Sunday, March 20, 2016

March Madness: Crazy Fun!

        March is here. Saint Patrick's Day is done and the first day of Spring is tomorrow. But I live in Indiana so the only thing that matters is basketball. Now, if you have heard folks say that everyone in Indiana eats and breathes basketball, then I am headed to the coroner's. Other than a little 'pig' or 'horse' basketball games in my backyard, or cheering on the grandsons at their games, I am pretty much ignorant to the NCAA hoop-la. I know. Hoosier Hysteria heresy. So why, you may ask, am I writing a blog about something I know little about? Think about that for a second. Yeah. Knew it would come to you: this is pretty much how I roll. 'Ongoing Stories of My Soul' is a blog written by a 4 foot ten lady who thinks she has something to say about most everything. Doesn't mean it is wisdom writing. Look at it like this...I am a combination of Wikipedia on crack, mothers' wit, and an old school teacher who tells every stranger her life story. See? And you take a moment to listen/read. God love ya. Back to basketball. Referring to my height, I think of that old rap tune, "If I were a little taller, I would be a baller..."

          March madness is a time for crazy fun. My oldest son has been getting together with his buddies to watch the games. I think it has been about twenty years.. For most of those gatherings they have been at the house of one (brave) guy. And someplace along the line, probably if I wanted to see my son, I showed up at the party with an NCAA cake. That was years ago. Now The Cake is expected. This is an ordinary chocolate cake with various b-ball related junk plunked down in the icing. I am no cake decorator. Nope. But the guys love it, and I love doing it. I stop by, meet and greet, and leave this pitiful pastry that they probably don't eat. I would not miss it for the world.

          Recently, at the middle school where I teach, the staff put the kids on the bus and met to fill out their bracket sheets. There was fun, food, and speculation on who would win. But there was so much more. It was a much-need stress reliever for educators who have had to maneuver through standardized testing, parent conferences, report cards, and the daily grind of dealing with 6th, 7th and 8th graders. Those silly brackets put a new and fresh spin on another wearing school day. But that's not all. These same great teachers used the Final Four as lessons involving math calculations, probability, diagramming, and brought a new learning objective to that reluctant student: a lesson with meaning and a touch of fun. Oh my! When that kid said to me, "I can't wait for Tuesday---the brackets begin!" he eagerly set out to finish his homework related to this event. Game on.

           When it comes to March, a little bit of madness keeps us sane. The presidential campaigns are lunacy and tax day is less than a month away. Spring breaks are upon us and parents are figuring out how to keep their jobs and kids happy, in tandem. Oh, did I mention that those campaigns and debates keep the bile rising into our throats? Give us basketball, baseball, even curling-- if it takes our mind off that political debacle.

            We've come a long way since Naismith nailed a peach basket to the barn and threw a ball in it. I bet he is proud. And surprised. High schools, colleges, even pick-up games in the alley create the balance we need to a stressful existence. Big business? Oh yeah. I mean, we have the Pacers, the NCAA Headquarters and games in my hometown. The movie, 'Hoosiers' was based on the Milan team that had an unbelievable victory during Indiana high school basketball tourney time. You mention IU, Purdue, Notre Dame, Butler, and you have to be talking about Indy. That Ferrell kid from IU has done pretty well. Our local newspaper had a sweet photo of him after the IU victory. I cut it out of the paper to take to his little sister (she attends my school). Just a cute picture of her big brother who happens to play basketball. In Indiana. At IU. In March. And wins.

           I would love to go on and impress you even more with my March Madness Memories. But I will close with this observation. As cheesy as it sounds, those brackets fasten us to some great traditions, and many have little to do with winning a game. Face it....the March Madness keeps us a little bit sane. It is a good diversion to our layered days; a time for friends to reconnect, employees to choose teams while they become a closer team, themselves. A game where colleges are show-cased and the buzzer makes or breaks victories. It is basketball; pure and simple fun.

         And to think that I am a wee bit part of it. All I have to do is bring the cake.



