the equivalent of a dispatch from the front lines or letter written in a foxhole.” Mr. Toppo also gets it right when he refers to the “raw and unscripted” nature of blogging.

Well, I certainly proved that point to myself. I had been waiting and waiting and waiting for the article to come out. When it finally did come out I didn’t even know it until 5 p.m. on Monday. I had no idea they were going to link to one of my posts. I was shocked because I had posted it rather quickly late on the Wednesday before and had not proofed my work like I try to do….and what do you know….a typo right there for USA Today to pick up and publish…..not only in the paper, but on-line as well. A heads-up would have been appreciated.

“CRAP”, is not the word I uttered when this was discovered. Apparently only two people were really livid enough about it to actually contact me…one through a scathing comment and one through snail mail (yep, one person took the time to cut out the article, draw an arrow to the error and spent postage to mail it to me at school----thank-you high school science teacher from Atlanta, Georgia). Of course, the two people who wanted to draw and quarter me and burn me at the stake didn’t identify themselves. One was a regular reader who didn’t want to identify themselves but notified me of the error in a nice way….thanks. I fired off a plea to Mr. Toppo about the excerpt from my post “A Typical Day”. He responded “The excerpt was a last-minute addition and I’m sorry we didn’t get the corrected version. I have forwarded your e-mail to editors…” I’m grateful it was corrected the following day. I’m not dismissing the error….but my body of work here at this site and at American Presidents Blog speak volumes of my abilities, my love of my subject matter and my professionalism. ‘Nuff said about that……

Everybody has an opinion about how to improve education, but aren’t we the ones on the front line? Aren’t we the ones who are where it really counts? We are the ones that sit across from the student, one-on-one, witnessing the child’s behavior, witnessing the child’s thought processes, redirecting the child, celebrating accomplishments with the child, and picking up the pieces by changing course to give it a go again when there is failure. Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying politicians, parents, the media, etc. don’t have a right to be part of the conversation. They do, but so often we only hear they are right, and we are wrong. I’m the one sitting there with the child. I guess I am supposed to tell the child:

“Gee, hon’, I guess I ‘m seeing imaginary things because you’re mom says you never act like this at home.”

“I don’t understand why you aren’t getting this. I’m using the **** method. It is the approved method by the school system and the top educational researchers. They say if I do this you will succeed.”

“Now, come on dear. Get with the program. Mr. Politician says I can’t leave you behind even though you disrupt my classroom, threaten my life, and haven’t picked up a pencil in three years.”

The picture I’ve placed with this post is Horton. Loveable Horton from Horton Hears a Who. Educators need to get a voice, join ranks and yell at the top of their lungs, “We are here. We are here. WE ARE HERE.” These blogs give us the chance to do this….sometimes in a positive way and sometimes in a negative way. I think either method has its place. Jay Bullock at Folkbum has it correct when he says, "So much of the criticism of education that I read is from people who don’t actually have a good sense of what goes on day-to-day in the classroom.” Jay is on track. How many times have you had a parent volunteer say to you, “Gee, why do you have to do that? I didn’t know this was part of your job.” The general public doesn’t know, and that’s why it’s so important for us to continue with what we do. If it means I have to be embarrassed concerning the use of “I” and “me” in front of the whole world, or if it means I have to show my true self (now you know why I use the cartoon image) in order to be heard I’m willing to do that.

Teachers like First Year Teacher and even our own favorite sub, Mr. Lawrence (He’s only 25? Yikes, I could be his mom) are necessary in this process to remind us that things don’t always work the way they should. This system of ours is broken in so many different places. We leak like a sieve.

Of course, there are others such as my dear, dear friend Dennis Fermoyle who feels that we already have enough black eyes as it is without putting the spotlight on ourselves. The title of his site, From the Trenches of Public Ed., confirms he’s in the same foxhole with us, but he does have a point when he states, “I think sometimes we shoot ourselves in the foot. If you’re in public education, you’ve got to understand that when you do things like that you’re really adding to the load against us. Bad things happen, there’s no question, but a lot of good things happen, too.”

Let me refer back to Horton Hears a Who. What finally released the sound so that others on the outside could hear the Whos? Was it one little “yelp” or was it a “yop”? In either case the sound was released and the Whos were saved. Ladies and gentlemen, we need to yelp and yop all over the place!

Want to know what disappointed me most about the whole article? It wasn’t the error, it wasn’t the “you’re a disgrace to the profession” comment, it wasn’t even the one comment I received regarding my appearance (hope you weren’t too disappointed). It has to do with the fact that USA Today came in my classroom to take pictures of me teaching. I made sure I had media releases on each of my homeroom students. I posted our lesson for that day here. The photographer was great…a lovely person. She took so many pictures of my kids. The kids did great…you would have thought they always had a professional photographer in the classroom. I had alerted parents their child might be in the paper. They were excited too. Unfortunately, not a picture was used. I guess that’s how it goes in the media biz.

The best part was sharing the article with my Dad. The man who IF I had ever made all A’s would have said, “Gee, couldn’t you have done better?” The bar was always high at my house. I called Daddy and told him to click on USA Today. He did and followed my directions to the article not knowng where we were going… he at his house on his computer and me fifty miles away on my lap top. His chuckle as he saw his “I’m not overweight, just under tall” daughter was worth it all including the typo. We clicked over to this site and I walked him through various posts I wanted him to see…..we discussed the lovely picture of mom here and he was quick to identify himself by saying "Look at that young, good looking man" when he saw this picture here. Our conversation quickly turned to the frustrations of teaching and Daddy so aptly refocused me….he said, “But, it appears from this site that you are having a ball.” Yes, Daddy….you’ve always been right!

So, I write. I write for me. I write so I can read your writing. I write so others can read my writing and link to your writing. Whether we are positive or negative and whether we want to acknowledge it or not there is an educator out there who feels the same way we do. We are their voice. This became very clear to me in many of the pieces of mail I got this week. I’ll end by sharing this one:

Mrs. Cooper,
As a retired teacher I’m glad to read that you and others are getting your message out. I’m not ‘into’ blogging, so I’m using ‘snail mail’ to add my support. The injustices in salaries, paperwork, and ‘teaching to test’ need to be spread far and wide. So many men and women need to be rewarded by more than the limited GOLDEN APPLES.


Thank you for all of you who support this site by clicking through, by spending many minutes perusing, and thank you to each of you who blog. You are doing more than you realize.

