Saturday, July 2, 2011

Packin' It In

Well, this is it.  I'm getting ready to head home.  Today, my nest does not seem so empty.  Emily, my youngest fledgling has graciously flown in to spend with me the last three weeks of my adventure.  Doug went home to work (thank you for the work, God!) about four weeks ago. 

I spent one whole lonely weekend all by myself before I decided to coerce Emster into sacrificing some of her summer to hang with her Mama.  Actually, I think she is quite determined to pack me up and triumphantly bring me home!  I'm pretty certain she won't even let me stop by any casinos on my journey from the airport to home. Sigh, I miss my casino. 

So, how does it feel? It feels good to know that I have survived this year and that I am finishing with my integrity and self-esteem intact. I am leaving with a very warm feeling towards the Arab friends and colleagues I have met this year. This climate and this culture will always own a piece of my heart.  I have made friends with people from all over my country and all over the world.  I am certain that I will continue to stay in contact with some people for the rest of my life. Our Pool Posse group is already cooking up future get-togethers.  I'm certain a pool will be included in that venue somewhere.

This week is going to be quite busy for me.  I need to chase down paperwork in order to be able to leave.  I've got to pack up my villa and my classroom and condense all of my belongings I have acquired over the course of a year, into four suitcases.  I came to this country with two suitcases, and I'm going home with Emily and four suitcases.  For those of you that know me, I mean REALLY KNOW ME, you will understand what a big deal it is for me to return home with only four suitcases, one of which will belong solely to Emily. This could be the greatest challenge I have faced this year... or, maybe not.

People have asked me, "What will you  miss from here?"  Well, I am certainly going to miss the shopping carts.  They have the coolest shopping carts ever, here.  All four wheels turn, so that I can literally make my shopping cart glide sideways!  How cool is that?  We very rarely ever have a disagreeable shopping cart with wheels that have a mind of their own. The other super cool thing I'm going to miss is the travelators.  The travelators actually accommodate the shoppers and the really cool shopping carts.  The loaded carts going up and down the travelators don't move at all  even tilted at an angle.  I still have not figured out that enigma.  I think it is better if I just let that remain a part of the Arabian mystique.

I am also going to very much miss the spray hoses next to the toilets.  Those things work really well when one is splashing about with a toilet brush to clean a toilet, and since I have three toilets in my villa, that became important to me.  Many people here don't appreciate the usefulness of the sprayer in that regard, because they have maids, but not me, mafi maid for me.  I will never forget, after living in a hotel for 98 days, the first time I went to wash dishes at my villa.  I was confronted with a tiny little camper size sink and NO SPRAYER!  "What's with this?"  I thought to myself, " This country has sprayers everywhere except in the kitchen sink."  Sigh. 

And, people have asked me what I will do when I get home.  What do I miss the most?  Ice cream!  The ice cream has a different flavor and/or texture here.  Maybe it's not as creamy, I don't know, I just know it's different. Not that I particularly need to check out the ice cream at home, but it will be good to know it's there if I so desire.

And, of course,  I miss my Ella.  Little Ella, Grandma cannot wait to hold you and hug you and plant one big smushy smooch on your little chubby cheeks.  I only pray that I will be able to peel you away from your Momma.  I have watched you from afar, cuddle and snuggle with your Momma.  I am so envious.  I want to be home to earn those baby hugs and looks of love and adoration I see on your little baby face.  Soon, I will be home soon.

I miss my goofy dog, Rufus.  I want to ruffle his hair about his thick neck and toss his Frisbee for him, but only a little bit, the Frisbee tossing bit, he just really never knows when to quit.  I want to sit on my couch with my Sweetie dog, with her heavy half-Dane head on my lap, while she tries to inch her whole self onto my lap.  She grew up sitting on my lap when I was going through chemo for breast cancer ten years ago.  We never really convinced her she wasn't a lap dog.  I want to go to bed with my bedtime ritual of going into the master bath, taking care of my nightly ablutions, settling myself into the familiar comfort of my bed tucking myself in, letting out a sigh, finding my place in my book, only then to hear, "meow" at my closed door.  Of course, Little Kitty will have decided that is the perfect time to grace us with her presence.  After that, I won't notice her until I decide to have a hot flash and bare my toes from beneath the covers only to be smartly bitten on my big toe.  Aah, home sweet home.

I miss my horse.  I cannot wait to get home and play with my horses.  I miss brushing them, and scratching their ears for them, and watching their eyes roll back in their heads because it..., and I so, so, so much miss their scent.  I wish I could bottle equine smell. I would use it as an air freshener.  I miss their horsey breath exhaled against my neck and their softy-rubbery lipped nibbles and fuzzy nosed kisses, and their impatient stomps and snorts and the swishing of their tails swatting flies.  I miss their munching and crunching as their teeth grind grass and grain.  At this point, I even miss their slurpy drool after long, long gulps of water.  And I miss their mass and their strength and their solidity.  When I lean against their sides, when I wrap my arms around their necks and they lay their bony jaws against my back, I feel grounded.  Once I do that, I will feel like I have come home.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Red White and Blue

It's been a long time since I've blogged.  My apologies, there has been much happening, and yet not much happening. I don't know how to help you digest that.  It seems that our "new-normal" phase has kicked in.  Early on we attended a meeting where some world travelers shared their views on adjusting to a new culture.  One of the phases discussed was when the culture shock wears off and we finally adjust to what is our new normal. 

I have normal days now.  I get up, go to work, come home, go to the pool, eat, get ready for work the next day, and go to sleep. Not much fun or exciting or enlightening in that.  It's a bed-to-bed story that I diligently tried to discourage in my student writers back home.  There are a few moments to write about and to share.  The videos we get from home of our grandchildren are an absolute delight and the highlight of our days.  The photos of our dogs peeking over Dutch doors and spying through a crack in our weathered shed doors.  These are the delights.

