Tuesday, October 25, 2011

And More From That Beloved 4th Grade

And something a little lighter from the 4th grade this week, lest you think I dwell on the negative side of things. Well, had I been a different person, this could have been interpreted negatively. But the more I think of this, the more I laugh.

Before I begin, though, let me first do something:


Zoe brought home her STAR/guided reading book yesterday. Just for the record, the book is called The Year of Secret Assignments*, by Jaclyn Moriarty. I have never read the book, nor had I ever heard of it. Zoe walks up to me and says, "Mom, what does this mean?" I take the book from her and read on page 41, "I have a lot of dreams about sex. I mean dreams about what I think sex is like. I think it must be good."

I looked at Zoe, but I couldn't speak. Really, I was speechless! Not because I didn't want to tell her what it meant, or thought it was weird she was asking. I was so flummoxed that she was coming home, from school, with a book like this, that I just couldn't talk. I said, "Wait a minute honey," and I paged through the book.

These sentences are what I found before I stopped looking:

Page 35: "And you think I'm wetting myself because your daddy's a partner in a law firm. Bite me, baby."

Page 26: "Dear Cassie: Eat shit and die, private school slag."

Page 24: "F*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*k me."

Page 19: "You should send me some dope and I should sell it. Or use it." "...It would be a bit like drug trafficking. I've heard that Brookfield has a marijuana plantation instead of a sport oval."

My friend found a reference to a "blow job" and "getting into his pants" somewhere else in the book.

I called said friend, and asked if she had looked at the book carefully. At that point, she had not. I decided to call the teacher. I am providing the best transcript I can of that conversation. Let me just say that she was in a meeting at the time with 2 of the other 4th grade teachers, so I started out differently than I would have if she had just been in her classroom. Let me also say that I have peppered her with questions and a few emails (for clarification purposes) so she might not have been thrilled to hear from me.

Me: Hi Mrs. A, this is Zoe and Talia's mom.
Mrs. A: Oh hi. How are you? (There might have been silent eyerolling when I
identified myself.)
Me: I am sorry to bother you, but I have a question regarding the guided
reading book that Zoe brought home. I can call you later or email you about it,
if you are busy.
Mrs. A: Well, is your question short?
Me: Yes. I wanted to let you know that I don't think the reading is
appropriate for this age. Let me read this passage to you. (I read the sentence
from p. 41 to her.)
Me: Yes, it does.
Mrs. A: [To the other 2 teachers in the room] It talks about sex! I had no
idea. I have not read that book yet.

At that point, a secondary conversation goes on between Mrs. A and the other teacher. We were still on the phone, so of course, I can hear it.

Mr. S: Well aren't you supposed to have read the book?!

Mrs. A: Well I can't read all of them! It was in the book
room! They should be safe if they are from the book room!

To be fair, I agree with both of them.

In any case, the kids will be changing books! Mrs. A actually called the principal herself to tell him what happened. I appreciate that she kept him in the loop. I never thought to call him, but another parent might have in the same situation.

This morning I read a few pages from the book while having some coffee. It really is an older teen novel, most likely young adult, not a K-5 book. I don't know how it got in the book room, but I am guessing they ship those books somewhere else.

Mistakes happen. I just keep laughing about this one!

Monday, October 24, 2011

4th Grade (Teacher's) Logic

Here is another bit that goes along with my Friday Ergh! post of last week.

First up, a bit of the teacher's bonus-word-only-counts-sometimes spelling logic. The girls have a bonus word on the spelling list each week. If you get that bonus word right, it can only help you if you've actually spelled a word wrong. Therefore, if you get 13 out of 15, and the bonus word correct, in the end you get 14/15. But, if you get 15/15 and the bonus word correct, you get a big old nothing.

Where is the logic in that? You tell me. Why can't they get the extra point and use it for later? How fair is that to the students? Let's only help the kids that screw up!

And along those lines, you have the retake-a-test-if-you-get-a-D-or-an-F logic. It should be obvious what that one concerns. Here's the thing, though. You get to retake the test and then take the higher of the two grades! Last year, they would average the two grades if you had to retake the test. That seemed fair. But take the higher grade?!? Let us imagine a child that messes up regularly and retakes the test (I hope it is a different version) to go from a D to an A each time. How do we know that the child isn't deliberately doing poorly so that they can have a second chance? I wouldn't put it past some kids I know (I don't think ours have thought of that yet, thank goodness) to try to retake tests regularly. And again, let's only help the kids that screw up!