P.S. to Mr. Toppo: Did you have to put the number 44 after my name everytime it was printed….even in the picture caption? Just kidding! :)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Social Studies Diagrams

Any Social Studies teacher understands that diagrams can help students understand things like population movement, battle strategies, or even the sequence of events.

Mamacita over at Scheiss Weekly has done something administrators love. She has connected two academic areas for an interesting twist on learning the parts of speech. She has taken important historic words and diagrammed them.

The example I show here, of course, is the Pledge of Allegiance. Mamacita also shows us the Preamble to the Constitution over at her site here. Look for the post from September 17, 2006. When I begin to teach students to diagram sentences I always like to end my first lesson with a very long and involved sentence to show kids what they might eventually be able to do with their diagrams. They were fairly impressed with the long sentence I diagrammed this year, but I guarantee you they will be very motivated when I show them the diagram of the pledge. Connections work when you can link something new to something students are very familiar with.

I think this is just “way too cool”. I have been using diagrams with my fourth grade Language Arts students because it helps them to break down the words into the “jobs” they fulfill in the sentence. If your district is “into” graphic organizers then sentence diagramming meets the definition of an organizer.

One of the standards Georgia fourth graders are required to master is “Students will identify nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs in a sentence.” We’ve started out simple….subject predicate, adverbs, and adjectives. We have also diagrammed compound subjects. Ninety-eight percent of my fifty students earned a 90 or better on their last grammar test.

Diagramming works!

Thanks Mamacita!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Welcome USA Today Readers

Thanks for stopping by...

The on-line version of the paper linked to a recent post of mine titled A Typical Day. I was interviewed for the USA Today article back in July and wasn’t told they might recreate a post of mine on their site. I certainly don’t mind, however, the portion they posted doesn’t give you a clear picture of where I was going with my thoughts. The remaining portion of the article goes on to provide a picture of what I do in my classroom on a typical day. You can see the entire post here.

You can receive current updates to this site through your email address by entering your address in the Feed Blitz box at the top of this site.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

James Buchanan: A Lesson In Name Calling

Since I teach children who are not even teenagers yet I try to stay away from certain topics. I don’t talk about certain subjects like abortion and homosexuality because my students are still at an age where some know about these subjects while others do not. It is not my place to tell them. Not yet. It’s amazing though how these types of topics creep into my classroom when I least expect them.

The question “What is a homesexual?” is not one of the questions I feel comfortable answering. Neither is “What is oral sex?” or “What is virginity?” Believe it not these are questions I have been asked before during class. Was the inquiry a real wonderment on the inquisitor’s part or was it for shock value to disrupt? I tend to think it is generally for the latter since these types of questions come up at the strangest times from students I suspect already know the answer. Needless to say I don’t take the bait. I certainly don’t need little Bobby or Sue to go home and say, “EHT says a homosexual is someone who….”

It’s not my place.

My great blogging friend Michael over at the American Presidents Blog recently provided a link to a very interesting web site called Tall, Slim, and Erect. I clicked on several presidents and read the information presented there. The information concerning James Buchanan gave me pause. It reminded me of a predicament I got myself into soon after I had started teaching.

Fifth grade students were assigned a president to research. I have quite a collection of presidential trivia books, and our media center has an extensive collection of short presidential biographies, so it really is a good topic for fourth or fifth grade to put their research skills in action.

So that particular year one eager student was assigned James Buchanan. The student arrived on the due date with paper in hand along with the required poster. The poster was exquisite. It was almost too perfect, if you get my drift. As teachers we all experience this when we assign home research projects. Parents get involved and they finally get to do the project they didn’t get to do because their parent horned several years before. It’s a rite of passage, isn’t it?

The student in question was one of those young men who was never organized, who had physician handwriting, and usually turned in things that looked like they had been up his nose or some other cavity before he turned them in. I usually needed a clothespin and rubber gloves to grade his assignments.

My fine young historian had elected to present his research in the form of a concept web on a red piece of posterboard. The name James Buchanan was in the middle written in crayon with fine script writing on white paper. Each entry was also framed with a piece of blue construction paper that peeked out from the edges of the white. The handwriting was an appropriate height. Black lines spread out from the middle to each concept and wrapped around the entries giving them focus and depth. It was a stunning poster… could read each entry from half a classroom away.

There were several ideas spread out around Buchanan’s name….lawyer, state representative, senator, diplomat, and finally my gaze fell upon the final entry………gayfer. GAYFER. GAYFER?

I’d been had. Not just by a parent who relived their childhood by completing their son’s project for them, but by a parent who wanted to push the envelope a bit to see what I would do.

Pushing the envelope is fine but in the immortal words of Dirty Harry, “A [teacher] has to know their limitations.” Some envelopes are razor thin and leave nasty paper cuts if you push back too hard, however, allowing the poster to go up in the hallway with a slur towards a particular group of people would not do.

As far as James Buchanan being gay it is more than likely true. Head on over to the American Presidents Blog and read the remainder of my post including how I handled this push and shove match.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Praises and Recognition

This picture was given to me this week by one of my little historians. He’s a sweet young man and he came to me at the end of the day and laid the drawing on my desk with an awkward grin. At the top it said To: Elementaryhistoryteacher, From: Cute Little Boy (not his real name). It was a simple gesture from him to me. However, I probably didn’t really express to him how much his drawing meant to me at that moment after a very difficult day of crazy school. I placed my arm around his shoulder and gave him one of those “safe” side-hugs and told him thank you. His heart soared and so did mine. We both knew someone cares.

I have had a difficult last few days. A terrible feeling of loneliness has filled my whole being. I have felt that the very essence of my being has been ripped from me. I have been in agony. The most mundane activities of getting through my days have been so much more difficult since…since…since the lap top left for San Antonio.

Okay, okay….the loneliness was actually because Dear Hubby went to San Antonio...but the lap top went with him. The device I have come to depend so greatly is actually his so I couldn’t put up too much of a fuss. He runs his own business and needs to have constant communication with his clients etc. We don’t do well apart (I'm speaking of Dear Hubby and I…..not the computer) so it was a great reunion when he arrived safely back in Atlanta this afternoon. The lap top and I have had quite a reunion as well. I waited an appropriate one hour and a half after Hubby Dear walked in the door before I ransacked his suitcases to rescue the lap top from the darkness. I praise the safe return of the lap top, and yes, I recognize I have a problem.