We had three wonderful weeks we were able to spend hosting our children from home.  We have toured more and played tourist more in the last month than we have the entire time we've been here. It's been a whirlwind of activity.  The birth of our third grandchild is bittersweet.  She is beautiful, and far... away.  Watching her father fall in love once again when he gazes into her squinched up eyes with her little hands grasping his fingers and latching onto his heart, priceless.

I had to tell my two grown daughters, one a mother and the other an adoring aunt of six month old Ella, to smooch Ella's chubby little cheeks for me both at the same time.  Ella is so stinkin' cute!  And, Roman!  Oh my goodness, watching videos of him chasing chickens around the yard clucking away as he runs and playing ball with a dog...  my heart just aches.  I miss all of my kids and my grandkids and my critters back home. 

Lilacs will be blooming soon.  Sigh.  I look forward to my lilacs all year long.  I will miss them this year.  And my horse.  My big red Ginger horse.  I miss her quirkyness and her sturdiness and I miss brushing her and fussing with her and treating her like she's my big girl Barbie doll, combing her mane and tail and making her look pretty.  Enough.  I am here and home is not here.

Yesterday was a big day.  First and foremost, it was my mother's birthday.  Here's your birthday present, Mom.  I blogged.  I know how much you enjoy my blogs. :)  Second of all, there was a big bash across the pond with a bunch of patriotic red, white and blue waving of flags and outrageous futuristic hats at the Royal Wedding of William and Kate.  It was beautiful. I will admit it, I even skipped pool time to watch the wedding.  The hats were an absolute hoot! I personally loved the simplicity of it, there was none of the outrageous grandeur displayed so many years ago when Charles and Diane were married. How Diana ever dragged that train down the aisle so long ago, I guess we'll never really know.

To go along with the patriotism, I have a moment.  This moment slipped up on me, I don't know why or how it happened.  It just did.  Yesterday, Doug and I visited the Cornishe to find some sand sculptures that have been made to go along with a festival here.  The sculptures were really neat.  Very detailed and beautiful, descriptive of life here.  There were camels and forts and palm trees and beautiful calligraphy. 

I also noticed the dates on the palm trees here.  They are really interesting to see.  Somehow, I missed the blossom stage, or the trees just went straight to making the fruit.  Suddenly, there are big clusters of fruit hanging among the palm fronds.  The dates hang in clusters of what look like long ropes, similar almost to a rope mophead, and attached to the ropes are rows of green balls which I assume are the developing dates.  They ranged in all sizes from the size of a pea to the size of a small crab apple.  Pretty neat, I think.   There was also the heat.  I was dripping buckets of perspiration, running into my eyes, yikes.  Too hot for me, of course Doug was downright comfortable, not a drop of sweat on him. 

We made our way back to our car and headed for the grocery store.  Along the way we found ourselves in the Embassy area.  Curious, we decided to locate the USA Embassy.  There are signs posted everywhere near any of the embassies strictly forbidding photograpy.  However, there is a picture firmly embedded in my mind.  I couldn't take a photo, so I will attempt to paint a picture with words.

The USA Embassy here is located within a block area surrounded by other smaller buildings of embassies from other countries.  As we made our third attempt to drive by and locate our embassy within this area, something happened.  I was pulled away from my navigation duties and able to look away from the map.  I was met with a humbling, beautiful wonderful sight.  I saw home... sitting atop a tall silver flag pole was a waving flag, the red and white stripes gently waving and rolling in the wind, the white stars on a blue field standing out proudly and strong flapping against a clear blue sky.  My eyes spied that sight and didn't want to let go.  I twisted my neck and watched as long as I could keep it in sight.  That waving symbol I've seen so many times and taken for granted became something different for me right then and there.

That flag struck me and it struck me deeply, and I felt tears spring to my eyes.  Even as I write now, I am wiping away tears and holding back deepfelt emotions.  Why?  I don't know why.  My words can't do that moment justice.  Maybe it was the displays of patriotism by the Brits over the wedding, maybe it was the loveliness of the English wedding ceremony, maybe it was just because in my heart and in my soul, I love and honor and respect that red, white and blue flag.  And maybe, I just needed to be away from home to appreciate it a little bit more.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Nailed It!

It feels good.  I don't want to brag.  I don't want to boast, I want to be humble.  Dang that L___, one of my administrators and mentor, I suppose.  She's already pushing me to be better.  I like that and I hate that but I do appreciate it.  Today I was observed again by my principal, the vice-principal, my faculty head and L___.  When I was informed a few weeks ago that the "event" was going to occur, I began to fret. I counted my blessings that it was a few weeks away, but I worried. 

If you've read my blog called "Ground Rules,"  you will know that my last observation was a disaster.  I think it may have scarred me for life.  I'm no sissy when it comes to observations.  During my Reading Recovery training year I had to go behind the glass at least six, or maybe nine times.  I'm not sure anymore, that whole grueling ordeal is somewhat of a blur in my mind now.  But, the point is, I've always come through somewhat unscathed. Maybe a little bruising to my ego, but basically I've developed a thick skin when it comes to evaluations.  I'm usually tougher on myself than my observers.  So, I decided, I needed to nail this observation.  But, you know, the whole thing isn't about me, it's all about what those little bodies in front of me do.  How they respond, how they buy in to my dog and pony show.