Am I overreacting? Do I express these concerns at some point to the teacher and/or principal? I don't have a clue! I've complained enough to Tim and my mother, but some things just get to you, you know?

By the way, over the weekend I figured out a way for the teachers to make the kids pay attention to details, but to still focus on content, too. Give out two grades! For each test or worksheet, the teacher could have a content grade and an exposition grade. They could assign whatever weight they want to each, although I personally would assign a heavier weight to content. Simple, yet brilliant, don't you think?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Friday Ergh!

I am in the midst of a war with myself. I continually vacillate between being extremely happy with the kids' school and wanting to pull them out and homeschool them.

For the record, Aaron is enjoying first grade, and we are enjoying his teacher. This is the second go-around with her. Zoe had Mrs. G for first grade, and we loved her then. We still do. All teachers have their pros and cons, but Mrs. G has been teaching for so long, she has her stuff together. That isn't to say she can't adapt, though. We have seen some differences between what Zoe did and what Aaron is doing in class.

One of the things I like about Mrs. G is her no-nonsense communication. She tells you what to expect and when and she sticks to a schedule. Each week, we know when the homework will come home, and when it is due, since it doesn't change from week to week. She also records a weekly message that we listen to on Monday afternoon. For the most part, if Aaron misses out on something, it will usually be due to something on our part, not that of Mrs. G's. There have been times when she has stumbled, but really, she is pretty efficient and works like a well-oiled machine!

As for the girls, I haven't yet written about them this year in too much detail. This is the first year we've put them together, and while I like their teachers (they are sort of team taught) the girls are distracted. At conferences last week, it was apparent that Tim and I and the teachers all agree that something is distracting the girls, and that they should be doing better in school. We think it is partly due to a boy, but they are also in the same class as their best friend. Boy, best friend, sister...will any learning get done?

Now, I should say that fourth grade material is more difficult, but the girls are bringing home papers with careless errors. If you take away those careless mistakes, they actually understand the material and do pretty well with it. I am keeping everything in a box, and I've looked at their papers in length. Part of the issue, it seems, is that the teachers are getting picky. So no spelling errors, no capitalization errors, no incomplete sentences, etc. Talia spelled all of her words on the test last week correctly, but there was a space between the words in two compound words (so they looked like two words) and therefore, they were marked wrong. Zoe capitalized a letter that should not have been capitalized, and therefore, it was wrong. I am not going to quibble here. Those are the rules, and my kids, along with everyone else, should adjust. Better to learn about making careless errors now than to wait until later in life, if you ask me.

But unlike first grade and Mrs. G, the communication is really lacking in fourth grade. We get a weekly letter that gives us a vague idea of what is going on, but that is it. There is nothing written as far as homework in the planners, and to be honest, I don't see that much work coming home to understand what they actually are doing during the day! I do understand that our kids should become more responsible and that they should develop the skills to take what the teacher says and relay it to us. But it isn't completely working, and lots of things are getting lost in the mix.

This week, the girls came home, on a Wednesday, telling me that they needed to get a certain book from the library for Thursday. Each child needed a different book, of course! I told them I might have to request those books, which could take a couple of days. "Why didn't you tell me before today?" I asked. Both of them weren't sure. The girls added that the book is going to be used for their reading contract during STAR time. STAR time is a reading group based on ability, to make it short. It is different from what we know as guided reading time. I think this is the difference between them:

Guided reading: the kids within one class are split according to ability and they do their separate lessons with the teacher.

STAR time: the kids of the same ability come together as a group and work on lessons with the teacher (they can come from different classes).

But in short, this is what I understood the girls to be asking:
1. I need X book for tomorrow.
2. It is going to be the book I read during STAR time and use for my reading contract.
3. We picked the Sci-Fi genre, so it is a Sci-Fi book.
4. The teacher told us to use the computers to find a book and left the room.

I called a friend to see if she had the book that Zoe was going to read. She did and said we could borrow it. Furthermore, she was headed to the bookstore to see if she could find her daughter's pick and she would check to see if the store had Talia's book.

