Jan Term Journal – Day 13

My last day at St. Columbkille was a whirlwind, to say the least. During Ms. Escobedo’s class, the students were taking a standardized test that all Catholic schools have to administer to their students, so I had two hours to write my thank you note to the staff and figure out which buses to take from St. Columbkille to get to LAX for my flight home. I finished that work just in time, and headed out to recess.

It was wet outside, so the third grade wasn’t allowed to take a ball outside. Basically, the recess consisted of them asking me questions about Spokane and racing each other around the playground, which terrified me because I thought for sure they would wipe out on the wet ground.

I was supposed to supervise third grade’s lunch as usual, but Barrett came in and said I was wanted in the faculty room. When I went in, Ms. Barba, Tyler, and several other teachers said, “hooray!” They had ordered fajitas for the staff in honor of my last day. Ms. Briceno, our principal, gave me a uniform t-shirt and sweatshirt, as well as a Starbucks gift card. I was already overwhelmed, when Ms. McKinney said I should go to her classroom before the end of the day.

When I went to the fourth grade, the students were so excited to see me! They had written thank you notes to me and compiled them into a little book for me to read on the plane. I walked around the room with a U.S. map, showing them where Spokane was and giving hugs. It was pretty tough to leave them.

Leaving third grade was a similar scenario. They had written me thank you notes, and we took a group picture together. Ms. Barba said it was a blessing for her that I was able to be so helpful in the classroom, and I reciprocated. After that goodbye, school was over and I was on my way.

My flight was from Los Angeles to Oakland, then I had a short layover before flying from Oakland to Spokane. On the way out, I caught the sunset from the plane.

Los Angeles has the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen.

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Jan Term Journal – Day 12

Today was my last day with Ms. McKinney’s fourth grade class. They were to have written little news articles about Martin Luther King Day celebrations that took place around Los Angeles. Some of them also wrote extra credit articles about the inauguration.

Because the students had Mass at the beginning of the day, I only had about 25 minutes with the fourth graders before it was time to go out to recess with the third grade. So, I had a few of the students read their articles to the class.

One student, Ezra, was super-excited about reading his article to the class. But when he read it, it became immediately clear that he didn’t follow the directions that I gave the class last week. A few of the other students caught onto that, and I had to do some quick damage control in order to tell the class what they were supposed to do and tell Ezra, “no, that’s not what I expected you to do,” while keeping his morale high.

I ended up telling the class about feature stories. These are stories that are usually not in the first section of the newspaper, but they may expound on ideas from news stories. What Ezra shared was pretty well-written, it just didn’t follow the conventions of news writing that I had taught the class. I explained that while Ezra didn’t follow the directions given, he still wrote a pretty good feature story that could run in the features section if the class were to put out a full newspaper.

Overall, the journalism experiment/experience was a good one for the fourth grade. They picked up the essentials and were able to start putting together some pretty sophisticated stories. When I teach journalism to a new batch of high school students in the spring, I will now have some ammunition: “Mr. Knox, this is too hard!” “Well, I taught it to fourth graders in Los Angeles, and English is their second language. If they can pick it up, I’m sure you can too!”

Jan Term Journal – Day 11

Inauguration Day was a big one for St. Columbkille. Most classes postponed their normal activities to at least watch President Obama be sworn in, and sometimes more. I was in Ms. Boegel’s seventh grade math class at the time, and she did a cool compare/contrast activity with the class to draw a backdrop for the inauguration.

Ms. Boegel had three children’s books – one about Abraham Lincoln, one about Martin Luther King Jr., and one about Barack Obama. The students were split into three groups, and each group was given one of the books. The class was also given worksheets that had a three-way Venn diagram. Ms. Boegel taught them how to use a Venn diagram, and then the students were given time to read their children’s book and write down facts about these great men in American history. They had spent time on Friday talking about Martin Luther King, Jr., so they already had some backstory there.

After the activity, we turned on the TV in time to see Aretha Franklin sing “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee”. We saw Joe Biden sworn in as Vice-President and the performance of “Air and Simple Gifts” by Itzhak Perlman, Yo Yo Ma, Gabriela Montero and Anthony McGill. The students seemed stirred by the beauty of that composition, and then the rock star hit the stage – President Obama himself, being sworn in as the 44th president of the United States.

The students at St. Columbkille love Obama, as well as the promise he represents for all Americans. I’ve heard about the hope Obama gives to nonwhite Americans and the pride they have in him, but this was the first time I’d really seen it firsthand. Although I don’t agree with all of his political ideas, I am glad that we have an inspirational president. If he does a good job over the next four years (and I think he has that potential), it will go a long way toward rebuilding our country’s image – not just internationally, but domestically as well.