Well, today, BAZINGA!  I've been wanting to say that all day.  I don't think it fits here, but it feels good to say it.  Two nights ago, I worried, I didn't sleep.  Four days ago, I was sick.  I went to hospital to see a doctor and get a head X-ray.  I guess I've finally "had my head examined."  I digress, sorry.  I was sick.  Sinus infection.  The doctor says I have allergies and that I will probably be better when I go home.  I guess I'm allergic to the UAE.  Sigh.  But, I knew I was being observed on Tuesday, so I went to work on Sunday, over achiever that I am,  and promptly came home after a half day of work. I couldn't rest to get better because I had to go back to hospital to get a sick leave note.  Silly, I know.  So, Sunday's lesson was shot.  I only had one day to set up prior learning to present an outstanding lesson on Tuesday, and on Monday, I still was uncertain what I wanted to do. 

The dog and pony show part of me wanted to be outstanding and different, the theorist in me said, "don't depart from the known."  So, I just did what I've been doing, but this time I did it even better. Either all of the stars lined up or perhaps, just maybe perhaps, all of the scaffolding that I've been setting up has panned out for me to experience success.

Today, I feel like I have accomplished some of what I have set out to do since my arrival. My boys are starting to notice high frequency words in text. Today my little Mohamed R called out words in text during a shared read.  I heard bugles blowing somewhere I'm sure. I love that little guy.  And they listened.  My boys listened and followed directions and searched through text and cut and pasted and used their reading finger to point to words and read text to me.  I was in teacher heaven.  I didn't even notice the observers in the room. I was "in the zone," I guess.  It felt good, and it still does.  It felt authentic and I was so glad when they all finally decided to leave.  I was exhausted, I didn't have any more to give.  I knew when I went into school today if everything fell apart it would be out of my hands because I couldn't work harder than I have been working.  If it wasn't good enough then I was in the wrong place.

Two nights ago, like I said, I didn't sleep.  My mind would not stop.  I'm not a month long planner type of person.  I have ideas of where I want to be in a month, but the next day's lesson for me is not scripted, it often hinges on what learning occurred the day before. I am a strong believer in following the child. Sometimes lesson plans just have to be thrown out the window and something new evolves, like the day I read a big book to my boys about a dinosaur.  They loved that book and I loved sharing it with them.  But, the clock was ticking, we couldn't savor the moment and I sent them back to their seats to work on some math grouping.  It took me a few minutes to find what I was looking for and my colleague and co-teacher Susan, plopped a blank white sheet of paper in front of each boy while I searched for counters.  My mind was thinking counters, groups, math.... and then I turned around, and on those blank white sheets of paper emerged the most beautiful first grade dinosaurs I had ever seen.  Their little minds were still thinking about seeing dinosaur toes and tails and teeth and drippy dinosaur noses.  

I looked at Susan and our eyes locked and I think we both had teacher tears in our eyes.  "They're drawing dinosaurs," I cooed.  "They're supposed to be getting ready to do math, but they're drawing dinosaurs."  I love those dinosaurs.  Those dinosaurs are an authentic unsolicited unscripted response to reading.

I had so much fun with those dinosaurs that I decided to use the same book with another first grade class that I ended up subbing in later that day.  Because it was better planned, I was able to draw a dinosaur as a model for this other group of boys.  I was sad because their dinosaurs looked better than my boys' dinosaurs.  I showed them to my friend Y___.  Y____ in all her wisdom said, "No, they are not better.  If you drew the same model for your boys, they would do just as well if not better." So, the next day, we read about crabs.  I modeled drawing a crab for my boys.  I tell you what.  Those are some stinkin' good crabs.  Those are probably the best looking first grade crabs I've ever seen. My boys can draw, and they draw well.

So, my lesson went well. I feel good. It's one of the first times I've felt good in quite a while.  I feel good about my teaching and I feel good about myself.  After school, I stopped in to L___'s office to chat about my lesson.  I was expecting just a little bit of praise, maybe even just a, "Wow! You've come a long way, baby!"  But, no, she tilted her head and looked at me over the top of her glasses and with a slight smirk on her face, she said, "Your lesson went well, but ...."  I hate "but."  "....I don't know how yet, but we need to work on helping you so that you aren't working so hard.  You are still so much a small group teacher.  You were zooming around that room so much and so fast, you tired me out watching you," she said.  "You can't keep up that pace all the time."

Sigh.  She's right.  My heart is in the small groups and in the Reading Recovery one-on-one lessons.  I can pull groups of students all day long and be happy.  I've been asking my principal for a table to be able to pull small groups of my boys together for guided reading lessons.  Today was an opportune time to make the pitch again.  Shortly after my request, in came a beautiful table.  It's not really like any table I've ever had before.  When I envision my favorite table I recall my horseshoe table with a nicely cut out center making it easy to lean in to hear all the children read.  This table is simply beautiful.  It is covered on top with silky material gathered in rosette bunches and stapled into place. The sides are draped with complementary silky material with more bunching and pleating and rosettes.  I will need to make it childproof and cover it with a durable clear plastic tablecloth. And then, I will gather my boys near and set up the rules and set up the groups and, insha'allah.... magical shifts in learning will occur.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Wasted Days

Have you ever had one of "those" days?  You know when you just wake up cranky, and continue on to be crankier and crankier as the day wears on until nobody really wants to be around you and eventually you don't really want to be around yourself either?  Well, today could be my day.  What a crank I am.

It started this morning, probably because I decided to skip church so I could sleep in, when my phone rang at 6:00 a.m.  I decided to ignore it because I deliberately left it downstairs last night.  Who wants to run all the way downstairs that early in the morning on my day off anyhow?  Next, through the fog of my sleepy brain, I distantly heard a text message come in to my phone, followed by the distinct sound of Doug's phone ringing, also downstairs.  By this time alarms started ringing in my head that I was desparately needed at home. I began to mentally calculate what time it was on the other side of the world.  Dreading the worst, thinking some one was hurt, the dog got hit by a car, one of my horses was colicking, or that at the very least there was no power at home and all the pipes were freezing, I stumbled down the steps and rummaged around in the dark trying to locate one of our phones.  My worst fears were confirmed, yes, it was home calling.

