Classroom visit

May 15, 2006

This past week I had the opportunity to visit my sister’s elementary school. Just for clarification, she is the principal. This afforded me a little different perspective of the visit, and I came away very impressed with the quality of what I saw happening in the classroom and the among the students and faculty. This is a year-round school located in central California. My sister shared with me what was happening as we toured the classrooms and observed teachers in action. For a college professor this was an eye-opening experience. All of my children are grown and gone. I see the products of our educational system and while many in our society seem to be able to find much fault with the educational system, I find much success. Granted, I am at the top of the heap receiving the best that high schools have to offer and not what doesn’t make it through. If I was managing a business where we had high turnover of high school dropouts I might have an entirely different perspective. Back to my visit. . .

As I watched kindergardeners practicing words and sentences I kept reminding myself that when I entered first grade I still couldn’t count past 10. Now these kindergardeners are expected to be readers by the end of that first year of half-days. In a society where English may not be the first language for 50 percent or more of them, that is a daunting task. It is one I believe they are accomplishing. If not, it is not because these teachers are not working hard with the students. Considerable resources are being expended to make our children successful. We should all be thankful for that.

Wandering around the classrooms we got to visit with students, teachers, and support staff. They all radiated a sense of commitment to what they were doing. I even met a university professor visiting student teachers. There was an easy confidence among the faculty. The faculty knew their students and my sister knew every student (and I was impressed) by name. They knew the students strengths and weaknesses, what motivated them (in most cases), when there were problems at home, what needed to be done to help the student grow, and much more than I can share in a short blog here. One young teacher was keeping a photo journal of her class.

For those that suggest American education is failing, I would argue just the opposite. It is succeeding and succeeding quite well. I can’t speak for high schools, but I can for one elementary school in California. I know that my children received a better education than I did and my grandchildren are receiving yet a better education. It may be that in this highly competitive society we need to keep pushing the limits of learning. I don’t believe we have hit those limits yet and as technology improves so will our ability to deliver learning. I was struck by the limited technology being used in the classroom. I saw overhead projectors that were little changed from when I was a student, yet the overhead transparencies were improved. I saw none of what we call smart classrooms. When I asked my sister about this she said it was beyond their budget capability. Do smart classrooms make students smarter. No, but their use can enhance the opportunity for learning. I need to be careful here as I move into discussion areas I am not qualified to discuss.

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It’s Golden Fields

May 9, 2006

Flooding Tuolumne River by A. Passalaqua
Was it just yesterday that I was writing about watering and cutting grass and complaining about the California influence. And here tonight I sit in the central valley of California. I’m always struck by how “brown” California is. As we flew into Oakland the western hills were green – part of the coastal prairie – and then as we drove further east on Interstate 580 we moved from the coastal prairie to the central valley the hills turned that California gold. As we drove south on Interstate 5 and then east on California 132 we were struck with how much flooding was apparent along the Tuolumne River, on both sides of the road. Of course because it was California there was flooding, from the snow runoffs and rain, but mostly the former. Right across the highway from the flooded river basin and just down from the flooded fields a farmer was out making sure his irrigation was in place. Even though we are Californians, we sometimes wonder about the incongruity of it all.
Yet if you are raised with it, do you really wonder. One of my daughters recently moved to Idaho and at church she heard regular prayers for rain. Of course Idaho had been in a drought, but this idea of praying for rain, when you live in a desert, well that was just a little much for her and told a few folks that. Her husband explained to their friends, “You have to forgive her, she is from the midwest.” Perception is everything – it is what we believe and what we act on. Changing beliefs, experiences, and perceptions are all linked.

I’m glad to be in California for a week. The land of brown hills, green cities, busy freeways, and no humidity!

P.S. – The photo is by my nephew and shows the Tuolumne river overflowing near his home.

I’ve been out walking around in my lawn barefoot. I love to walk around barefoot and with the advent of spring, the barefoot experience is awesome. The long grass is cool to my feet, soft to walk on and I don’t tire of it. Yet, today I’m out watering the lawn and no, I don’t have a sprinkler system. I have neglected my lawn for a number of years and my wife has finally gotten to my “it could look better” ideals. So here I am, living in an area where we exceed 40 inches in rain a year, watering the lawn and living in a house with toilets that only use 1.6 gpf (gallons per flush – for you less initiated). I figure once I get the lawn in and established properly with a good solid base my watering days are over. Maybe, but we do get droughts in the midwest – you know 4 to 6 weeks.

just mowed lawn

Growing up in the midwest I never saw anyone water their lawn. Why would you, it is just going to rain. But then we were brainwashed into believing that California looking lawns were beautiful. Who did this brainwashing. I don’t remember in the 1950s, 60s, or 70s seeing any lawn fertilizer companies going up and down the streets – or any little flags in front of houses indicating the lawn had been fertilized. Sure, golf courses always looked great, but parks, lawns, and neighborhoods had dandelions. I do remember my grandmother digging out those pesky weeds. I guess the brainwashing notion may have to wait for another post.

In a way I’ve always envied my western family members. Not because they have to water their lawn, but if they decide they don’t want something to grow, they just don’t water it. But no, not where we get 40+ inches of rain. If we leave a spot alone it will grow everything and none of it will look good. For years we planted a small garden, trying to do our part for a more environmentally friendly neighborhood. We felt like we needed to do that. Then we would be gone for a month and come home to the biggest weed patch ever. We finally decided that planting was okay, but harvesting wasn’t all that it was made up to be. Now, we just run down to the farmers market or Walmart and purchase what we need.

Got to go, time to change the water! I hope this grass grows soon!!!!