I had to resort to using the “family” computer that Dear Daughter has complete control of with the proper amount of parental guidance. I had to navigate a cutesey cursor that left a tail of sparks everywhere you moved it on the page and had to navigate around constant instant messaging boxes popping up at the most inopportune moments blinking comments like, “Waz up?”, “HEY RETARD!” and the ever popular “What ‘cha doin’?” For some reason everything I typed in Word had blinking marquis lights around it. It was making me dizzy. Dear Daughter finally had to help me turn that little cutesey off. So, praises and recognition goes to Dear Daughter for her computer know how….she’s self taught.

Dear Hubby called last night to tell me where he was. He was high atop a building having this fantastic dinner looking out onto the illuminated Alamo. He said it was awesome. This afternoon he told me there were a couple of folks in his group that didn’t know what they were looking at. Imagine that! He told me he quickly told these people the importance of where they were at and told them if I was there with them I could give them a thorough lesson. You bet I would! I love it when Dear Hubby notices my strengths and talents. It makes me do the happy dance. He hates to be away from home but went through with the trip to help his business so kudos to him for being the great provider he is and well…..he’ll receive my praise later….after the football game he’s watching. First things first, you know.

Many praises to the faculty and staff at my school. We have survived week one of Crazy School. If you missed my post about crazy school you can see it here. One more week of testing with the added bonus of student teachers arriving Monday morning. Crazy, crazy, crazy school!

I got up this morning and went to school to create a new seating arrangement, to do some necessary cleaning and clearing out, and to prepare a place for my student teacher to perch. I was tired and had a headache, but I went on anyway. A nice quiet morning at home doing much needed laundry (Dear Son dropped off a basket last night on his way to Georgia Southern College for a weekend of fun and frivolity) and house cleaning beckoned to me but the call of the classroom was louder.

As I was walking into the building a Dominos delivery car was going by. The driver hung out of his window yelling my name over and over again, “Hey, Elementaryhistoryteacher! Hey! Hey! How ya’ doin’?” He was hanging half way out of the car. It’s a wonder he didn’t wreck or fall out. I gave the young man a big wave. As I put my key in the door of the school I was smiling. I still had a headache and still felt exhausted but just the simple recognition by that young man as I entered the school gave a lift to my heart. He didn’t have to say anything to me. He could have just thought to himself…."There’s my fifth grade teacher. Gosh, she’s gained weight and looks older.” or “There’s Elementaryhistoryteacher. She still goes to school on Saturday. When will she learn?”…and gone on without opening his mouth. How many times have you seen someone from your past and NOT said something to them? Sometimes we don’t say anything because we are afraid they won’t remember us. We are afraid of embarrassment. We might just be missing that one opportunity to make someone’s day including our own.

Praises and recognition are the best, you know. They can really turn a bad week around. I discovered this week that my post 9-11: Lessons Learned had been linked to by the Blogboard at Teacher Magazine. The History Carnival hosted by Ralph E. Luker at Cliopatria included my post Have We Always Had Terrorism Or Is It Something New?. The entire 39th History Carnival can be found here.

I also need to praise Mr. Luker for a recent post titled Women and History Blogging that can be found here. He provides an extensive list of women bloggers who post entirely on history topics as well as women who blog about history and other topics. I was so pleased he included me in the list.

So go forth and recognize and praise as many people as you can next week. You'll be the better for it, and you'll make someone's day.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A Typical Day

So if you came to my classroom this week or next would you see a typical day in Elementaryhistoryteacher’s classroom?

Unfortunately you would miss out. It simply wouldn’t happen. My school has entered the realm of CRAZY SCHOOL which is a parallel universe created by all of the education stakeholders across America. CRAZY SCHOOL is where you take a smooth running machine that has been in operation for some five weeks and throw it to the four winds. The result is a faculty and staff that are so incredibly flexible they can be described as Gumby look-alikes along with a slightly bewildered student body that from one day to the next has a completely different schedule.

It’s not normal for my nine year olds to sit still for three hours while they show me what they know or don’t know compared to other students across our fair nation. It’s not normal for me to be in my office, (yes, that’s how I think of it) for three hours as the designated time keeper and gopher for Kleenex, sharpened pencils, and plastic baggies for that stubborn tooth that decides to pop out between answer bubbles. The burden of test security and protocols alone is extremely daunting and psychologically exhausting to my colleagues and me. Gee, one wrong move and I might as well tear up my certificate.

Once the testing period is over we begin an abbreviated schedule so that we can still have the majority of our day for academics. Remember academics? The reason why we’re there in the first place……In twenty-first century education, however, an abbreviated schedule for some 5-600 kids is easier said than done when a large majority of them have individual needs and requirements and are tracked more ways than Atlanta has Peachtree Streets. An abbreviated schedule means you’re going to end up with a few kids you aren’t supposed have that class period, you’re going to not have some kids you need, and somehow or another your personal potty break doesn’t happen until 4:30 p.m. You figure out it’s lunch time but you don’t have the normal group you take to lunch so you take the group you’re with, but then someone forgets and picks up the group they always pick up which means a group gets left behind. The result? CRAZY SCHOOL!

Keep smiling, stay flexible and tread that water! Testing time is almost half over.


So, let’s pretend it’s not CRAZY SCHOOL time. Let’s pretend you have come to visit when it’s a normal, routine school day. What would you see? Well, first of all you would see students sitting in mixed gender and ability groups. Students would be busy completing several different planned activities based on content we would have gone over a day or two before.

Generally my fourth grade students receive new American History content through one to two days of teacher-directed instruction heavily infused with questioning strategies, opportunities for predictions, and discussion. Yes, you can discuss history with a nine year old. Since this is the first opportunity for most of my students to learn about American History and since they are still developing their non-fiction reading skills I rely on the text, teacher-prepared notes, short trade books, videos, and teacher-created power point presentations to deliver content. A few “oh-by-the-way” type stories don’t hurt either. During our study of World War I, my fifth graders always perked up when I discussed the nastiness of trench foot. Ick!

Once students have content in a holding pattern in their dear little heads I follow up with three to four days of intense individual and group work where students rotate through a series of activities to hone textbook skills locating and recalling information, reproducing diagrams and maps, and writing creatively. Students also create vocabulary flashcards with the definition on the front and an illustration on the back. Students keep their flashcards on a metal ring and consider it a symbol of honor when they can show off a full ring of cards at the end of the year. I guess you could call it a ring of history.

