E is here!

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I have wanted to write and post something since the beginning of June, around the second week or so, but have not been able to for a variety of reasons. In order to ensure the legal issues surrounding this placement would not be impacted negatively, we were instructed to not publish anything on social media, this blog, etc. We have shared with a few close friends and family members, but have tried to limit (as difficult as that is and has been!) it to verbal communication with those people. So, here it is:

Yesterday, July 7, my husband and I took placement of a super cute and sweet little boy! We will call him E. To help everyone understand exactly how we got to this point and were able to bring him home, let me take some time to review the process.

Almost 2 years ago, when my husband and I decided to pursue this process to create our family, we had been through a lot of difficult times both emotionally and medically. In determining exactly what our issues were in not being able to have biological children, we both had to undergo numerous medical tests that definitely felt like an invasion. At least that’s how they felt to me…it is such a strange thing to have to submit your body to these different tests and such to try to figure out what is happening when what is supposed to happen (or at least what we think our body is supposed to do, naturally) isn’t happening. So, after all of that and figuring out that we would not have biological children, we made the decision to go through the adoption process.

We chose to go through an agency rather than pursuing private placement for a variety of reasons. If you are investigating adoption, there are a myriad of different options for you, so I would simply suggest that you investigate those options to find the right one for you/your family. So, back to our story…we worked with a Christian agency. We first had to attend an information session to figure out exactly what this meant. After attending the info session, we decided to wait to fill out the application until after I had finished my Master’s. Once I finished that, we filled out the application paperwork and submitted it. Then, we were interviewed by a social worker at the agency. Once that was completed, there was more paperwork to fill out such as the contract with the adoption agency, financial disclosure forms, self-reported medical history, etc. We also each had to have a physical with blood test results sent from our doctors to the agency. In addition to that, there was a fire department inspection and health department inspection of our home plus a visit to our home by a social worker from the agency. We had to submit letters of reference from several non-family members as well as our church. Once all of this was submitted for approval, the agency requires that we attend training classes. These classes were once a week for about 2 months or so. These training classes had homework including reading several books and writing book reports to submit to the social worker. While going through all of these training classes and filling out paper work, we also were asked to make a profile book (essentially a digital scrapbook) about ourselves that would be shown to birth families making plans of adoption. Two copies of this were ordered, printed, and sent to the agency so they could have them ready to show.

We completed all of that, and were approved. Once approved the agency has “waiting families” meetings about once per quarter. Families are asked to attend at least 1 per year, not only to learn the information that is provided during the meetings and meet others that are in your same or similar situation, but to show your continued interest in pursuing adoption. The average waiting period for families for this agency is two years!

Over the time period that we were waiting, we received several phone calls about children that needed a family. It was SOOO hard to be given just a little bit of information and then have to decide, usually within 24-48 hours, if we wanted to continue in the process. With each of the calls, we ultimately said no and the agency found other homes for those children. We believe that those children are in the families that God intended and planned for them to be in all along.

Even after all of this, and waiting for almost two years, we received another phone call from the agency. I was on my way home from a long day at school and was stuck in traffic when my phone rang. I just thought it was my husband calling to let me know he was on his way home from work, but when I answered the phone, it was definitely not his voice. It was our social worker from the adoption agency. After exchanging some pleasantries, she asked a few questions. Based upon my answer to those questions, she provided some additional information asking us to prayerfully consider whether we would want to pursue this to the next steps. As soon as I got home, I ran around the house trying to find my husband, finally finding him in our back yard filling the lawn mower with gasoline so he could start mowing the lawn that afternoon. I gave him all the information that I had been given and asked him to contemplate it while he was mowing. ;-) After some discussion that evening at dinner, we decided to pursue the next steps in the process. After speaking to our social worker the next day, we received a bit more information regarding the birth family, etc., but nothing that would cause us to stop the process. We then scheduled a visit to meet the little boy. At that point he was about two weeks old.

The visit was about an hour with my husband, myself, and the little guy. After that hour or so, the social worker and interim care provider came in and gave us some information about his habits, likes and dislikes, etc. as well as answering questions and so on. We scheduled a visit for the following week. All of this was happening as school was ending for the year, so the timing could not have been more perfect. In addition, I had requested a voluntary transfer to a high school this upcoming year, but never heard anything regarding that transfer. I’m convinced that it was all in His plan for this to happen exactly the way it happened. We visited again with E the following week and scheduled the third visit the next week. We also scheduled placement for July 7. In the midst of all of these visits, we started preparing our house for having a baby in it, including cleaning out and reorganizing. We also put together a registry at a local store and tried to find the different products that worked well for us and that we would need to have to bring a baby into our home. Doing all of this in less than 4 weeks was just a bit of a daunting task!!!!