An immediate return phone call determined that Emily was having power issues in the barn and she needed to talk to Doug.  That didn't bode well for me.  That meant that I had to wake him up and the coffee pot hadn't even started to perkolate.  Sigh.  So much for sleeping in.  Eventually he was able to help her begin to trouble shoot and I made my way back to bed.  There's just not much to be said for going back to bed to try to catch a few more hours of sleep, it's just not the same.  Two hours later, I still felt groggy and cranky.

So, I decided I should cheer myself up with a chilled KitKat bar.  Just one little smidgeon first thing in the morning, it's not like I'd eat the entire candy bar.  My first bite reminded me that one of my dental caps had loosened and dislodged.  Sigh.  I reminded myself that now I need to locate a dentist.  I hate going to the dentist, and I don't think it's going to be a better dental experience in Abu Dhabi.  I can't seem to find any denture grip goop to stick it back in place until I suck it up and make the call for a dental appointment.  Sigh.

Okay, I knew I could get past this.  I could still turn my day around, it doesn't have to be totally ruined.  I began to cook breakfast for Doug and myself.  After I seasoned and cooked the American potatoes I look over to see Doug with his paws in my cooking.  "Sorry," he says.  "I added some salt to the potatoes."  Salt was literally crusted all over the top of the taters!  Now, I was beginning to become a little bit agitated.  My tongue lashed out, with an immediate retort, something in the neighborhood of, "I already salted them, stay the hell out of my cooking!"  "I didn't see you salt them," he replied defensively.  "YOU WERE ON THE PHONE IN THE OTHER ROOM!  I WONDER WHY NOT?"  I replied calmly and cooly, yeah, that's the way I remember it coming out.  And then he has the audacity to say, "I said I was sorry."  Good grief.  This guy just doesn't get it, does he? 

We made it through breakfast, and Doug immediately made an exit out the door, busying himself with washing the car.  Our car sits right outside our front door. I could hear him cheerfully whistling while he worked.  I decided I needed to check my important social network site and finish some bill paying chores while sitting at my computer.  Earlier this morning, Doug had chosen to install himself in my office chair leaned back with his feet propped up on my desk while he carried on a lengthy phone conversation with his son while I was cooking the aforementioned salty potatoes. 

I sat at my desk, settled myself in, and commenced to mentally escape before completing my important "work."  It was in the midst of my stimulating game of Spider Solitaire that I discovered my laptop seemed to be hot.  This couldn't be, I thought, I have a cooling fan underneath, and that's when I discovered, no I didn't really have a cooling fan under my laptop, I had a non-functioning cooling fan underneath my computer.  It's not that old, and I haven't used it that much.  After disconnecting the fan and attempting to twirl the blades with a pencil point, I gave it up for lost.  Sigh.  More dhirhams to spend.  Dentist, fan....

I decided to check on my "flowers" in our "garden."  One of our flower bushes didn't look so hot.  It wasn't thriving like the others we planted.  I decided it should be transplanted to another spot.  The new spot I chose was hard.  Rock hard to dig into.  I scratched around ineffectively with our only garden tool, a hand trowel.  Not making much progress, I decided to drench the spot with water and maybe come back to it later.  Eventually, I made my way out to sit on the front step and watch Doug wash the car.  That's when I noticed two things. 

The first was the gigantice scrape across the front driver's side of our rental car.  Ouch.  More dhirhams to the rental agency.  Doug explained that one away just last night when I discovered it while we were out and about, some quip about a tight squeeze and backing up and scraping a curb.  Arggh.  And that's when I spied it.  My dish towel, one of my favorite dish towels, brought from home, to the UAE, the most absorbent cotton pastel yellow and blue striped dish towel in our bare bones kitchen, sitting on top of the recycling bin outside.  Doug chose that moment to say, "Hand me that drying rag will you?  I've been using it to dry down the car."   I had wondered why that dish towel had those great big brown smudges all over it the last time I washed it.  I snapped.  "That's not a drying rag, that's one of my favorite dish towels, it's the only one we have that dries well."  I scooped it up, held it safely against my chest, made my way into the kitchen and rummaged around the bottom drawer to find one of the non-absorbent kitchen towels and bestowed that upon Doug.  Ha!  That ought to fix him, I chuckled to myself.

At some point early this morning, Doug called from the utility room, "How do you run the dryer?"  "Not easily," I replied.  We have this washer/dryer combination machine.  You can wash 6 kg of laundry, but only dry 3 kg of laundry.  So, I had to patiently explain that whole concept to him.  At which point he pawed through the clothes he washed yesterday, still wet in the machine.  He separated out a few items and we deliberated together over which buttons might make the machine function as a dryer.  We decided we might have made the right choice and went on to other tasks.  The timer said it would take 3 hours and 30 minutes to dry.  Hmm.  It's his clothes, I thought, and smugly went on my way.

Eventually, I made my way back to my computer.  Doug started up the stairs.  At that time, I chose to roll my office chair backwards.  There was a resounding SNAP!  And I found myself deposited neatly on the floor.  Remember the aforementioned leaned back foot propping phone conversation that took place earlier this morning?  Doug quickly came to investigate and found me still sitting on the floor staring stupidly at one half of the rolling feet on my office chair.  Sigh.  "I think that may have started to happen when I was sitting in your chair this morning."  Doug says. 