Student extend the content by reading a related set of Accelerated Reader titles, reviewing a list of web sites I have created, or a selection of Kids Discover magazines that I have grouped together for the unit. Groups also work on a reading skill for each text lesson and have opportunities to work with content through crossword puzzles, cloze activities, and various graphic organizers.

I generally move around the room from group to group checking for understanding, asking more questions, and observing any holes I might have in my instruction. I also identify core skill weaknesses students might have. The noise level can get out of hand and off task behavior is a risk, but I have found that by being among the children I can help students by re-directing them when necessary.

So that’s what you would see most days in my classroom, but not this week.

CRAZY SCHOOL is the norm for this week.

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Monday, September 11, 2006

Simple Remembrances

balloon release

We had a short ceremony and balloon release this morning to remember the victims of 9/11 at my school. I was so proud of our students…..there were no major problems. Every child behaved in a manner you would hope. A local radio station was there so some of my students were lucky enough to be interviewed.

One young man walked over to me following his fifteen minutes of fame and said, “Don’t worry, Elementaryhistoryteacher, I didn’t say nuthin’ I wasn’t ‘posed to.”

Like I was worried……

As the balloons were released we continued to watch them as they danced and swirled on their journey up through the air. Once the balloons were very high in the sky some of my students remarked how they looked like stars.

Apparently some of the kids in grade K had been discussing among themselves how the victims were in Heaven. Somebody asked what would happen to the balloons. One wee one correctly stated that the people in Heaven would have fun popping the balloons. We were sending them a gift……

I love the simplicity of children.

balloon release 1

In case you haven’t had enough images today this link here will take you to a slide show from USA Today.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

9-11....Lessons Learned

Though I wasn’t assigned a victim of 9/11 to post about from the 2996 Project, I decided that I would post my personal story of that day and dedicate it to those who lost their lives.

September 11, 2001 began like any other September school day; however, it was abnormally quiet since T.’s seat was uncharacteristically empty. He had not missed a day of school since we hard started around the first of August.

T. was my assigned rambunctious, outspoken, almost uncontrollable young man for the year. There is always at least one. He was a handsome ten year old who adored baseball, adored going to church, and was very in touch with his feelings. While his brain usually moved ahead of his feet by about ten steps he never intentionally meant to interrupt me for the five thousandth time in one class period, never meant to cause me frustration, and he never meant to get on my nerves. T. simply had no clue that a one-to-one ongoing conversation between a teacher and himself was not the proper procedure in a classroom with 24 other students.

He blurted out constantly attempting to finish my sentences, anticipate my questions, and interrupted his classmates everytime the notion slapped him in the head. He also had a problem many young men do…..he couldn’t sit still. His parents had long since solved the energy problem by making sure T. was signed up for every sport that came along. Unfortunately we don’t run bases in my classroom.

After the second week of getting used to T.’s energy level he and conferenced and we worked out a management plan for Elementaryhistoryteacher’s sanity. He and I developed hand signals so that he would know when I had had my limit of interruptions. He honestly didn’t realize what he was doing. Sometimes kids have to be taught social limits regarding space and conversation limits. We worked out a plan where T. could stand at this seat every so often to ease any discomfort as he sat. I arranged for his seat to be towards the back of the group so he wouldn’t interfere with another student. T. seemed grateful for the strategies as he commented, “Gee, maybe this will work. Lord knows you were ready to strangle me yesterday.”

T. was right. So on that September morning his seat screamed at me in the quiet as the class proceeded through their morning work.

We were about to transition into Social Studies when T. suddenly burst through the door out of breath speaking as fast and as loud as he possibly could. “Oh my gosh, Elementaryhistoryteacher, a plane crashed in New York City and the whole place is on fire.”

It was very confusing to say the least. I mean where had he suddenly come from? The classroom had gone from very orderly and quiet to some town crier bursting through the door screaming New York City was on fire. My mind was attempting to process all of this. Where had T. been? Why was he just now coming to me? What had he been doing? What is this about a plane? Huh?

I grabbed T. by the shoulders. “Darlin’, what are you talking about?”

T. was still trying to speak between deep breaths. “I don’t…..know. The man…..said a plane……had crashed…….in New York.”

“What man?” I quizzed.

“The man…..on the radio,” T. gulped.

The room was totally disrupted by now with students watching my question and answer session with T. their heads bobbing back and forth like they were watching a tennis match.

“Back up, T.,” I lobbed, “Where have you been?”

T fired back, “The dentist. By the way, Dr. C. says hello.” Dr. C. is a local dentist and I had taught his son a couple of years before. He was always sending my students back to school with a “Hey, how ya’ doing?” message.

I countered impatiently with, “Yes, yes, hey to Dr. C.” I waved my hand to the air. “T., tell me what’s going on?”

I was getting exasperated. The rhythm of my class had been disrupted, precious instructional minutes were being lost, and I still didn’t know what was going on.

Finally, T. served up, “On the way over here from Dr. C’s office the guy on the radio said the World Tower or something has been hit by a plane.”

“The World Trade Center, is that what you mean?” I struck back.

“Yeah, I think so.”

I walked over to the television, hit the on button and switched the channel to CNN……the only twenty-four hour new channel our school could get at the time. The image hit me like a ton of bricks.

“Oh my gosh, T. You’re right.” I said as I backed up from the screen. The room got very still and we listened to the announcer. It was still early enough that both towers were still standing. The announcer was still getting information in his earpiece so he could explain what what was going on.

I offhandedly began telling students that many years before a small plane had hit the Empire State Building and the same thing had probably happened again. I told them that, but I wasn’t so sure.

I stepped into the hallway and got the attention of my teaching partner. I lovely woman who was still trying to figure this Southern gal out considering she grew up in New York. Her eyes immediately filled up with tears as she pulled her door behind her and mouthed the words, “Those bastards!” to me.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I guarantee you this is the same group who tried to take the towers down before.” We exchanged a few more words before she stepped back in her room to turn on her television as T. came to my classroom door.

“Elementaryhistoryteacher,” he said. “The tower just fell.”

“Don’t be silly,” I told him as I reentered my room. A few of the girls had heard me and were agreeing with T.