But it was all worth it to be able to bring this cute little man home yesterday. We will not be posting pictures until we are cleared by the agency to do so. So, you will have to wait to see him. Sorry. :-(

I do want to give a HUGE shout out to those that have helped us along the way by providing support, sounding boards, friendship, etc. And an enormous thanks to Jessica, Amanda, and Christy for all of the hand-me-downs! We could not have done this so quickly without all the things you have provided from clothes, to burp clothes, blankets, toys, a crib mattress, etc. THANK YOU!!!!!!!

Letter to Gubernatorial Candidate

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In Maryland, we are in the midst of an election year for our state offices including governor. Our current governor, Martin O’Malley, has served his two terms and will thus vacate the governor’s mansion at the end of this term. The way elections are structured in Maryland, the primary election serves to determine the candidates for each political party and you can only vote for candidates in the political party for which you are registered. Thus, an independent could not vote in the primary unless an independent is running. (There are some offices that are not determined by political party such as board of education races) In my house, we get the literature for both of the major political parties because I am a registered voter for one party and my husband is a registered voter of another party. Anyway, one of the candidates has been putting out many ads about his plan and ideas about what he will do once in office. Some of these ads will sound good to most people that aren’t involved in any of the industries or areas that he is talking about. Yet, his soundbytes are simply that…soundbytes. Obviously, I take issue with his ideas about education. I can’t really speak to his other issues intelligently, since I am not involved in those areas or professions. Then, I came across this letter to the editor in the Baltimore Sun. And she hit the nail on the head. Here’s my version:

To Doug Gansler, Democratic candidate for Maryland Governor:

Your recent ads detailing, or rather providing soundbytes, for the plan that you would attempt to implement upon your election to the office of Governor of Maryland have me asking questions, though I’m sure not the questions you intended. First, how much experience do you have in education as a classroom teacher? One of your ads states that, in Maryland, we have “some of the best schools in the country, but also some of the worst.” This is followed by your supposed solution to this problem being putting skilled teachers in the classroom rather than teachers that simply have seniority. On the surface, this seems like a great idea. After all, we all want our children to have teachers that know what they are doing, have a certain level of knowledge, ability to employ different methods of teaching in the classroom, continue their own professional growth, and I could go on. But these buzzwords of “skill over seniority” are simply that…buzzwords. How exactly do you propose to determine an educator’s skill? Is it something that you can measure using some system of metrics? Oh, wait! That’s what we’ve been dealing with this year so that we can say we are following the requirements of Obama’s Race to the Top. I was one of the teachers at my school this year that was chosen to be evaluated using the new system. But do these systems really take into account what I, and numerous other teachers in Maryland’s public school systems, do day in and day out? Can you take everything about teaching and boil it down into some numerical system? We are not teaching robots, we are teaching children.

Tied to this is your statement in a more recent ad that I’ve seen several times over the past few days, that you support “merit pay.” What is your definition of merit pay? The way that I understand this is that the pay of a teacher would be tied to the grades, test scores, etc. of the students in said teacher’s classroom. If this is your definition of merit pay, how do you make allotments for a teacher that teaches Gifted & Talented, or above average, children versus a teacher that teaches children that are performing below grade level? How do you make allotments for a teacher that teaches a class of 5-8 students such as an ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) teacher or special education teacher versus a teacher that teaches 100-150 students in a specific subject? This would be equivalent to paying a doctor based on the number of “cures” he/she is able to prove. Thus, an oncologist would not receive as much “merit pay” as a “pediatrician.” How does that make any sense?

Children come to us, in the public school system (and private, too!), with a variety of backgrounds, levels of home support, abilities, learning styles, needs, and the list goes on. A typical school year in Maryland is 180 days that schools are open, while a typical school day is 6.5 hours. This does not take into account if a child has a history of absenteeism or tardiness, thus missing out on instructional time and support in school. We are expected to teach the children in front of us in meaningful, research based methods, providing assignments that measure if a student has learned the material, and if they haven’t, making sure to go back and reteach them until such time as they have mastered that skill or material. For the students that do master the skills or material, we are expected to provide enrichment and increased rigor so those children continue to learn and grow in their understanding and knowledge. Many times these students are in the same class, requiring the teacher to also employ various methods of classroom management (which we should do anyway) in order to be sure all students have a safe learning environment. The teachers that are worth their weight are doing all of these things in spite of the added expectations placed on us for writing Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) and participating in the new evaluation systems. We are collecting artifacts to upload to show, or rather prove, that we are practicing professional responsibilities, doing our own professional growth and learning, planning and preparing for the students, new curriculum demands, and the list goes on.