I made my way to the couch with a very thick book.  Doug made his way to the currently closed pool with the broken filter.  Three hours and thirty minutes later, my dryer sang a little song to me and I went to check on Doug's clothes.  Wet, soaking wet.  Not cupboard dry.  I shut the utility room door and made my way to my blog.  Currently, I am sitting in my lawn chair at my warm laptop wondering if Doug will find his way home.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Ground Rules

It's been a long haul, but I think I'm winning.  It's taken me this long to figure out how to communicate effectively with my boys.  It's taken me this long to figure out just how to monitor and how to track and reward behavior.  It's not my strength, it's not my forte'.  It's just not easy for me.  I don't enjoy being a policeman in my classroom.  I don't enjoy having to be "on" every single minute of every single day.  It's one of the reasons I was so happy to leave the classroom and move into the role as a support person and resource person with Title 1 and Reading Recovery.  I haven't missed managing 25 bodies all at the same time.  I haven't missed always being on top of every motion and movement within my classroom.  For the past 8 years I've enjoyed being able to teach small groups or one-on-one with very little energy put forth for classroom management and behavior.  I've enjoyed using every minute for instruction with little wasted time for behavior. For the moment, though, those days are over.

I've always admired classroom teachers with awesome classroom management skills.  This has been the ultimate challenge for me.  My boys have put me through the wringer.  It's hard to say what's happened.  I believe it has to do with consistency and communication.  I couldn't communicate clearly early on.  I didn't know what worked with my boys.  I didn't know what they cared about.  I didn't have a clear plan.  It's so stinkin' simple in my mind now.  But, I hadn't ironed out what worked for me.  I was searching for a system that was easy to implement and track and I didn't know what that system was, until now, maybe, for awhile.

It started the day after I was observed by my principal and her entourage of observers.  I'm not certain why I had to have at least six people in my room to observe me, but I did.  It was the week before our two week break.  It's much the same atmosphere as we've experience in the states right before Christmas break.  Every morning for over a week, we started our day with a whooped up taboor to celebrate National Day, and it seemed like things just never settled down after that.

My boys were horrendous.  They were beyond horrendous.   Even my good boys were bad... and I mean B-A-D.  It started with one boy who decided he had to poke and pick and talk and  wiggle and squirm and giggle on the rug.  He had an audience and he yucked it up.  I pulled out every trick in my hat.  I gave him the look,  which he promptly ignored.  I moved near him.  I moved him. I pulled out stickers for the "good" boys.  I tried distraction, I tried ignoring him, I sat him next to another adult.  NOTHING worked.  All it did was fuel his fire and his behavior escalated and spilled over onto his buddy who then got the giggles and the pokes and the wiggles.  By this time I figured I was toast.  No instruction was happening, there was no classroom control.  I figured it was going to happen.  I could tell from the tone of the boys when they came in late from their earlier class. 

And so I carried on like a good soldier and the boys carried on and the observers shook their heads and cast me disparaging looks.  My cheerleaders included in the observation crew pleaded with their eyes for me to do "something," but I didn't know what that something was.   Eventually the principal gathered up her entourage and they cascaded out of the room and on to their next appointment.  Twenty-three years of teaching experience and I felt like a complete idiot.  I had planned and prepared and prepped, but it didn't work.  I felt set up for failure.  I felt incompetent, incapable and completely at a loss.  And so, at the end of the day, when I had time, I cried.  I figured I would be sent packing home.  Now what?  I wondered.

I went home that night and licked my wounds and went back the next day and...  I got like... Mary.  When Mom had enough of me and my siblings clowning around... oh, boy.  Watch out.  She got bigger and taller, and she got a really creased look to her face.  I'd swear her nose and chin got longer and pointed.  Her blue eyes didn't twinkle anymore, they dug into you like spades.  She would cross her arms, or shake her finger at us, and her voice got a really sharp tone to it, and when she leaned in and said, "Now, enough.  I will NOT have that kind of foolishness going on in my house.  You take it outside, or settle yourselves down.  Now!"  We did!  We straightened up quick and we got lost fast!  You didn't and still don't mess around with Mary.

So, the next day, I blew into my room like Mary.  My boys took one look at me and something changed.  I'll bet one of my eyebrows disappeared into my hairline while the other one formed a crooked line above my one squinty eye.  I crossed my arms, tapped my toes and with as few words as possible asked the boys if "amse," yesterday was good? (thumbs up) or bad? (thumbs down).  There was a consensus with thumbs down.  They knew it.  Then I went to each boy and he had to tell me how he behaved yesterday.  They knew.  They knew it well. 

And then, we made up a list of class rules.  I'm certain any first year teacher is tisking her tongue and wondering why in the world we hadn't already written our classroom rules together.  Well, there are a myriad of reasons why not.  First and foremost, we didn't have a clue what we were all saying.  They didn't know what I was saying and I didn't know what they were saying.

For much of the year, I've had my good friend and colleague, Y____, in my room.  Y's role in our building is to help with the Arabic translation and transition to English for the LT's.  She is amazing, and she is stretched so thin between eight LT's that we are wearing her out. She has a presence much like Mary's.  And, I hadn't realized until recently how much her authority overuled mine within my classroom.  We have co-taught side-by-side all year and we've had some good results. 

I haven't needed to have her with me all of the time.  I had found that if Y just popped in every so often, things would run okay within my room.  However, sometimes, when she left the room, my boys would suddenly decide it was okay to misbehave.  If Y walked back into the room... instant good behavior.   Recently, I noticed that if I started my day without Y, the boys' behavior would be fine, and continue to be fine when Y walked into my room.  When Y left, then disruptive behavior may pop up.   I started to think back on Y's role within my room.  Two of the most disruptive and disrespectful recent days I barely survived were days when Y was not at school, and they both occurred when I had my boys in the afternoon instead of the morning.