We got hold of each other again, when we realized that neither of the options were Sci-Fi, but Fantasy. Ugh. So, the friend called another friend to see if that friend had a book that Talia and Zoe could borrow that was in the Sci-Fi genre. She did. My friend (thank goodness for good friends) eventually dropped all of them by the house. But, I ran around our house finding realistic-fiction stories, too, in the event that they could change genres. I spent a lot of time and energy on this, and the other ladies did, too. Wait, there is more!

The next day, this is what I found out:
1. For STAR time, the kids are using an entirely different book than the one they each picked. This one was picked by the guided reading group teacher (different than the STAR group teacher).
2. Therefore, they'd be reading the same book for STAR time and guided reading (supposedly it is a difficult book and they didn't want to overload them).
3. They wasted an entire half hour looking for a book, when they already had one.

Are you confused? I am! Clearly the girls already had a book when the STAR teacher told them to look for a book and left the room. These kids are 9. Couldn't she have reminded the girls that the guided reading teacher had decided to use the same book? A gentle reminder to start reading, instead of wasting time on the computer? Furthermore, we can do searches online here. What are we paying those teachers for? To walk out of the room? And what if something had happened when she was out of the room? According to the girls, she was gone for longer than the time it would take to go to the restroom and get the mail. Perhaps she used the computers as a babysitter.

I think all of this could have been avoided if the following had been sent home by one of the 4th grade teachers. It is called a letter, and we can use them to communicate!

Dear Parent:

We are starting our reading contracts with the kids. These have never been used before, so please be aware that we need to work out all the kinks.

We have decided that there will be a couple of ways for the kids to choose their books. 1. Children can use the same book as will be used for the monthly book report. 2. The guided reading teacher can request that the same book be used for both STAR time and guided reading. 3. A student can select a book from the library or one of those that the teacher has.

Please be sure to remind your child to find out which of the ways above applies to them, and have them write it in their planner. Each time, it might vary. If they have questions, they should ask either the STAR teacher or the guided reading teacher.

Thank you for your support.
Your teacher.

Even then, I still have questions! How many of these reading contracts are going to be done, and how frequent will they be? How many points are they worth? And what weight are they? Will some of this be done at home? Who actually chooses the genre? The kids as a group, the teacher, or the individual children? It is enough to make me go batty. My heart rate is increasing just thinking about it, and I am usually pretty cool and laid back.

Ah, so I apologize for my rant. I am all for wanting kids to become independent, but you know what? My job is to help them do just that. You don't just throw them in the deep end and watch them flail! I need the information at my disposal to cultivate that independence. Not all of it, but at least some of it, and I don't feel like the teachers are forthcoming.

What to do about that? I don't know. I just don't know. The kids are resilient, so perhaps they will step up their game and work hard to get all of the information to us. But if they are so concerned with getting those details (again, back to the teachers being picky) will they actually be learning the content? I wonder if any other parents, besides Mrs. D and myself (and our spouses) actually care? Perhaps I just need to sit back and go for the ride. I'll try to do that before I haul the kids out of school, but each day, I am just that much closer to getting out the tow truck.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Gearing Up!

It is October 20th, and November 1st is right around the corner. That means NaBloPoMo. I will attempt, again, to make a post for every day in the month of November. Usually I have enough fodder, and the site gives some good writing prompts, but I'd rather hear what my readers (the few of you that there are) would like to know about us.

Please leave a comment, or send me an email (you know how to reach me), letting me know what you'd like to see here.

And Tara, keep it clean!


Wednesday, October 19, 2011


A faithful reader from the North called me a slacker today. Yes, my lovely and talented, possessor of one child sister said it in jest, but in some ways, she might be right.

I just ate my soup while I finished up the novel I was reading. I could have taken bites of my lunch while chopping the vegetables for stir-fry. Slacker!

I read a couple of books to Melina while we had a tea party today. I didn't get to the store to get materials for Aaron's birthday or the salad dressing the kids like. Slacker!

After putting Melina in her room for a nap, I threw one load of laundry in the dryer and started another load to wash. I might have already had those loads done last night, but I helped the girls start their book reports. Slacker!

I am betting that I can come up with at least another handful of decisions I made today that could potentially be considered slacking. But most of my audience, including the faithful reader from the North, is trying to juggle many, many things throughout the day. And if I had made the decisions in the opposite direction -- chopping vegetables while eating lunch, going to the store, and doing the laundry last night -- I'd be worse than a slacker. I'd be a neglectful parent. I might even be a neglectful parent with only 4 fingers on one hand.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Fall Fun!

