Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tales from Day Care (Part II)

A summary of today's adventures: Today we had two birthdays. D.'s grandmother brought in Spiderman cupcakes (cupcakes with either candy Spiderman faces or candy spiders on them), Spiderman plates, Spiderman napkins, and Spiderman cups. One of the little girls actually groaned a bit and asked why boys liked Spiderman so much. I don't think one can answer such a question, to be honest. 

It was also M.'s birthday. Although M. is in the 5-year-old class, he shyly brought around mini-cupcakes to all the teachers, asked me twice if I wanted one, and put one in front of me anyway even after I declined. Lesson learned: Do not deny the cupcake.

I made a child cry today. M. (a different M.) kept running around and yelling (because the day before a holiday and afternoon cupcakes and pseudo-free reign of the Dress Up area of the classroom will equal very bouncy children). I asked him twice to stop, but the third time I sent him to The Table. His poor little face crumbled but I did not feel badly. Perhaps it is a short span of time that has turned me into Teacher Curmudgeon, but when Miss Michelle tells you to stop yelling, she means it. (M. cries at everything. He's very sensitive. If you look at him cross-eyed he becomes upset. He got over it within five minutes.)

Little boy N. wore a pink frilly (is there any other kind?) tutu today for a good long time during Dress Up. Two of the other (older) girls saw him and pointed out to me that N. was wearing a tutu. I said, why, yes, he was, and moved on. Clearly this was the wrong reaction because I was supposed to make N. not want to wear a pink frilly tutu, but who am I to argue with fashion? (I certainly don't have any.)

I am, in fact, a sucker for dimples. Don't ask me why or how I know the effectiveness of dimples even when they're on adults, but they are also especially effective when little girl J. smiles at me.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tales from Day Care

Yesterday was the first day of my new job as a teacher in a day care (although my official title is Assistant Teacher), working with Pre-K (which means that many of them are actually three at the moment and will be turning four sometime this year). I think I'll like the job, although getting used to teaching little ones is a bit of a challenge: I know nothing about children's songs or what to sing with them and little of what's available to me in the classroom in terms of activities (although that's being rectified pretty quickly). I was given a schedule during my interview week before last, but the activities that we actually do don't seem to align (in my mind) with what they're called, but I suspect that's due to my own lack of ECE background.

It took the morning for the kids to get used to me (and for me to get used to them), but by afternoon things were going more smoothly. (And also, I'm going to be a complete pushover; it's just a matter of time.) By the end of the day yesterday:
* One little girl admitted she was always scared of new people, but once she got used to them, things got better. I agreed, and said I was the same way. She looked at me, squinted a bit, and nodded slowly (approval won).
* Another little girl hugged me several times and let me carry her around.
* Several kids offered random tidbits of very useful information, like the names of siblings,  what they were getting for Christmas, and examples of their artistic and creative brilliance.
* One little boy, overhearing music playing in the background, asked me what a booty was. (Seriously, why is a song that mentions that even being played on Disney-approved radio? Do these people not know that kids overhear everything?)
* Another little boy, having gotten whacked with some blocks, tugged on my shirt and looked up at me with huge watery brown eyes about the size of his head to tell me what happened (leaky nose and everything). I picked him up, we sat down on one of those little chairs that are not designed for adults, and we just cuddled for a bit. The director of the center, Jacquie, walked by and guffawed ("That kid is about to fall asleep on you.").

By the end of the day today, a few of the kids were crawling all over me and giggling madly. It's easy to be silly. (Also, dramatic flair is always good to have in situations when they attempt to put plastic food toys on your feet.) Booty boy only mentioned his new favorite word in passing.

* I was greeted at the door of my classroom by M., who ran up to me grinning happily, arms outstretched for a welcoming hug.
* A few of the boys deemed kisses icky (but caused massive fits of giggles if another boy got kisses), although kisses from mommies and daddies were nice (maybe - depending on the boy who volunteered his approval or disapproval).
* One boy informed me that he was not a darling or a sweetie, thank you very much. Ahh, boys.
* Four boys were happily engrossed in playing with a rather pink dollhouse.

They don't need to know that all they have to do is hug me to get me all mushy. Probably better they don't know that right away anyway.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Wedding

As of Friday afternoon, I officially have a sister-in-law. This is pretty cool.

We arrived with no trouble on Thursday around lunch; Justin and Cheng retrieved us from SFO and deposited us at our hotel. It was a pretty mellow day; Mom and Cheng went out for a manicure, after which they met up with Justin and Dad. (I was too beat; I hung out in my room.) We met up with Anne (my aunt) for dinner at Regent Thai, where Cheng works, and ordered a boatload of food and shared (apropos for the occasion, and the food is excellent; I highly recommend it).