I started to wonder how the boys viewed me and how they viewed Y.  Y was the authority and it seemed like I was just along for the ride.   I was the babysitter, the substitute teacher.  I had to become the enforcer.  Y had to step back.  Y and I never discussed it, but somehow I think we both sensed it.  She started excusing herself from the room when I began to launch into a lesson.  I'd watch her leave the room thinking to myself, "...but, but, what if I need you?"  I'd ask her to clarify a point in Arabic and she'd reply, "They understand," or she might repeat directions in English.  Y in her wisdom, was cutting the apron strings.   She was pushing me out of the nest.  I had to fly or flop.  I've definitely experienced the flop syndrome lately and I don't have any desire to continue.  It's time for me to fly.

And so, the boys and I composed together, our classroom rules.  I'm pretty stinkin' proud of those rules.  To me, they represent our first open line of communication.  Everybody's lights were on and ears were open.  They clearly understood what we were talking about.  My proudest moment was after we had written a few rules like, "Listen," and "No hitting," I asked, "What else?"  I wasn't expecting a verbal response, but Ali piped up, "Sit down!"  YES!  Absolutely.  We completed the list with, "Finish work," and "Follow directions."   Tah dah!

Then, I introduced....the chart.  I love the chart.  It's a happy face chart.  Happy faces appear on the chart when Miss Sheri is happy.  When a boy gets five happy faces, he gets to dip his hand into the "treasure box."
I hate the treasure box and I love the treasure box.  The treasure box costs me money because I have to fill the treasure box with goodies, little cars, play dough, pencils and stickers.  Basically, I am buying good behavior and I hate that.

I found that back in the US, the same kids earned the treasure box rewards every week, and all it did was cost me instruction time.  The students I wanted to motivate really didn't care about my old treasure box.  Once I just set my expectations and didn't try to bribe my students they seemed to respond better.  So, two years ago, I put away my treasure box and have never regretted it.

But, here and now, my treasure box is my friend.  It works, it's working and my hope is that eventually, I will be able to wean the students away from the continual extrinsic rewards and develop some intrinsic motivation. 

So, I have had two great weeks of instruction since we have returned from our break.  My first grade students are starting to cruise.  I feel like I've got them, and I am finally, in charge.  It's about time.  Naturally, once I get something good going on, a wrench needs to fall into the works.  As soon as we returned from break, I also became the lucky teacher of a 2nd grade class.  Their LT decided she needed to resign.  They aren't nearly as challenging as my 1st graders were, but they are a new challenge.  It's all about setting the ground rules... again. 

Friday, December 3, 2010

The People

We've finally had a little bit of time to experience some of the culture of Abu Dhabi.  Last night was a night that created memories that I will always treasure.  The nation of the United Arab Emirates is a young nation.  Yesterday they celebrated their 39th birthday as a nation.  And these people do know how to celebrate and how to have some fun.

I've read articles and talked to people about the National Day celebration on the Corniche.  The Corniche is a place along the gulf with beaches and places to visit with some little shops sometimes.  It's much like a boardwalk or like the Strand in Hermosa Beach, CA.  It's a place where the people gather for events.  We were warned to not go anywhere near the Corniche on National Day.  The traffic would be horrific and we could be stuck in a jam for hours.  However, the fireworks display would be magnificent and memorable.

So, of course we decided that we must experience the adventure at least once.  When else would we be able to see the largest fireworks display in the world?  We've seen the tallest building in the world, we needed to add this to our bucket list.  So, Doug and I planned and strategized and debated which would be the best way to go about our adventure.

We finally decided that worst case scenario we would park the car for a few hours until traffic cleared so we could go home.  We entered the Corniche coming in from Yas Island which is more north of the city and at the outskirts.  We armed ourselves with snacks and books and chairs then we entered the thick of things.  It was like nothing I could have imagined.

The traffic once we entered was bumper to bumper and just inched along.  We weren't entirely certain of our destination, we only knew we were caught up in the flow of traffic and there was no backing out.  Teenage boys were driving trucks and SUV's.  Apparently, the four-wheeled vehicles have an RPM regulator on them.  I don't know much about the mechanical aspects, but I do know this, those boys rev those trucks and push in the clutch and the trucks make a big noise and backfire.  At one point we had four trucks next to us revving and banging and boys were hanging out of sunroofs and piled in the truckbeds and they were having a good ol' time.  Stereos were blasting and crowds were cheering encouraging them on. 

And the cars and trucks were decorated.  I don't mean with a little bit of poster paint.  They went all out!  There was one truck completely covered with red, silver and green garland.  Many of the cars were actually covered in shrink wrap printed with flags and UAE slogans and images of the Sheikhs'.  There were red, green and black hearts and the number 39 was everywhere.  There were streamers and at one point I saw a small car with a flag rigged up like a sail with lights twinkling along the sides.

The cars and trucks were packed with families.  Dads were driving with toddlers on their laps.  Children were standing up and looking out of the sunroofs.  Boys would hop out of cars and run alongside the stream of vehicles and then hop back in for a ride.  It was wild, crazy fun and then there was the Silly String.

Entrepreneurs were hawking cans of Silly String for 10 dhirhams alongside the road.  They carried plastic bags full of cans of Silly String.  Of course we didn't escape the onslaught.  We were fair game and so getting caught up in the moment Doug flagged down a Silly String hawker and we joined in.  It was great fun to tease the kids in a neighboring car making silly faces at them and then returning fire when they aimed their cans at us.  I think we caught them by surprise.  I had to plan my strategy just right though by manually rolling down my window just a crack, aiming and shooting at just the right moment aiming for an opening in a window. I surprised myself by aiming quite accurately, I think!  Score!