During school hours, besides teaching the children in our classes, we are allotted “planning time.” However, this time is often actually used for participating in various team meetings (grade level, subject/content area, etc.), parent conferences and/or student conferences rather than actually being able to plan lessons or even grade student assignments. So when do we do that? After school hours whether at school or at home. Time we are not compensated for, but time we use in order to be sure we are providing feedback to students about their learning, plan effective lessons using appropriate curriculum resources (or finding them!) and following pedagogical methods proven by research.

What do we do in the summer with all that time off??? Yep, that’s right, we just sit around the house all day, eating bon bons, and catching up on our soap operas. Don’t believe me? GOOD! Because in reality what we are doing during the summer is often writing curriculum, researching our new curriculum (if we know ahead of time that it is changing), participating in continuing professional development (as if we have time for that during the school year), planning the next year’s school calendar, activities, field trips…I could go on. And that doesn’t count catching up on our own personal lives such as scheduling and going to doctor’s appointments that we can’t schedule during the school year so that we don’t have to write sub plans and take time away from the children.

So, Mr. Gansler, I would like to take this opportunity to let you know that I will not be voting for you during this election. Until you can answer the questions above and address these issues, I can not give you my vote. You clearly lack an understanding of the issues affecting teachers today and therefore, lack the ability, in my opinion, to lead the state of Maryland and its public education systems through this quagmire.

On Mother’s Day

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This year Mother’s Day may be more of a struggle for me or maybe not. I never really know until the day and what strikes my thoughts or what sort of mood I might be in. Yet, here’s what I know that will likely impact my thoughts and feelings on Sunday. Five women I know from various parts of my life are currently pregnant and due sometime this fall, most of them between September and October. I am close enough to two of these women that we have had many conversations about our own issues surrounding pregnancy, etc. One of these ladies had health issues that impacted how that might happen for her and her husband. We were very open with each other about our thoughts, struggles, emotions, etc. surrounding these issues and continue to be open, even through her pregnancy. The other of these ladies has two children and is pregnant with her third child. She and I don’t get to see each other very often, but do have very open and honest conversations with each other and I know she sympathizes with me about the struggles that I deal with regarding my inability to give birth to children and many other issues that are related, whether emotional, spiritual, intellectual, or anything else. Another of the five women is a co-worker with whom I can talk about some of these things, even though I don’t see her very often since we teach different grade levels, etc.

Even though I can speak with these women about my struggles or emotions related to not being able to have biological children, waiting on adoption, etc., there are just some things that someone in my position can’t articulate. I can’t put words to some of the emotions that I deal with on any given day. Some days are easier than others and most of the time I am able to not think about these things because there are so many other more immediate and pressing things to think about, such as lessons, teaching, grading, reading, band practice, meetings, analyzing data for meetings/presentations, etc. But sometimes I can’t even articulate to my husband. So, I guess we’ll see what happens tomorrow and how I’m feeling and able to deal with all of these things, or not!

From the mouths of….

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…my students. Last month students in my Gifted and Talented classes turned in rough drafts of their essays that we have been working on all year for National History Day. The 7th graders at my school use National History Day as a way to learn to research historical topics. So, they don’t actually complete the full project to compete in the county, state, and/or national level. However, we spend the year choosing a topic that meets the theme, doing secondary research, doing primary source research, learning to write a thesis statement, learning how to use the sources to support the thesis, and culminating in writing an essay. The rough draft was due last month and was intended to give students an opportunity to receive feedback on the essay in order to make the final as best as possible on its due date at the end of May. As I was reading through these essays, some, well, let’s be honest, a FEW were pretty decent using quotations, etc. to support the thesis, had few errors, etc. And then there were the crazy things that were said in some of the essays, besides the numerous spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and other errors. Here’s a sample:

(1) “The Underground Railroad was…the safest way for slaves to escape.” I just didn’t even know what to say to this one. If the student had actually done any meaningful research about the Underground Railroad, this should not have even been on the radar. There was nothing safe about using this method of escape. You didn’t know who to trust. You might be caught at any moment. You had to be ready to hide, run, or any other number of things at any moment. And given that you probably didn’t know how to read or write, you had to rely on verbal and non-verbal means of communication. I could go on…

(2) The Tea Act caused colonists to pay for overpriced tea from the East India Company. (My paraphrase) Oy vey! This is not the case. Again, if they had actually researched the topic rather than relying on what they think they know, this should not have been an issue. The Tea Act actually lowered the price of tea from the East India Company because they had such an overabundance that they couldn’t sell. To help sell the tea, the tax was lowered on the tea from this company, forcing it to be lower in price than any other tea from any other company. Thus, economically forcing colonists to purchase this tea because it was cheapest.