Justin and Cheng's wedding itself was very simple - they got married in City Hall (rather impressive, as far as buildings go; it took up an entire city block) on Friday. There was some concern that only six people would be allowed to witness the ceremony, but fortunately the whole slew of us got to watch. We eventually traipsed on over to 54 Mint for whatever meal is between lunch and dinner. (Also experienced: the first wine I've ever had that I liked - a white wine from Milan. I generally don't like wine at all, but this was good stuff. I also tried two different red wines, which were pretty good, but this was a lot of drinking for me.) It was a pretty late night; after we were (nicely) kicked out (there was another party that needed the space), about 10 of us went to another bar to hang out and for more drinks - any excuse to continue the celebrations. I took some not-so-great pictures, and, of course, an obligatory video.

Patrick (my uncle) left late Friday night, and Anne left Saturday morning, so by the time Justin and Cheng had dropped off Anne at SFO, there were just the five of us (Justin and Cheng, Mom, Dad, and myself). We went to the Ferry Building Marketplace, which I happened to visit when I was in San Francisco in March, but on Saturday a serviceably larger Farmer's Market opens up, so it was really cool to poke around. I bought some zapallitos (and I got one for free!), an Argentine summer squash; I've never heard of zapallitos before, but I wanted to see what I might be able to do with them, so I transported them home, and I plan to experiment with them sometime this week:

ustin and Cheng had us over for dinner on Saturday night, and then drove us over to Twin Peaks (about 1,000 feet up), which offered I think the best view of San Francisco I've ever seen. It was late at night - after 10 p.m., at any rate - and very clear, and it was just a gorgeous way to end the weekend. I was sorry to go.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Wedding 2009 - Highlight

Justin got married today. More are here, and at some point I'll cobble together a video and add details. For the moment I'm tired, and happy to have witnessed Justin and Cheng's wedding, and hang out with some my family, and Justin and Cheng's friends, who are all amazingly nice.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Back In Education

Last Thursday I had an interview for a TSS position. I believe the interview went well; I had them process background checks (the ones that seem to be required for any type of job I really want), so I figured that even if the position didn't work out, I'd already have the necessary paperwork completed. There would be various training I would have to complete - not only for the position itself, but CPR and First Aid - and then I could be available for interviews to be held by specific company clients that provide TSS services to students in the region. I may or may not have something put to me before Christmas, but since these schedules are based around the academic year and traditionally-offered 90-day contracts, it would be more likely I would have something for January - maybe. There might sometimes be 15-hour per week contracts offered, with potential of picking up two or three weekly contracts at a stretch, but full time work, and indeed even part-time work, could not be guaranteed. Added to that, besides the travel (to different schools or students' homes), no health care plan would be offered, and I would be responsible for my own taxes, made me a bit wary but I figured that the potential for work was better than the absence thereof - and it does sound like really interesting work, so I wasn't ready to dismiss it.

Friday I had an interview at a day care for a teaching Pre-K (four year olds). Because of my lack of ECE degree my title would be that of a teacher assistant, but as far as I'm concerned, it's teaching (the title seems to matter as much of the pay offered - does anyone go into teaching for the money? - as with state regs).

I liked the director, Jacqui; I thought her fair and direct, which I can appreciate, so I was just as forthcoming with her in terms of my background and what I was comfortable with; I emphasized that although my background is in secondary education, I love the work in whatever form it comes in. I would likely be asking a lot of questions, but I would have no trouble jumping right in. This seemed to be the right tactic to take. Jacqui noted that she'd be very blunt in addressing any issues she saw with my work, but if I had problems with that (and no sarcasm was meant), I could address her in a similar manner and that would be just fine. This is a relief: In previous jobs I had managers who never let me know where I stood; it was one of the worse aspects of working in a cube farm. In this case, I got pretty much the entire lowdown: regular working hours Monday through Friday; health care offered after six months; six paid holidays a year, but not the day before or after; three weeks' notice if I wanted to quit (it's in the contract I'll be signing). My wanting to start next week, and already having made plans to fly to Utah for a week in mid-December, were not issues.

Jacqui said she didn't want to offer the job on the spot; I was to go home and consider it, and call her back by the end of the day to let her know whether I was interested. I called a few hours later to express interest, after which I received a return phone call offering me the position. (I suspect that my calling back a few hours later gave Jacqui an idea how serious I was about the position, and let her consider whether I'd be a good fit. This was fair.) I'll be starting November 23rd.

I'm delighted to be working with four year olds; right now, I need hands-on work that puts me into contact with a lot of people; it'll be good for my mental state. (You simply can't be grumpy around an age group that's likely to run up and hug you in sheer happiness at seeing you. And I'm a pushover for little kids anyway.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Background Checks

This afternoon I have an interview for a therapeutic staff support position. It sounds like a really interesting gig, combining teaching (I have some experience in this field), special education (which I have peripheral experience in), and mental health (I have some experience in this field, too). Essentially, the position would entail my providing behavioral modification support to children who (from what I understand) have to cope with learning disabilities, ADHD/ADD, autism, etc. It's a contract position, which means no health insurance, and taxes aren't taken out of whatever I'd earn, nor are contracts guaranteed, but it sounds like interesting work that I could do well.