One dad was quite surprised when I shot a stream of foamy string through his window.  His kids were yucking it up in the back seat.  I was having so much fun laughing at him, I didn't see the teenage boys sneaking up behind us.  Those crazy kids yanked open my door, sprayed me in the face and hair and ran away squealing with delight! And there I was with my face and mouth full of foam! What a hoot!  I spluttered and laughed while Doug shot a photo before it could all disappear.  Too much fun!

Of course, there was no real escape from the people we taunted and teased, as the flow of traffic basically remained the same.  That dad in the car next to me had great fun the next time we passed him miming the opening of my car door and motioning for me to roll down my window.  I kept my window rolled tight next to him and shook my finger from side to side the way they do here to say, "La, la, la!"  No, no, no!  However, I did learn from my mistake and locked my doors.  The next time those boys came near, I was ready.  They yanked on my door and seemed genuinely surprised when they couldn't get it open.  Curses. Foiled.  Tee hee.

And so, we inched along with strings of foam hanging from our windows clinging like globs of sphaghetti to our windows.  At one point, I think we were connected to the car in front of us by a gooey string.  I discovered that there are a few different types of the Silly String.  One kind, like I remember from my childhood, is just a gooey string shot out and in a jet stream, but there were other types.  Some come out of the can like big flakes of snow, so at one point it looked like it was snowing outside our car.    Another kind I had the honor of experiencing right up close is more like the consistency of shaving cream.  Not the most pleasant experience I've ever tasted!

For two hours we crept along, but eventually decided we had enough fun and didn't really want to continue having that much fun into the wee hours of the night.  At one of our first opportunities we were able to turn off of the main road, also called the Corniche, and we wove our way between buildings and back alleys to land a primo parking spot pointed in the right direction to make a quick get-away after the fireworks.

The sidewalks and walkways were jam packed with people.  Eventually we pushed our way through and claimed a spot on the beach.  By this time it was close to 9:00 pm.  Fireworks were scheduled to begin at 8:30 pm inshallah.  And very true to desert time, they started at 9:37 pm.  No problem.

 Doug and I were all nestled comfortably in our lawn chairs feeling quite smug at our clever ploy of bringing along chairs. The people were all settled nicely on the sand, awaiting the first sparkle and crackle and when it happened, the first thing they all did was STAND UP!  And, then, they all surged forward, towards the water like they were going to get a closer look.  Doug and I being the fireworks veterans that we are, looked at each other in disbelief.  What were they doing?  First of all, they were obstructing our view.  Second of all, they were obstructing our view.  And then, the fireworks changed all the rules by shooting off a display close to the horizon so that we had to STAND UP in order to see.

As we stood and enjoyed the view, glorious displays lit up the sky.  Doug enjoyed looking behind us to watch the brilliant reflections bounce off the glass on the building behind us.  And of course, it was all over too soon.  After twenty minutes and a spectacular finale, people  immediately began to gather their children and head back to the road.  I didn't believe it was over.  Two hours of traffic and two cans of Silly String, couldn't equate only twenty minutes of fireworks in my mind.  I told Doug it couldn't be over.  I even sat back down in my chair to wait for round two.  Always being the practical guy, he pointed out that it really was over, people really were leaving, and that five minutes sitting in my chair could equate to at least another hour stuck in traffic.  Sigh.  I had to give up my protest and return to reality.

We really did luck out and our parking space proved to be very advantageous.  We were home forty-five minutes after the fireworks ended.  Too cool.  When we pulled into our complex we searched frantically for our left-over can of Silly String to shoot at our security guard, but alas it was to no avail, it was hidden in the murky depths of our Yaris.  Curses.  Foiled!.

Friday, November 26, 2010


My life is good.  I am blessed.  My life is good.  I am blessed.  If I repeat myself enough, I'll be able to pull myself up by my bootstraps and buck up a little bit.  Again, I find myself avoiding my blog.  I'm afraid to dig too deeply into my thoughts.  If I even begin to scratch the surface the wall that I have been so carefully constructing may crumble and then poor Doug will be left with a blubbering mess of me.

Thanksgiving was wonderful and awful.  Awful because I had to work.  National Day is coming up and celebrations have already begun.  Our morning tabour assembly has turned into quite a production filled with skits, speeches, competitions, dances and demonstrations.  The boys show up in the morning with scarves, hats, waving flags and balloons.  Their faces are painted with the UAE colors of red, black, white and green. Our normal 15 minute tabour has turned into a 45 minute production. 

Yesterday morning after making my rounds and wishing my fellow Americans a Happy Thanksgiving, I found myself volunteering to be on one end of a tug-o-war rope.  When I volunteered and swished out in my long flouncy skirt to yank on a thick rope, I thought I was headed toward the winning side.  I was wrong.  I didn't pay close attention and while I was flexing my muscles at my boys, I missed the Arabic version of, "Ready, set, GO!"  Next thing I knew I was trying to dig in with my Birkenstocks on a slick brick courtyard floor.  I didn't even have time to kick off my shoes and coach my team mates with a rhythmic, "PULL!  PULL! PULL!"  We lost.  I was sad.  Personally, I think the sides were stacked against us.  Oh well.

It was hard to watch the celebration with all of the red, green, white and black and not see one single turkey feather, Indian headress, or Pilgrim collar and buckles.   This morning, though, after church, Doug and I made some stops in the city.  We ended up literally, going to three, yes, three, different grocery stores to get the things we needed.  At our second stop, I saw Christmas trees.  A store here called, Carrefore, had a good sized display set up near the entrance to the store.