All 4 kids were playing with 2 neighbor kids outside yesterday. I thought they were raking leaves into a pile. When I went outside, this is what I found:

Aaron had a ton of trouble walking, considering his pant legs were so stuffed. I don't have a clue how the kids convinced his friend to hold a baby and a purse, but I think he was supposed to be a girl. Clearly, he went along with it.

I bet they both were itchy after that! Always a good time in the leaves!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Let Down Your Golden Hair!

Melina has become infatuated with the movie Tangled. We borrowed it from a friend last week, and she has seen it at least twice so far. She can finally say the name Rapunzel without starting, "What's her name again?" and she has me dressed up as Rapunzel's mom, Mother Gothel, who really wasn't her mom.

Hence the dress and heels on a Monday morning. I just can't see how those 1950s housewives were able to cook and clean like this! It is a cool morning, so I wanted to put a sweater on. In order for Melina to approve that look (it isn't quite what she thought Mother Gothel would wear), I had to tell her it was my cloak. Go figure.

Melina has been pretty good with getting the Tangled dialogue and details right. But this morning, this is what went down at our house:

Melina: Can you please be Rapunzel's mom?
Me: Daddy is home. Can he be Flynn? Flynn Rider?
Melina: That isn't his real name.
Me: Oh yes. His name is Eugene.
Melina: No, that is his middle name. His real name is Sherbet.
Me: Oh really.

You might not find this funny, if you don't know the movie. But the real name of Flynn Rider is Eugene Fitzherbert. Not Sherbet.

Friday, October 7, 2011


I am not a big user of Facebook. I do check it most days, just to say Happy Birthday to those who have a birthday or look for a new picture or two from some good friends and family. Since there have been changes to Facebook, I went in and made a custom list of my friends so that I could be sure to see what I wanted. While I was clicking on the friend list, I realized that I hadn’t heard from a few people in a while. Once I made my list, I went back to check-in on their profiles to see what they have been doing as of late.

Imagine my shock and horror when I clicked over to my friend Beth’s profile. One of the first postings was from her teenage daughter. She expressed sadness and regret at not being able to see her mom. I scrolled down the page, and found another post: this time, the daughter had written on Mother’s Day how much she missed her mom. It slowly dawned on me that Beth had passed away, sometime within the last year, and I didn’t even know it.

I have to admit that I was much more shaken than I ever thought I would be. I continued looking at the older posts on her page, and found some of the information I wanted. From the looks of it, Beth had passed away on December 2, 2010, and left behind a 16 year old daughter, a 2 year old son, and her fiancĂ©. What happened to her? I don’t know, and I am having trouble finding out.

I didn’t know Beth extremely well, but we sometimes commented on the other's posts. She was a student in my A&P classes. She chose to take me for all 3 quarters, and over that time, we spoke often. I don’t become Facebook friends with all of my past students, so there must have been something about Beth that spoke to me. And there was. I remember the first day I saw her in class. She had long blondish hair, some hip clothing, and a tan. Had I rushed to judgment here, I would have been completely wrong about her.

Beth was gushing about her new baby (I had one too, at the time) and speaking proudly about her older child. Truth be told, she just looked too young to have a 14 year old daughter! She sat right in the second row, and told me that she was so tired, that she had to sit in that spot in order to do well. These were evening classes, so even though I can’t remember if she worked outside the home during the day, I know that her days were filled with at least child-rearing and domestic duties. To come to school after a full day of that sort of work is commendable, to say the least.

Beth was not my best student, and she tended to ask the obvious questions. Sometimes, I wondered if she wasn’t listening, or if she just didn’t understand what I had said, or likely, she was just too tired to put all of the pieces together (I've been there!). But Beth was a trooper and was diligent. She befriended anyone, and asked help of everyone. This wasn’t a bad thing, though. If she knew the answer, she’d give the other students her knowledge without hesitation. Therefore, she sort of expected the same in return. Beth worked extremely hard every quarter to pass my class, and by the third quarter, she had done well enough to earn herself a B. To Beth, that was like winning the lottery. She was so proud of having earned a B in a tough class, and to be honest, I was quite proud of her myself.