I looked at the screen and there was nothing there but one tower and smoke. It simply did not register with me the building were gone. The announcer was speaking about planes, large planes had done this. My mind screamed. Jetliners, how could two jetliners hit the towers on the same day?

Another student asked, “Elementaryhistoryteacher, what’s the pentagram?”

A bossy little girl shot back at him, “Pentagon, pentagon.”

I didn’t take my eyes from the television as I said, “Ummm, it’s a building in Washington D.C. where all the branches of the armed forces have their offices including the Secretary of Defense. Why?”

“The guy on television said a plane crashed into it. It’s on fire too.”

I closed my eyes. I could not deny something was going on. We had to be under attack, but from who? I wanted to curl up into a ball and cry. I wanted to get my purse and go get my kids. I wanted my husband. I wanted my mother and father. I couldn’t. I was the teacher. I was the adult in charge. I couldn’t let them see me upset. I had to turn off the television and get on with our day.

I walked over to the set at the same time my vice principal came into my room. She smiled and motioned to the television and said, “Turn it off.”

“I know,” I said. “I was about to.” We both knew this wasn’t the same thing as our first walk on the Moon or MLK’s funeral. Our students didn’t need to see anymore unfolding events. Luckily they didn’t see any bodies falling from the sky and they had not yet begun to show footage of the plane flying into the tower and the resulting explosion. It was bad enough they witnessed the fall of the building.

Some of the children, being children, went right back to what they were doing. T. walked over to me and said, “Elementaryhistoryteacher, we need to pray for those people. There are people who died this morning. It’s so sad.”

“Yes, T. It’s so sad. T, you know I can’t ask you to pray.”

“I know, but I don’t think you’ll stop me. Will you?”

“No, I won’t. Do what you need to do.”

T. walked around the room to every student saying, “C’mon guys. We need to pray for those people. Let’s hold hands and get in a circle.”

Every boy and girl stood up, formed a circle and grabbed each others hands. No one argued about holding a girls hand or a boy’s hand. Boys didn’t balk at holding each other’s hands. They just did it. Once they were all were in place each one turned and looked my way as if to say, “C’mon!”. I was sitting alone at a student’s desk confused, and needing information so terribly. At this point all I knew was someone had an undetermined number of American planes, some were missing, some had crashed horribly, and my husband who works in the air freight industry had his office very near the Atlanta airport.

As the kids looked at me two students broke ranks and opened up a place for me. They just stood there looking at me. I just sat there looking at them. Finally, I got up and joined them in their prayer circle. I looked across the circle to T. and nodded at him. He began his very heartfelt, innocent prayer for the people in the buildings, the people in the planes, the people on the ground, our president and other government leaders and as he ended each child went around the circle and said something squeezing the next person’s hand as they were through. Finally, the prayers ended up at T. again and he finalized the prayer.

I don’t remember what we did that day. I don’t remember what I taught, or if I taught. An hour later the exodus started. Child after child was called for check-out until I only had three or four left.

Finally, the last student was on a bus and I was on my way home. Hubby had contacted me earlier in the afternoon to tell me he was ok and had gone to get both our kids. They were all at home waiting for me.

The ride home was so eerie. The message boards over the normally backed-up Atlanta interstates flashed the words NATIONAL EMERGENCY. The most surreal thing was there was no traffic on the streets or in the sky. The skies around Atlanta’s busy airport are always filled with planes. You can always look up and find at least one in any direction you gaze. Not that afternoon. It was so quiet. It was four p.m. before I really knew what had happened and saw the same footage that everyone else had seen over and over all afternoon.

I learned many things that day. I learned that my country was as vulnerable as any other. I learned that your life can change direction in one single instant. I learned that citizens can put politics aside and come together in one voice when they realize they have a common enemy. I learned the frantic fear of wondering where your family is and realized we would need an emergency game plan. I learned that people hate me just because I was born an American.

The most important thing I learned, however, was from a ten year old young man and his fellow classmates who did what they felt in their hearts and lived up to their convictions no matter the consequence.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Have We Always Had Terrorism Or Is It Something New?

During our class changes I stand at my door herding one group out and the next group in. This is the time for hellos and goodbyes, and last minute reminders. I frantically repeat over and over, “Don’t forget to take your notebook home. You’ll need your notes to complete the homework.”

This is also the time I hear things like “I forgot my homework”, “Can I go to the bathroom?”, “So and so called me a so and so”, and the ever popular “I don’t feel so good. Can I go call my Mom?” At least twice a week someone approaches me with blood dribbling down their chin grinning ear to ear as they display a tooth in their outstretched hand. Three or four drop all of their books in the hallway as they negotiate around each other. The sound is deafening. Someone inevitably decides its time to clean out their desk at class change and must be shooed along.

It is a hectic time.

I can’t help but think, “Head 'em up! Move ‘em out! Rawhide!” as we play fruit basket turnover. Somehow, someway we manage to move every fourth grader to a different place in three to four minutes. Students settle down again by writing their assignments in their agenda books and are required to read through their notes until we are ready to begin the day’s lesson.

Sometime in early September, in anticipation of the eleventh, I attempt to honor those brave souls who perished that day by putting historical events in context for my wee ones. In an attempt to show students that history is linear and events can be connected over time I like to answer the inevitable question I’m asked every year around the 9/11 anniversary……”Elementaryhistoryteacher, have we always had terrorism or is it something new?” Every year it’s the same….new kids, same questions.

I show the students a short power point I’ve put together that shows images from 9/11------ones that are appropriate for nine year olds to see. I tell them the story from my point of view that day because these students have no real memory of that day. Each year my groups are further removed from the shock, pain, and fear of that terrible day as time marches on.

Students begin peppering me with questions. Why? How? Why didn’t we…? Why can’t we….? and finally What is terrorism and how did it get started?

We use several different dictionaries to arrive at a definition and we discuss what it is not as well as what it is.

I then hand out a list of various terroristic acts against the United States since its earliest days through 2000. We read through them together.

Here’s what the students see:

October, 2000: A suicide bomber attacked the USS Cole in Yemen killing 17 American soldiers and wounding 39

August, 1998: The U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania were bombed killing 224 and wounding many others.

June, 1996: 19 Americans and approximately 500 people were injured when a bomb was placed at the U.S. barracks in Dhahran, Saudia Arabia

November, 1995: A bomb at U.S. military headquarters in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, kills five U.S. service personnel

April, 1995: the Oklahoma City bombings at the Murrah Federal Building killed 168 and injured more than 500

February, 1993: Terrorist bombers strike the World Trade Center, killing six people and injuring more than 1,000 others

December, 1988: The bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland kills 270 people, mostly Americans.