Sunday, March 6, 2016

If Dr. Seuss Took ISTEP (Or Any Other Standardized Test)

      Well, this past week was one of polar opposites. Grades 3-8 students were immersed in taking the ISTEP, which is Indiana's standardized test. The children in K-2 classrooms were celebrating Dr. Seuss's birthday, which was March 2nd, and is always part of the 'Read Across America' initiative complete with Seuss activities galore. See what I mean? The same day in which Indiana kids were either celebrating reading, or plodding through it to place in a certain percentile.

       With four of my grandchildren, I was reminding them to go to bed early, get a good breakfast and have that number two pencil, well-sharpened and ready to go. With my other grandchildren, I was hunting up my Dr. Seuss hats, books, t-shirts, and shoes. Why, yes I do have a pair of tennis shoes with the Cat in the Hat picture and Seuss's name emblazoned on them. Am I rich or what? No Jimmy Choos in this closet, but I am rocking my Seuss shoes. I know you are jealous. But back to the debacle at hand.

       As I delved into that ISTEP abyss, I saw the pressure, fear of failure, and stress my sixth graders exhibited. My jovial, loving connection with these kids would soon be replaced by educational alienation. I read directions. I proctor. I write the time on the board. I am a jail warden without the uniform. I feel as though I am betraying them when I am asked a question I cannot answer. The mantra is the same: "I can't answer that. Just do your best." And we all know, they can't do their best without me.  I hate every second of standardized testing.

        But then my imagination pulled me to the Seuss side.  I wondered what it would look like if Dr. Seuss---albeit, any of his characters took a test like ISTEP? Let's give it a whirl.

                                                Dr. Seuss Takes a Standardized Test
                               On the second of March in the Jungle of School
                               Dr Seuss was waiting to begin the I Test Like a Fool;
                               He had his crayons: purple, orange, and bright blue
                               But all were replaced with a pencil named Two.

                               "I am so excited to show what I know
                                And describe to the Testers all the places I'll go;
                               I'll tell them great jokes and rock this room with laughter-
                               I'm certain that joy is what they are after.

                                I'll show them I'm loving and that I am kind,
                                And share all my answers to those who fall behind.
                                I'll bring out my glitter, my sequins and glue
                                And show my creativity to the Testers and you!

                                And if we get scared-from our shirts to our pants-
                                I'll lead the class in a brave and bold dance;
                                We'll whistle and wiggle and I'll play the kazoo
                                The Testers will thrill at the dances we'll do!"

                                But the teacher glared at Seuss, and said, "We'll have none of that-
                                The I Test Like a Fool is not 'Cat in the Hat'
                                It is dark, hard, confusing and strains your brainy
                                It is serious and stuffy, like cloudy and rainy.

                                You must not speak, but instead, think and plot
                                If you are nervous, the Testers care not.
                                I will read strange directions and stare at the clock
                                I will wring my hands and pace like a fox.

                               Some will do well, and others will plummet
                               To the depths of percentiles 'cause you simply can't 'sum' it;
                               The story you write must fit on these lines 
                               Even though the best parts are still in your minds.

                                Now I am your teacher and I know you 'by heart'
                                I marvel at your compassion and know you are smart;
                                And if you don't pass, don't think you are dull
                                Because these numbers don't measure the whole YOU at all.

                              I know you may struggle, but when I look in your eyes 
                              I do not see failure, but instead I see 'tries'
                              So do not think you're worthless if you botch up this test
                              You will do just fine because you are the best!"
     Well, my apologies to the great Theodor Geisel who penned books with fun and nonsense so kids would cuddle up to their grown-ups and plead, "Read it to me again!" And in the process these little ones' minds were mastering receptive language and unraveling this ominous process called literacy. I have taught reading for thirty-six years, and I am amazed any of us can do it---and in thousands of languages! Our brain is so amazing! And so much more fun when wearing a Dr. Seuss hat.

    If Horton Hears a Who, it probably will be me. "A person's a person's no matter how small"-- but 'Do Not Pass' a standardized test and that's not true at all. Tomorrow is a new day. Time to put the Grinch to bed and look forward to all of the 'creachas' coming into my classroom eager to use their glue, glitter, and goofy selves to rock my world.

     You Testers don't know what you're missing.