I can't help but think of all the times at home when I have walked into Meijers, or K-Mart, or the mall and have felt unindated with all of the commercial hype of glitz and blitz and the not so subliminal messages of, "Buy! Buy! Buy!  Spend! Spend! Spend!"  And I have turned away, or shaken my head and tisked my tongue to grumble, "Oh, good grief,  what will they think of next?"

But, today, felt different.  Here it is Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.  By this time last year, Doug and I had already collected the mandatory lists from all of our children, we had strategized our plan of attack, and would have already been standing in lines wrapped throughout the stores with our coveted prizes in hand smirking at the latecomers rushing through the store doors.

Today, when we entered the main aisle of Carrefore, off to my right, I saw it... the sparkle, the glimmer, the glow, the twinkle and the comfortable, good old feeling of  "home."  It was like adjusting my shoulders into just the right fitting coat.  For a moment, the tension seemed to leave that space between my shoulders and for a moment, I imagined I might be in the center aisle at Meijer Thrifty Acre.  For a moment it was good.  There were several Christmas trees set up, blue and red and silver and white.  My eyes drank in the shiny blue bulbs, the silver garland and the twinkling white lights.  Home.  I miss home.

I miss my children, I miss my family, I miss my animals.  I miss pumpkin pie and grape jelly and toothpicks with dental floss on the end.  I miss my colleagues and I can't believe I'm saying this, I miss my Reading Recovery On-going Professional Development meetings.  I miss being able to discuss theory and problem solving with my Reading Recovery colleagues.  It is a good feeling to be challenged and to be made accountable and to have to search through the writings of Marie Clay to find words of affirmation or words of wisdom to guide my teaching.

Each day in my classroom is a struggle.  I struggle to find the fewest just right words to communicate to my students what it is I want them to learn.  I struggle to hold their attention and to not become the Charlie Brown teacher sounding like the honking horn.  I struggle to get to each student.  I struggle to make my room a print rich environment with very limited resources.  I struggle to meet the high expectations of my employers and administrators.  I struggle with finding the time to plan and to find resources to use to teach the guidelines.  I struggle to find the patience to endure just one more meeting for "only a few minutes."  Well, I only have a few minutes everyday.  

I struggle with patience for well-meaning folks that want to provide me with activities to teach CVC words to my first graders with  early emergent writing skills.  I struggle with patronizing individuals who want to provide professional development to show me how to use a big book.  I struggle with people who want me to teach word families and to use only visual information and expect me to teach not using meaning and structural cues.   I struggle with what I know are best practices and with what I know are not. I struggle with keeping my integrity intact and my ego in check. 

And yet, I see my boys grow.  Sometimes, I look back over my day and I think of the conversations I've had with the boys.  Somehow, we are communicating.  Today, at least 3 or 4 boys let me know they saw me in the Tug-o-war.  I think they got a kick out of it.  Each day, we have conversations about where we are going and when we will go.  We have built things together, we do projects together.  I think they want to take care of me.  They have taken stacks of books out of my hands to carry for me to put them away.  

Two days ago, they were so wound up.  They would not settle down, it didn't matter what I did I could not get them all to listen, I was angry and frustrated and eventually I was literally moved to tears, and when they looked at me and saw my distress, they stopped, they settled and they began to listen.  I could see the compassion in their eyes and the age old "man-look" of panic and confusion and concern for the crying female, and could tell they just wanted to make everything better.

They know when they are being naughty.   Yesterday, I had a list of several boys that needed to stay in during their break for being disruptive.  I began by letting the boys go to break one-by-one.  Then, the rest of them ganged up on me.  Somehow, more than one slipped through the door and they were gone!  Like a pack of wolves out the door they went.  Well, I had already corraled two of the boys on the list and they stayed dutifully behind and put their heads down on their desks.  I was alone and couldn't chase after the other offenders without losing the two I had.  Within a few minutes, much to my surprise, I had one of my runner rule-breakers come straggling back through my door.  He had willingly given up his freedom and came back to pay his dues, or perhaps he was just returning to the scene of the crime, or perhaps, just maybe, I did get through to him some of my expectations.  I'm not sure how it all came about, and then, not one more, but two more of my buddies came back.  Of course they giggled and continued to cause me more grief before I could get them to settle down long enough to think they were being punished instead of me.  Maybe, just maybe we are making progress.

There are two things I know I am doing well with my boys.  Those of you who know me well won't be surprised.  First,they are beginning to write.  They love their journals, and I love their journals.  Yesterday, I told them to draw pictures of the UAE flag in their journals and to write/draw about the National Day celebrations.  Beautiful flags were made, but to my concern, mafi-letters (no letters) mafi words.  I could tell a mini lesson was in order.  With much difficulty and energy I gathered them all on the rug.  The next challenge was to get them to "shouf" look at me and then "ismak" listen.  Ten minutes later, I was able to introduce El Konin boxes and stretching words by saying the word "f-l-a-g" slowly.  I drew attention to the "f"sound, we made links to the Zoo Phonics fish by putting our palms together and wiggling our thumbs making the "f" sound, and then.... I drew the letter F.  "F_l_a_g" I said as I dragged my finger beneath the word.  "Flag/fish", I made links to the initial letter.  I saw lightbulbs go on!  The room was freakin' flashing with lightbulbs all over that room!  F's were drawn, flag was stretched and was written "f l g" , M's for mangos and B's for burgers were drawn and written and UAE started emerging on journal pages and finally to end the day, a pizza was drawn and when I pointed out the word, "PIZZA" next to the pizza on our ABC chart, awareness dawned and my writers emerged and a word, an entire word "PIZZA" was written and read aloud next to a drawing of a pizza, "Miss Sheri, Pizza!" Abdul Satar proudly read.  Meaning, structure and visual - orchestration of the three cues needed for reading. .

And so I struggle, but we are learning.