September, 1986: Twenty people are killed after security forces storm a Pan Am plane taken by hijackers at the Karachi Airport.

June, 1985: Robert Dean Stethem, a U.S. serviceman was killed and his body thrown to the tarmac at the airport in Beruit, Lebanon when Shiite Muslims hijacked a TWA jet carrying mostly Americans. Thirty nine others were held hostage 17 days before being released.

September, 1984: The U.S. embassy in Beruit, Lebanon was bombed killing 16 and injuring the ambassador.

October, 1983: The bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beiruit, Lebanon kills 241

April, 1983: A car bomb at the U.S. Embassy in Beiruit, Lebanon kills 17

Students take a look at the timeline. I ask them to work together and underline repeated words and phrases. After calling time I write the repeated words on the board as they call them out to me---------------Americans, embassy, airplane, airport, Beiruit, Lebanon, bomb, hijacked

Nine out of eleven situations occurred on federal owned properties, ten out of eleven involved bombs, and two of the eleven actually occurred in the United States.

“What do you think is going on?” I ask students, “What is causing all of this to happen?”

“Well, it seems like someone doesn’t like the United States?”

“All of these things are happening to us.”

“Yeah, all of those events are within the last twenty years or so.”

“Good observations,” I say, “but let’s take a look at this.”

I direct students’ attention to the television screen where I’ve popped up a few power point slides. I read off each one as I snap through them briefly explaining the sitution the slide details.

December, 1941: U.S. military instalations at Pearl Harbor were attacked by the Japanese…2400 deaths. This led to the U.S. involvement in World War II.

September, 1901: President McKinley was assassinated at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo by a member of the Anarchist movement

September 16, 1920: Wall Street was bombed by another member of the Anarchist movement when a wagon loaded with dynamite was parked in front of the Morgan Bank.

1865 through the 20th century: The Ku Klux Klan terrorizes Southern citizens, black and white alike.

“So, what is your observation now? Is terrorism just something from recent times?” I ask.

“Terrorism has been going on for a long time.”

“Elementaryhistoryteacher, isn’t Pearl Harbor different? It started a war.”

“Hmmmmm, your right, but after 9/11 many people compared Pearl Harbor to the World Trade Center bombing,” I explain before continuing, “Japan’s a country. What country attacked us on 9/11?”

I’m met with blank stares. I wait. Finally a hand goes up.

“Wasn’t it Osamma Bin Laden?”

“Al-Quaida?” someone else adds.

I back the slides up to the ones concerning McKinley and the Wall Street bombing. I ask, “Was the group of anarchists a country?”

“No, they were just a group of people.”

I show students another set of slides and again briefly explain the situtations:

Xenophon, an ancient Greet historian instructed his students regarding the use of psychological warfare against enemy populations.

Roman emperors constantly employed the use of terror to maintain power and order across their empire.

Biblical history tells us about the Zealots who would attack Roman and Greek officials in broad daylight to express their displeasure at being dominated by those cultures.

The Spanish Inquisition and the French Revolutionaries employed terrorism to justify their agendas in the name of God and freedom.

From 1865 to 1905 anarchists not only threatened the United States but Europe and Russia as well.

In 1914 an anarchist assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand leading all of Europe and eventually the United States into World War I.

“So, what do you think now?” I ask.

The conversation continues and eventually students arrive at the fact that terrorism has been around along time, and the United States hasn’t always been the target.

I show them one last slide. It depicts the Sons of Liberty throwing chests of tea into Boston Harbor. I briefly talk about the events and explain to students that they will be learning more about it in January. We discuss the fact that the tea is private property belonging to some merchant back in Britain or in Boston. We discuss the reasoning behind the action the Sons of Liberty take.

Students learn that the British considered the Boston Tea Party a terroristic act. No one was killed but private property was destroyed to make a political point against a government. The dividing line between a terroristic act and a freedom fighter is a fine line depending on whose side you’re on.

We all came to a consensus that terrorism confuses us. None of my young charges understand how anyone could use terror to prove a point.

“It doesn’t solve anything,” as one student stated.

I agree. My whole purpose for going through this episode with students was not to provide them with an opportunity to empathize with the terrorist who mean to harm the United States. I’m not a “let’s get in touch with our feelings” type of teacher.

My goal is to show them that historical events aren’t always cut and dry. You can’t look at one list of events and decide how things are. You need to dig, you need to get the whole story, you need to analyze points of view, you need to see that cause and effect do play a role in history. Events are connected whether we want them to be or not. I ended the lesson by reminding them that their education is the key for them to be a good citizen. They should always dig for more and not trust what they see on television, in a newspaper, or even what they hear from a teacher. They should always gather the information on their own and arrive at their own interpretation.

As far as solving the whole terrorism question I believe the solution is as convoluted as solving the education quagmire. There are no easy answers, and there is not a one-size-fits-all solution. While I feel strongly that more violence breeds even more I am glad we took some type of action and rid the Middle East of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. However, we do need to understand that while the terrorists are an enemy they are not our only enemy. Our other enemy is the American extremes…..those of us who over analyze and would prefer no action against the terrorist feeling that the United States has gotten what she deserves, and those of us who are so uninvolved we don’t participate in the American experiment at all.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Carnival Has Arrived by Bus

Macho Man, Scott Elliott, at Get On the Bus has done a most excellent job of hosting the education carnival. This week’s theme is based on the Village People.

According to the Village People you can go In the Navy, you could Go West, You could go to the YMCA or you could Get on the Bus and join me over there to take part in a Greenwich Village-style block party dedicated to education.

Unfortunately I tried to build the link four different times and apparently I'm link challenged today and didn't quite make it. You'll find a link to Scott's site in my rather long links list to the right. Sorry..........

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Honoring the Victims of 9/11

This is absolutely amazing……here is a link to the complete list of people who were lost on 9-11 along with the name of the blogger who has agreed to remember the person with a post honoring their lives.

I like the idea of remembering their lives and not their murders.

This project is called 2,996 and as of August 28th all the names were assigned.

What a great way to honor these people!

Shazaam, Thar' Be Pirates!