There are always a few people in class who touch you. They can be the people that ask so many difficult questions it drives you crazy, but makes you a better teacher. Or, they can be the people that remind you of yourself. Furthermore, they can just have a common interest, so much that you become good friends. Beth didn’t fall into any of those categories, but something about her just resonated with me. She was only 31 when she took my class, but had lived enough to gain wisdom unlike many other people twice her age. Beth shared that wisdom willingly, and treated everyone with respect and kindness. The bottom line is that Beth was just good. Overall, a wonderful, kind, friendly soul, that clearly left this earth a little too early.

Yesterday, I found myself in tears when I realized that she had died last year. I felt angry that I didn’t know about her death, upset that I didn’t get to the funeral, and at a loss at what I could do now, almost a year later. There really isn’t much for me to do at all. I could send a note to her fiancĂ© or see if a fund has been set up for her kids. And I’ll probably look into both of those options. But for now, I just had to tell the public about Beth. I don’t think anyone knows just how much of an impact we can have on one another. I know Beth didn’t.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Eat Your Veggies

Our CSA box came complete with turnips this week. I wasn't sure what do to with them, besides roast them, so I looked up roasted turnips online. The entire recipe I chose can be found here.

In short, you chop up turnips, sweet potatoes, and granny smith apples, and add dried cranberries, brown sugar, and butter. If you like sweet potatoes, or sweet potato casseroles that actually end up being sweet, this recipe is for you. Although I do have to warn you that it really is much more of a dessert item, in my opinion. Tim and I both loved it, and I made sure not to use too much brown sugar or butter. It is a great recipe for the holidays, I think, so I thought I would share it.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Professional Letter Closings

You might wonder about the title of my post today. You see, I do a little bit of work for a friend of mine, who has a business based in New Jersey. She is very bright, and excellent at what she does. Because of these traits, she has little tolerance for people that don't do his/her job as well as she does.

I certainly wouldn't be able to do her job, as I am not trained for it. But she knows me pretty well, and trusts me. I am not going to stab her in the back or make her life difficult, and therefore, she lets me do some menial tasks. All of which take about 1 hour a month. My kind of gig. Just to be fair, she has told me that when I am ready, she would be happy to have me take care of more than just the mundane affairs. I might be ready to do more, but I need to find more time!

Anyway, because she is in New Jersey, she and I correspond mostly via email. I also rely on email as a way to interact with her clients and/or people with whom she is networking. She has always closed her emails (to me and others) this way:


And my question has always been. Best what? Best day? That doesn't really make sense. You are the best? No, that isn't it either. I am the best? Meaning S? Well, she might think she is, but that isn't the way to garner more clients now, is it? In actuality, I know that she means something akin to Best wishes, but her closing got me thinking.

I decided to look up some sites that had professional letter closings just to see what these places suggest. I personally just use "Thank you" and my signature for all of the dealings with S and her clients. Not creative, but polite. The following list is what I found at several sites to be just as appropriate, and boring, I might add!

Kind regards/wishes
Warmest regards
Many Thanks/Kind thanks

I delved a bit further in my search, and found a great website with some original ideas. I wanted to copy the entire article, which I know would go against copyright, so I thought it best to direct you there. If you have the time and interest, check it out. There is a list of the same standard greetings I shared above, and then some more unique ways of closing your letters. A few of the more personal options they list:

Cheerful greetings to all
(I dare myself to use this one!)
Kind thoughts
Take care
Wishing you the best
Write soon
Your friend
Yours in friendship
(What would these people think?!?!)

S might just think I am a lunatic if I use any of these:

I'm out
More to come
Ta ta for now
And, she might just might let me go should I ever venture out with these:

Happy trails to you
Hasta la vista, baby
Keep your stick on the ice
Kiss kiss bang bang
Live long and prosper
Tag! You’re it
Yabba dabba do

In the end, the point is really to choose a closing that is appropriate for the setting. Her "Best" is just fine, as is my "Thank you" I suppose. But I'd love to see the look on a client's face if I sent the following message to them:

Dear Mr. G:

I am writing to confirm your lunch meeting with S for tomorrow, October 5,
at 12 pm. A reservation has been made at X Restaurant, and is under the
name of G.

Please let me know that this day and time are still convenient for

May the force be with you...


Monday, October 3, 2011

Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter Is...

From Hellraiser.

This is what happens when you babysit my children.

Thanks to Tara for the picture.

Thanks to Todd for being a good sport.