Tuesday, March 8, 2011

This is why teaching can be funny

Today I was dressed in an orange-red-white checkered shirt with black pants and black shoes.  As the class was walking in from recess one girl said to me,

"Mr Smerkanich, you look so professional today." 
I reponded, "Don't I always look professional?" 
Another girl, "I think it's the black pants and nice black shoes, you usually wear khakis (which I do almost every day)."
 Me:  "I wear these shoes often."
First Student, "I think it's the pants, they are tuxedo-like."

So there you have it:  wear black pants once in a while and sixth grade students think you're wearing part of a tuxedo.  Imagine if I ever wore a suit or blazer.  They would wonder if I was getting married or getting buried.  These are the type moments I will miss.  They are getting rarer and rarer, the types that make me smile or laugh, but I will miss those little 10 second conversations. 

I will not miss:

The same day early morning meeting to review, once again, PSSA procedures.  Two pages of what to do and what not to do.  What students take the tests in original format and those with 504s and IEPs with modified tests and procedures.  Why we must constantly circulate throughout the room, monitoring.  And as our principal said:  This is our Super Bowl!  We must be ready.  Do we have special treats and extra recess planned for the kids?

Six days of alternating math and reading tests.  And nothing is really done with results except to note the number of advanced/proficient scores vs basic and below basic scores.  The paramount question at the beginning of next year becomes what can we do to move the basic and below basic to proficient?  Feels like what I imagine is a dog chasing its tail.  Will not miss that either and these sorts of discussions really drives instruction for the year.

We've managed to take all the fun out of reading and writing since No Child Left Behind was enacted.  Now there is a writing formula and a host of books with titles like: Blowing the State Assessments Away!  which really are same type problems and prompts that bore kids to tears.  So we don't read poetry for the sounds and cadence and imagery and literary devices that paint pictures and pure joy of hearing the written word with many meanings and nuances.  It has to be read by the student silently followed by 6-10 questions asking everything from comprehension to inference skills.  Or read this passage and give three reasons the main character encountered with supporting details from the story.

I'm not against accountability, I'm not against children reading for meaning.  But with the length of the school year, much time is spent doing mundane types of reading and writing.  And for what?  Great PSSA scores based on your zip code and student population.  Really?  Is this what we want?  Because we are getting great numbers but the cost is we have at least one generation that appears to hate reading and writing.  How sad...   I shall not miss this charade.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Time keeps on slipping into the future!

Well, it's true!  Time does tend to move faster as one ages.  Hard to believe but it does.  Do the math.  If a five year old is asked to wait 10 minutes, compare that to the 20 year old with 20 years of life and waiting experience.  It's an eternity for a five year old but completely doable by the 20 year old.  Now fast forward to the 50 or 60 year old and it passes like a heartbeat!

So what happens?  Is everything really relative?  Are we programmed to feel time move faster as we age?  What is this about "living in the moment"?  Is this another yuppie thing that we think may prolong our life or is it genuine, authentic?  Can we live in each moment as it is happening or is this another BS line?

I believe we CAN live in the moment if we trust ourselves.  If we are willing to tell ourselves that there is something different and wondrous, if we are able to suspend the what ifs, the heys, the but what happens whens....  It's intuitive and very freeing and although I don't advocate thinking one is a seer or can read the future, but maybe going with the flow and let life happens as it does (Jon Kabbat-Zinn claims the present is all we have, we can't change the past and don't know the future...) is an alternative to trying to control 24/7.  I have and found that meditation 1-2 times a day for 20 minutes each day is very enriching.  All one needs do is focus on the breath and when thoughts move to different places (as they surly will), simply move the mind back to the breath and try to focus there, as best you can, and somehow your life makes subtle yet profound changes.  At least it has for me.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

March and I'm back in the saddle

Last Saturday was a bike-tri-running fitness Expo in Oaks.  I volunteered the morning to LiveStrong.  We handed out literature and swag and talked to people about running or riding in the August 20-21 event that starts and ends at Montgomery County Community College.  I've rode 45 miles the past 2 years, raising a few thousand dollars thanks to generous family and friends.  Thank God I have been spared the experience of cancer but all the other volunteers were survivors.  They are clannish/clubby and I understand why, they have many "war" stories to share.  And they have all survived!  A tough group of hard working folks who have a smile on their face and a very positive outlook on life!  Talk about living in the moment, these people do.  They are genuine and interesting.  Many of the people who stopped at the table told me they were survivors and were well acquainted with LiveStrong.  The first time I didn't know what to say, so I just started say, Congratulations!  You look great!

When I got home I realized what a slug I had become since I stopped riding in the fall.  I really haven't kept up with any regular physical activity except for a 8 week yoga class and found yoga tough to do by oneself.  So I bought a few videos and even then, didn't keep up with it.  Time to clean up the REI road bike and get moving!  I rode 10 miles that afternoon and 15 on Sunday and 15 yesterday.

Like watching a favorite movie or reading a favorite book I had forgotten how much I enjoy riding.  It always makes me feel like a 10 year old kid again, I'm riding to my job at Uncle Paul's pharmacy so I can do his prescription deliveries (except I now ride a much more expensive bike with all kinds of gears and skinny tires and wear biking clothing.  Yep, that would be the bike shoes that snap on pedals and snug fitting spandex and yes it's true, you don't wear underwear... Another story for another day and maybe a different audience).  I can focus on the road or the scenery or how my body is feeling or my breathing and before I know I've been out for over an hour.  So, if the weather holds and it doesn't rain or snow, I'd like to get out a few times a week, not just the weekend warrior stuff.

Although it is difficult to ride on the road at 4:30 or 5:00 on weekdays.  Too many cars being driven by tired or distracted drivers.  I will need hit the Perkiomen Trail.  But a weekend morning at 8 or 9 is a perfect time to ride.  I'm glad I ran into my old friend again!  As an added bonus to get me back in the saddle (you don't sit on a seat while biking, it's a saddle...) my sister Melanie gave the book Bike Snob, which I have been meaning to get.  Yay Mel!