(3) The Boston Massacre was one of the most important events of the American Revolution. (My paraphrase) Again, what the heck?!?!?!? The Boston Massacre was one of the events leading to the Revolution but was not part of the Revolution. It happened a full FIVE (yes FIVE!) years prior to the first battles of the Revolution.

I’m sure there are more…

Another mythconception…

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“The United States was founded as a Christian nation.”

I have heard this mythconception my entire life and as a Christian and historian, it bothers me on multiple levels. First, the United States was not ever intended to be a “Christian nation” but rather a nation in which there would be no “state religion.” As products of the Enlightenment and some of the most well-educated individuals of the time, the founding fathers knew and had seen the perils that had embroiled the nations and kingdoms of Europe. Just look at Great Britain as a sample…Henry the VIII had six wives, some were Catholic and some were Protestant. So, after his death, you had Mary, a Catholic, that persecuted Protestants. Then, she dies, and you have her half-sister, Elizabeth I, a Protestant, who persecuted Catholics. And it just goes on and on. Depending on whomever was king/queen, you might be the person being persecuted. So, when we say people were settling in the colonies in what would become the United States for religious freedom, a more accurate description would be that they were actually avoiding religious persecution. If they were in the colonies, they would be farther away from the persecution happening under the closer watch of the king/queen.

Aside from that, let’s take a look at the faith of the founding fathers. As with many people, faith is an ever evolving part of one’s life and it was the same for the founding fathers. But, to say that they were Christian is historically inaccurate. Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, was not a Christian, but a Deist. As evidenced in the Declaration, Jefferson believed in a creator/supreme being/God. He wrote, “…the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them…” and “…that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…” but this does not mean that he believed in Jesus as the Christ and Savior. He even cut out and re-wrote (maybe reorganized is a better term) his own version of the Bible, taking out any references to Jesus’ divinity, leaving what he considered to be an excellent set of morals. You can read more about his Bible here. And then there’s the other founding fathers…John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and the list goes on. While it is true that some of those founding fathers were, in fact, Christian, or at least members of Christian churches, we can not make a blanket generalization that the founding fathers were all Christian. The historical record simply does not support this view of the history of the founding of the United States.

This is probably one of the hardest mythconceptions to fight against, because it goes so deep. Generations of people in the United States, including my parents, were taught this. They were also in school when reading the Bible and praying was a part of the daily classroom routine in the public school systems. This brings up an enormous amount of other issues, but to stay focused on the mythconception, some of the reason this myth continues to be perpetuated is because the people that were taught this generations ago, continue to pass down the idea to their descendants and anyone else who might listen. In my opinion, another reason this perpetuates is because churches help to pass this myth along. Having attended three churches in my life, two with my parents, and the current church without my parents, this is an interesting one. At those three churches, the pastors and other leaders are good at making sure they don’t make blanket statements, political statements, etc. about one or the other of the main political parties or their platforms. I think they recognize the issues that this might raise with attenders/members (not to mention the IRS). But, in private conversations, I have often found myself wondering why people continue to have this idea…not necessarily the pastors or other leaders, but the attenders of the churches. I often wonder how to explain to other Christians that the United States was not founded as a “Christian nation” while still being respectful of them. The minute I am not respectful is when people will stop listening to what I have to say. So, I have to carefully choose my words, examples, etc. so I can make my point as well as I can.

Yet, another of the mythconceptions of history…

Columbian Exchange Lesson

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One of the lessons I have been teaching for probably 10 years or so is about the Columbian Exchange. When I first started teaching this lesson, I had some cards with names of different foods on them and had students figure out how to group the different foods on the cards. But, that didn’t really work out too well and the kids were not engaged in the lesson. So I tried to figure out a way to make it much more engaging and I didn’t want them to simply read about the Columbian Exchange and take notes or the like because we know that is truly not engaging. Then, I came up with the idea to use the actual foods themselves in the lesson.

