Thursday, May 29, 2008


You know, some years you are literally pushing that last child out the door and other years you are holding on, hoping they won't leave.

I'm having a "can't cut the science lab apron strings" year. I really bonded with my 5th graders. Some of them I had taught since 2nd grade, all the others I have taught since 3rd. They knew me and I knew them and we learned alot this year. I was a bigger crybaby during the promotion exercises today than most of the parents. Of course, my little girls and even some of my boys were boo-hooing as well.

Remember the little girl that wrote me a note that said "RIP - you are a witch" - (but as threatening as it looked, she was just celebrating her favorite holiday - Halloween)? She's off to middle school along with the kid who would never sit still during 2nd grade - he kept playing the drums all day. He moved schools and we were so glad and then he returned this year to the chagrin of many of us. He announced to me..."Remember me, Ms. Ottosen? You're the teacher that made me love science". And then of course, the boy in bilingual classes who would never do anything in English - wouldn't even try. The last week of 4th grade I got him to write a short paragraph in English in his journal and this year he passed the state exam in English! The little girl who came in the middle of 3rd grade and didn't know a word of English and was so determined to learn. She would never give up and practiced and practiced and made all her teachers teach her as much as possible - passed all 3 state exams in English and received the Principal's Award for her undying enthusiasm and motivation for succeeding. A handful of our bilingual ed students passed the science TAKS exam in English, which is a much harder test than the reading TAKS, which they failed. What is the logic in that? If they were all going on to the same middle school, I might change jobs.

I'm going to miss my friends. I hope they all invite me to their high school and college graduations.

Of course, summer science camp begins next week and I have a whole new group to make friends with.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Private Eye Power

I am in my 40th year, and I just had an epiphany.

I have been asked by my school district to become a trainer for a program called The Private Eye. This program empowers students by giving them tools, both physical and mental, that allow them to think in analogies, which in turn, opens the creativity in all subjects.

The first two days of our training were spent being trained in these tools. Several exercises ask us to observe closely an object (I chose a sweet gum seedpod) and then create a list of 10 analogies of what it reminds us of. That part was quite easy for me. Then we were required us to use that list and create a written piece. Here is where it all comes to a screeching halt because I HATE TO WRITE! I freeze, I fidget, I hyperventilate...classic signs of a panic attack. It was made worse by the fact that I was surrounded by the best of the best science teachers in our school district, whom I respect and look to as my peers.

I finally wrote a short poem that I was fairly pleased with. We used our new tools to create a drawing of the item, and then it was time to begin sharing our work and I began to have that sinking feeling. Their poems discussed how broccoli looked like the rainforest, and undersea kelp forests. One poem sang the praises of green. My poem in comparison was rather dark and morbid. How unlike an elementary teacher!

Now it is my turn to share my poem and I tell them that I'm a little frightened of sharing because it is darker than what else has been shared and that I hate writing and please don't laugh. So I read my poem...and the stunned silence at the end is broken by a cacophony of spontaneous clapping, requests to reread it, and one complaint from another table: "Yeah, sure the genius who thinks she can't write." Thankfully, the spotlight moves onto others and I can relax.

At lunch, I reflect on what causes me to dismiss writing as something I "can't do". I am a creative person by nature, and love all different kind of creation - even music where I really don't have enough talent to share with the world. Why do I find writing so panicky? As I ponder, I realized that it was all because of my 1st grade teacher. We were given an assignment to write a poem using rhyme and on a Halloween topic. Thus was born my 5 Little Ghostesses poem...and my first bad grade. The teacher informed me that I did not use words that rhymed - I made them rhyme by adding esses to the end and so I had not fulfilled the assignment. I still have the original copy of that poem and her words are burned into my soul. Unfortunately, I am rather sensitive and took her words to mean that I couldn't write a lick. That judgement overcame all other input for the next 34 years.

I shared my thoughts and that original poem with the founder of the Private Eye, Kerry Ruef, as well as some of my peers that happened to be nearby and they were shocked. They saw the power that teachers have to shape children and told me that had I been in their classroom, I would have immediately been sent to the gifted program. Kind words, but now I sort of believe them.

In defense of that first poem, I will share part of it - to prove that the words DID rhyme and to heal that wound from so long ago.

Five Little Ghostesses

Five little ghostesses
Sitting on postesses
Eating buttered toastesses
Greasing their fistesses
Right up to their wristesses
Oh such beastesses
to have such feastesses.

Many thanks to Kerry Ruef and my cohort of Private Eyes in helping me to see that I can express myself in writing and that my unique way of looking at the world is of worth to others.

I am sharing the next piece with the world. You may love it or hate it or just not get it, but you cannot take away the power of its creation and the freedom that sharing it has given me in this, my 40th year.