During my middle and high school days re-runs of Gomer Pyle, U.M.C, used to come on television at least once a day in the afternoon or early evening on Channel 17, WTBS. I would usually have the television on during my homework time (don’t tell my students) and Gomer, Andy Griffith, Bud and Kitten from Father Knows Best and, of course, the Beaver could be heard in the background as I rewrote my American History notes (compulsive behavior), struggled through Algebra problems, or quizzed myself concerning biology terms.

Gomer Pyle was the best. Sargent Carter was a scream and Lou Ann Poovey was the perfect girl for Gomer. Just the name alone was priceless. If I remember correctly Gomer broke the news to Andy Griffith concerning his enlistment into the Marines by walking into Andy’s office singing the Marine Battle Anthem at the top of his lungs while he marched around the jail.

In the same Gomerish corny style I begin a lesson in the same way.

I usually wait until everyone is “kind of” settled (today’s classrooms are rarely entirely silent), and I walk out into the hall, compose myself, and walk back into the room singing much like my friend Gomer Pyle used to:

From the Halls of Montezuma,
To the shores of Tripoli;
We fight our country’s battles
In the air, on land and sea;
First to fight for right and freedom
And to keep our honor clean;
We are proud to claim the title
Of United States Marine.

While I sing and march around the room at the top of my lungs I try hard not to look at the kids because they look hilarious. Some are embarrassed for me and for themselves, some smile, and some laugh.

Our flag’s unfurled to every breeze
From dawn to setting sun;
We have fought in ev’ry clime and place
Where we could take a gun
In the snow of far-off Northern lands
And in sunny tropic scenes;
You will find us always on the job—
The United States Marines.

By the end of the second stanza studens are getting into it with me as I point to the television screen which can double as my computer monitor. They begin to sing along with the lyrics I have posted there.

Here’s health to you and to our Corps
Which we are proud to serve
In many a strife we’ve fought for life
And never lost our nerve;
If the Army and the Navy
Ever look on Heaven’s scenes;
They will find the streets are guarded
By United States Marines.

We all have a glorious finish and students cajole me into singing again from the beginning. We do!

After things calm down I pose the following questions:

What do pirates, Gomer Pyle, a coastal region of Africa, and the United States have in common?

What American war followed the American Revolution?

While you are thinking (I’m giving you sufficient wait time) I’ll go on…

To get students in the correct mind set I ask them, “What is the war we are currently fighting?”

Even at nine years old students are fairly savy about what is going on in the world. Many tell me we are fighting a war with Iraq, and I tell them kind of but not really. Others mention terrorism…a smattering of them even say the television catch-phrase “war on terror”….others add the word “terrorism”. I tell these smartees they win my bingo award for the day.

I then ask, “When did terrorism start?”

We have a lively discussion where students determine the definition of terrorism and we decide that based on the definition terrorism has been around for a long time. I tell students as the year goes on we are going to to have many examples of terrorism and they need to attempt to identify examples of it as we discuss the settlement of our country.

Do you know the answers to my questions yet? Pirates, Gomer Pyle aka the Marines, a coastal region of Africa, and the United States all have the Barbary Coast Wars in common. Following the American Revolution our country was involved in the Barbary Coast Wars. Both of the Barbary wars were seperated by the War of 1812. Terrorism played a huge part in these conflicts.

We begin our look at the Barbary Coast War by looking at the map. I ask students to find Algiers, Morocco, Tunis, and Tripoli. In 1800, these areas often acted independently but were controlled by a larger government called the Ottoman Empire. Gangs of thugs and pirates controlled these areas with an iron hand.

This area of the Mediterranean had been problematic to the British and French for some time. In fact, these self-proclaimed privateers had been in business since the times of the Crusades. These nefarious characters were immortalized in literature such as Daniel Dafoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Cervantes of Don Quixote fame had been taken hostage himself in Algiers for a time.

Through numerous diplomatic efforts and ransom British ships had maintained safe passage through the Barbary Coast. American ships had enjoyed the safety net of British diplomacy until our ties were severed with them at the end of the American Revolution.

Suddenly, American ships were fair game to the Barbary Coast pirates. It would appear that Congress anticipated problems because they allocated monies in 1784 for the payment of tribute to pirates. Think about that for moment and it kind of makes your stomach turn. We were just going to give in? An actual plan to be taken advantage of….

In similar fashion to today events there were politicians who vehemently spoke out against paying tribute to pirates to keep from having American ships, crews, and freight taken. When Thomas Jefferson was ambassodor to France he spoke out stating that the payment of ransom would only lead to more attacks. George Washington is known to have sided with Jefferson as well. In fact, in a letter to Ezra Stiles, the president of Yale University, Jefferson wrote: “it will be more easy to raise ships as a means to fight these pirates into reason, than money to bribe them.” Unfortunately Congress at the time was more concerned with domestic matters and did not deal with the problem head-on.

Jefferson finally got his chance to make a difference when he was inaugurated in 1801. Almost immediately the Barbary state of Tripoli demanded $225,000. When Jefferson refused to pay tribute the Pasha of Tripoli declared war against the United States though there were no formal declarations. Actually the Pasha’s statement of war was to have the U.S. consolate’s flag pole cut down.

The United States never actually declared war on the Barbary States but the did authorize the President to sieze all vessels and goods of the Pasha of Tripoli “and also to cause to be done all such other acts of precaution or hostility as the state of war will justify.”

This conflict is a who’s who of American ship names. The group of frigates that were sent to the Mediterranean included ships with names like Intrepid, Philadelphia, Constitution, Constellation, Chesapeake, Argus, and Syren.

Highlights of the Barbary conflict include the 1803 blockade of Barbary ports and hit and run raids against Barbary cities headed up by Commodore Edward Preble. It was at this time the USS Philadelphia ran aground and her crew and captain were taken captive. A group of sailors led by Lieutinant Stephen Decatur, Jr. managed get to the ship and set it on fire. The thought was a burned out hull would not be a bargaining chip for the pirates.

Finally, Tripoli was attacked outright on July 14, 1804. At one point Captain Richard Somers and the crew of the USS Intrepid entered the harbor at Tripoli packed from top to bottom with explosives. An accident or enemy fire ignited the explosives with all hands lost.

The actual lyrics “from the shores of Tripoli” come from the Battle of Derna where Americans attacked over land with the assistance of Arab, Greek, and Berber mercenaries.