But this being an overlapping field of education, health care, and mental health, there are a lot of background checks involved. In order to complete my application packet, the following credentials are required:

  • PA Criminal Clearance ($10)
  • PA Child Abuse Clearance ($10)
  • FBI Clearance - Cogent Fingerprint ($38.50) - must be Dept. of Education, not DPW
  • CPR/FA - must be child and adult (if training is needed: cost $55)
  • Training for TSS ($20)
  • Physical/PPD
  • Evaluated college degree and official transcripts
  • References (3)
I guess one of the reasons one jumps through so many hoops is to filter out the folks who aren't as serious about this type of work. It's not that big a hassle to get the clearances - it just takes a bit of time - but I could see how people would be turned off on choosing a career in any of these fields, based on the necessary paperwork alone.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Education Policy & Politics

Yesterday there were elections all over the place, except that I've been focusing on so many other things lately, I forgot that I needed to reregister in Pennsylvania. So this afternoon I printed out the form and filled it out, but then I started reconsidering the specific political parties. I was never a very political person, but the older I get, the more interested I've become. I am decidedly not a Republican (although I do have a conservative streak), but since the last presidential election I've begun researching the differences between the Democratic Party and the Libertarian Party. I've been reading their platforms; many of the issues are those that I'm ambivalent about, or don't have enough information about (my own fault) to have an informed opinion on. But when it comes down to education, I have plenty of opinions, and I have enough of a background (having gone through a teacher preparation program; and being raised by two teachers; being a second generation teacher on one side and a third generation teacher on the other) to have an inkling if the education platforms are on the right track.

The Libertarian Party platform covers a rather short paragraph (section 2.8) about education: "Education, like any other service, is best provided by the free market, achieving greater quality and efficiency with more diversity of choice. Schools should be managed locally to achieve greater accountability and parental involvement. Recognizing that the education of children is inextricably linked to moral values, we would return authority to parents to determine the education of their children, without interference from government. In particular, parents should have control of and responsibility for all funds expended for their children's education."

I absolutely believe parents should be very involved in their child's education, yet I'm led to consider the options of financially poor parents and families if they can't afford to provide for their children. Simply advising them to not have children, or to plan better for their future, or to get better jobs, is not practical. Even the better educated don't always have the financial where-with-all even for college; I know extremely few people who have ever managed to go to college without accruing debt, yet most professional careers require a two-year or four-year degree; mine requires an advanced degree, and let me tell you, teachers are paid very badly for their time and couldn't afford to go without assistantships, financial aid, etc. I could not pay for any of my degrees (my A.A., or my B.A., and now my M.A.) out of pocket. I'm up to my ears in student loans, which I'll be paying off for a long time - and I consider this totally, completely, entirely worth it. If I had gone to college at 18, my parents would have been stuck with repayment of student loans - and my parents both have advanced degrees themselves. To my mind, and simply for me alone, an advanced degree is a basic level of education, but I recognize that not everyone requires such a level of education. I do think everyone has a right to a basic level of education - high school, at the bare minimum - without having to accrue debt. And as a community, it is our responsibility to pay it forward. When I'm old, I don't want someone undereducated taking care of me because I wouldn't support that person's education.

My opinions are much more in line with the Democratic Party's platform on education (starting on page 19): "We will make an unprecedented national investment to provide teachers with better pay and better support to improve their skills, and their students’ learning. We’ll reward effective teachers who teach in underserved areas, take on added responsibilities like mentoring new teachers, or consistently excel in the classroom...We will work with our nation’s governors and educators to create and use assessments that will improve student learning and success in school districts all across America by including the kinds of critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills that our children will need. We will address the dropout crisis by investing in intervention strategies in middle schools and high schools and we will invest in after-school programs, summer school, alternative education programs, and youth jobs.We will work with our nation’s governors and educators to create and use assessments that will improve student learning and success in school districts all across America by including the kinds of critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills that our children will need. We will address the dropout crisis by investing in intervention strategies in middle schools and high schools and we will invest in after-school programs, summer school, alternative education programs, and youth jobs.

"We will promote innovation within our public schools–because research shows that resources alone will not create the schools that we need to help our children succeed. We need to adapt curricula and the school calendar to the needs of the 21st century; reform the schools of education that produce most of our teachers; promote public charter schools that are accountable; and streamline the certification process..."

"We know that there is no program and no policy that can substitute for parents who are involved in their children’s education...We have to hold ourselves accountable."

Generally speaking, I can support the idea of less government involvement - in some cases. However, a basic education (however you want to define it - I define it as high school and some form of advanced training, which need not necessarily be college) is simply something that when missing, adversely affects a population. Critical thinking falls by the wayside; communication and outright curiosity about the surrounding world decreases, and then the next thing you know, we've become a population of sheep. (My brother made the comment to me a year or two ago that he thought I should consider a career in the non-profit sector or public policy. He might be on to something.)