When I was in college I learned an instructional strategy called Concept Attainment which is explained here. Basically, students make a T-chart, labeling one side “Yes” and the other side “No.” The teacher has already determined the attributes of the “yes” items and thus the “no” items are anti-examples of the concept. The teacher then shows the students a few examples and anti-examples (in random order) and tells the students if the item is a “yes” or a “no.” Students take notes on this information on their T-chart while trying to determine the attributes of the “yes” group. After the first few examples, the teacher begins to ask students which group they think the example should be placed in and why. But, the teacher does not indicate if that student is correct or not. The teacher simply places the item in the correct group, based on the original attributes.

So, I took this instructional strategy and applied it to the Columbian Exchange. The Columbian Exchange is the idea that certain foods, animals, diseases, etc. originated in particular areas of the world. So, the yes items in my lesson would be those things that originated in the New World (or the Americas) while the no items are the things that originated in the Old World (Europe, Africa, and Asia). During the lesson, I do try to direct students into particular ways of thinking by showing several fruit examples from one of the groups, and several vegetable/non-fruit items for the other group (but still maintaining the original attribute of New or Old world). Then, the students think, “Oh this is easy! It’s fruits and vegetables!” Then, I freak them out by showing them a non-fruit example, but then placing it in the group with the fruit items. Thus, the students have to rethink their idea about fruits versus vegetables.

Here’s a couple pictures of the foods I’ll be using this year.

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I try to get a wide variety of foods, some of which the students have seen and some of which some of my students may not have seen before. It’s really engaging for the students because they get to identify the food item, some students see foods they have never seen before, and they have to do all of the thinking and explaining of where the food item goes and why they think so. All students are able to engage in this sort of lesson because it is not based around being able to read at a certain grade level, they are working together as a class, they help each other, but they also, statistically, will remember much more about this lesson simply due to the engagement. They are learning even if they don’t realize they are! After the examples are gone through, I do add items to the notes that I did not have examples of, including animals (horses, cows, chickens, turkeys, etc.) and diseases that were exchanged. This way, students see it is not just about foods, but about the overall exchange that occurred.

As a follow-up to the lesson, usually the following day, students are given a blank piece of white paper. They are asked to draw a picture of one of their favorite foods that has more than three ingredients. They label each of the ingredients on the picture and then identify, using their notes, if the ingredient is from the Old or New World. This helps to show that the foods that we have now are, for the most part, a result of this exchange the occurred due to the clash of cultures that happened as a result of the European voyages of exploration.

Thoughts?

Snow Days

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We’ve had our fair share of snow days this year. The district in which I teach has, for the past several years, built in snow days to our calendar. What that means is that, we are required, by state law, to have schools open for students for 180 days, but our calendar has actually had 185 student days. If we don’t have snow for 5 days, we don’t use those days. But, if we do have snow, we use those days to still qualify under the state law of being open 180 days for students. Once we are closed for more than 5 days, we do add on days, or use professional development days, etc. I remember a year when I was in high school we had so many snow days that we started adding 15 minutes on to the end of every school day. Every so many days of the 15 minutes added on, equaled one student day. Next year, on the approved calendar, we don’t have snow days built in to the calendar, so we will simply add on to the end of the year for each day we have to close.

This year, so far, we have used all 5 built in days, plus 1 more. The last snow day we were closed was actually during a state of emergency as declared by our state governor. Thus, this means that each district can apply to the state department of education for a waiver of that day. This means that we would have only been open for students for 179 days, instead of 180.

This year, the snow days we have had have been 1 day here and 1 day there, not continuous. This creates issues, not only for parents who have to try to find childcare while they go to work, or even having to stay home from work with their children, many times using up vacation time, but it also creates issues for teachers. As much as we like a snow day or two during the year, we actually would much rather be in school with your children. We would much rather be able to maintain routine of the school and classroom, be able to have consistency and continuity in our lesson plans, etc. It is quite difficult to teach one day, have several days off (such as this past weekend, with President’s Day as an already scheduled holiday, in addition to the snow day last week), and then have to remind the students what we had done 5 days ago so that we can continue whatever it is we are teaching and learning. This is especially important in the early grades, when students are learning the foundational pieces of their knowledge so that they can build upon that in later years. But it is still important in the middle and high school grades so that students have consistency, rather than holes in their understanding or knowledge. What I have decided this year, due to the snow days, is that I will teach as much of the curriculum as I am able to, well. It is not that I don’t think the curriculum is important, it is simply that I would much rather have my students understand and learn some of the information well, rather than trying to teach it all and having my students not understand it.

As a side note, please understand that teachers only get paid for the days we work, regardless of when those days occur. What I mean by that is I only get paid for 190 days (in my district, we work several professional days that are closed to students). So, the snow days are actually not paid time off for teachers. It is simply delaying the day we do get paid for.

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