A treaty ended the first go round with the Barbary pirates in June, 1805. Unfortunately the capture of the city of Derna was not used as a bargaining chip and many felt the treaty was too flimsy. Afterall, we agreed to exchange prisoners with the Barbary States but we also gave them $60,000. I know, it didn’t make sense to my students as well. Seems like the argument regarding ransom versus tribute started way back then.

Soon we had other problems on the high seas as America became embroiled in conflicts between Britain and France which ultimately led to the War of 1812. Naturally the Barbary States did not hesitate to take advantage of the US while their attentions were diverted elsewhere. American began paying tribute/ransom once again.

After the War of 1812, American sailors led by Stephen Decatur, Jr. and William Bainbridge began to use pirate tactics themselves. It worked during the American Revolution to fight like Native Americans, didn’t it? During our attacks hundreds of prisoners were taken and in order to secure their release the pirates had to agree the United States was released from tribute obligations in perpetuity and secured a payment of $10,000 in reparations for damages.

Things were not finally over until a nine hour bombardment by the British weakened Algiers which eventually became a French colony in 1830. Tunis fell to the French in 1881 while Tunis became an Italian colony in 1835. Europe maintained a strong hold over the Barbary States well into the Twentieth Century.

Gee…history is amazing. All of this led to Gomer Pyle.

Well……..surprise, surprise, surprise!

Monday, September 04, 2006

A Holiday For Workers

So, today is Labor Day.

Most of us think of this national holiday as one last stab at summer by having one final outdoor party, trip to the beach, or a lazy afternoon by the pool. True, Labor Day is a holiday for the working person.

In an interview once Samuel Gompers, the founder and longtime president of the American Federation of Labor, stated that Labor Day differs in every essential way from the other holidays of the year in any country. All other holidays are in a more or less degree connected with conflicts and battles of man’s prowess over another. Labor Day…is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race, or nation.

Labor Day celebrates the creation of the labor movement in the United States and the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. The Central Labor Union was the first group to plan for a Labor Day celebration on September 5, 1883 in New York City. The idea spread rapidly. By 1894, 23 other state legislatures adopted a holiday for workers, and on June 28, 1894 Congress declared Labor Day a holiday.

So as you go to the store to pick up your steak, package of ground beef, or hot dogs say thanks to all of the many people who toiled to bring you those products as well as all of the other millions of workers across the nation who keep things going.

Happy Labor Day!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Sunday Sermon: Common Ground

In Philippians 2: 1-4 Paul reminds the church at Philippi that the body of Christ is composed of many different people from various backgrounds They are brought together due to their love of Christ. He reminds them that their common ground should encourage them to agree with one another, love one another, and work together with one heart and purpose.
I see the profession of education in the same manner. I even see it in our little corner of the blogosphere where we are from many different areas of the country or the world, and we gather together regarding our common ground.

For some of us our baliwick is classroom teaching, research, administration, or working with the physical plant. Some of us were in the classroom Friday, some haven’t been in a classroom for many years, and others have never been in the classroom. Some prefer a particular academic subject area, a particular grade level, or a particular school system. Many of us are in the public sector, some in the private, charter, or homeschool arena. We have differences in our learning and teaching style, our philosophies of education, and the manner in which we were taught to formulate lesson plans and units. Some of us have different opinions regarding the causes of student failure, lack of parental involvement, the seemingly continual failures of the United States educational system, and of course, I can’t leave out the many differences we have regarding legislation such as No Child Left Behind

Paul reminds the congregation at Philippi they all have different ministries. Some folks like to work with music, others hospitality, while others focus on outreach and missions. We all have our different areas of ministry. One isn’t any more important than the other because our goal is the same. The educator who has a differing opinion than I do regarding research or a particular learning style has just as much love and passion for their profession as I do. Our goal is the same.

So as educators what is our common goal?

The one ingredient in the early church was each person had their love of Christ in common….they were like-minded and shared the same values. We find this phenomenon at work at many points during our lives. I graduated with a fairly large class of seniors. Many classmates had been together since first grade. They might have belonged to different groups of friends, but they had the common ground of a history together. However, once we all became seniors I noticed a change. All of a sudden we all knew each other, spoke to each other. Many of the rigid lines between various socio-economic groups disappeared. I sat with people at lunch and hung out with people I had barely spoken to the year before. Why? All of a sudden we all had senior-itis at the same time. It was us against the rest of the school. We had made it. We were finally standing on the pinnacle of our twelve year school career.

Complete strangers become your buddies at the ball game, or the race track simple because you have the commonality of a team winning. Sometimes you strike up a conversation with a complete stranger because you find yourself waiting in a long line together at the Department of Vehicle or tag department. Your dismal position gives both of you common ground.

I also remember a common ground for Americans way back when on one very tragic September 11th day. How quick that common ground can become quicksand.

As educators, our primary goal is to educate our youth. We desire to do whatever it takes to give students every possible opportunity to learn. It would seem, however, that just like the early church our profession, though founded in commonality, doesn’t always move forward. We get mired in a morass of attempts to shove our own agendas down one another’s throats. Mentalities abound that scream agree with me or you’re simply not worth my time.

Paul warns the church at Philippi not to be selfish; not to live to make a good impression on others, and not to think only about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and what they are doing.
Consider humility. The ancient Greeks believed any act of humility to be a sign of weakness……you would be exhibiting the mentality of a slave if you were humble in any way. Is it any wonder the Greek civilization failed while the Christian religion flourished.

Proverbs 11:2 states pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. The way I interpret this is it is ok to state your opinions, press your particular case, and get your point of view across, but also be willing to listen. Come to the conclusion that as society changes so does education. Be willing to consider your point of view isn’t working. Treat others, especially those that are difficult to deal with or have differing opinions from you as you would want them to treat you. Paul advised the church in Galatia, whenever we have the opportunity we should do good to everyone, especially to our Christian brothers and sisters.

Folks, we are the educators. We are the ones with the years of study. We are the ones that read reams of research and testing data. We are the ones who keep screaming that we want to be respected as professionals.

In an environment where we are treated as know-nothings, government employees, and are lumped together in a group designated as “those who can’t make it in the real world teach” we need to treat each other with humility. If we continually tear each other down, attack points of view, fail to hear what the other person is saying, and attempt to one-up each other we are no better than our critics. Our common ground disappears beneath our feet, and the ones who suffer the most are our students.