Weekend Bullet List 2

If you missed last weekend, it’s right here. This weekend, we:

  • Went to another concert – this time, Ozomatli at the Echoplex
  • Had some time to socialize with Ms. Escobedo during the show. Hooray for teacher talk!
  • Got free Legalize LA shirts at the show
  • Ate chili-cheese fries at Original Tommy’s historic restaurant. I could feel my arteries clogging. (sidenote: everything seems to be historic down here)
  • Visited the La Brea Tar Pits
  • Went to the Beverly Hills Farmer’s Market
  • Got some great frozen yogurt from Pinkberry. Didier’s has some competition!
  • Window-shopped at an Apple store in The Grove, a ritzy shopping center.
  • Saw our friend Susanna (she came over to stay the night)
  • Went to Venice Beach
  • Put our feet in the ocean
  • Saw a bunch of crazy street performers, including one guy who did a backflip over five kids
  • Walked about halfway to Muscle Beach, then decided it was too far; cleary, we do not belong at Muscle Beach
  • Ate some lousy $1.99 pizza
  • Watched the sunset over Venice Beach
  • Went to Susanna’s place in Santa Clarita with Barrett and Tyler
  • Ate at a decent Indian restaurant (it’s no Manas)
  • Made up a bunch of words in a Scrabble game
  • Noticed that a few of my Jan Term Journal posts were picked up by So You Want to Teach?. Thanks, Joel.
  • Stayed the night at Susanna’s
  • Watched the sunrise
  • Took the Metrolink train back into LA
  • Spent MLK day chilling, napping, recovering from the weekend, and getting ready for my last three days of school at St. Columbkille!

Speaking of MLK, I think it’s important to watch this on his day:

See you next time. Hope you enjoyed your day and spent some time ruminating on Martin Luther King, Jr’s contributions to our country. Enjoy the inauguration tomorrow; I’m hoping to catch it live, but if not, we’ll always have YouTube.

Jan Term Journal – Day 10

Because Monday is Martin Luther King Day, all of the classes were learning about King today. During the morning assembly, there was a large portrait of King up on the stage as the students led us in praying for the needy people in the world, and that one day, King’s dream will eventually come to full fruition. The morning assembly is a great way to send messages to the entire school, and I think that frontloading a day with prayer for the community is a good way to instill a sense of social justice in students.

In addition to the assembly and some lessons, each student is doing an “I Have a Dream” project. Each student will write what they have a “dream” for, and then those will all be posted around the school. It was amazing what some students came up with; you could tell that their life experiences really led to the dreams.

One student wrote that she had a dream that all children of divorced parents would feel as loved as children whose parents stayed together. Another wrote that he had a dream that all of the soldiers in Iraq would come home safely, and that our world would see a time of renewed peace. I thought that last one was especially poignant as war rages on in Israel this week. It’s comforting to know that these students are sensitive to what is going on in the world, and that they believe in the values that Dr. King held dear.

Jan Term Journal – Day 9

Teaching elementary school students is so different from teaching high schoolers. One of the big differences I’ve seen is that elementary schoolers are very good at following directions without questions. High schoolers aren’t as quick to fall in line. On the other hand, high schoolers are much better at behaving in class. At least, most of them are. (My freshmen can be a little… energetic, to say the least.)

The third graders are finally starting to see me as a legitimate authority figure. St. Columbkille has a schoolwide discipline policy and I’ve been following it, but it still wasn’t enough to deter them from acting up when I was around. The past couple of days, however, it seems as if the students are warming up to the idea. Today, it finally didn’t take five minutes for them to quiet down before we went to recess (and five minutes is a long time for kids). It makes me think that we’re finally getting somewhere!

After school today, we went to a supermarket called El Super, which is less than half a mile from the convent. It’s one thing to be the only two white people walking down a street, but it’s completely another to be the only two white people in a grocery store. This was really the first time that I felt out of place at all. I think one reason is that everyone there was going through their normal routine, and I had never been there before. Most people who visit a grocery store they’ve never been to feel a little bit out of place. However, add on top of that the fact that we were the only two people of our race in the store. That made me feel even more out of place. One little Latino boy stared at us as if he had never seen a white person face-to-face before. And indeed, he may not have.

Jan Term Journal – Day 8

Well, today was the big day in Ms. McKinney’s fourth grade class. I was back, and I had 90 minutes to teach fourth graders the fundamentals of journalism. I started with the news values (what makes something news?), and I was amazed at how quickly they picked it up! There were a lot of new, big vocabulary words for them to learn, and they did a great job. I ran through a bunch of hypothetical news stories, and gave them a little quiz to ask them to define which news values were involved in each story. Most of them got about six out of the eight I gave them correct, which was more than I was expecting from fourth graders who were essentially doing high school work. Next week, I will be helping them write news stories about the inauguration. In order to prepare, their homework is to read a news story and bring it in so that we can analyze the news values present in the story.

After school, we went downtown for dinner. On the way back, this woman would not pay her fare or get off the bus. When it became apparent that it might be a while, most people got off the bus to wait for the next one. But because Tyler and I didn’t have any more cash, we had to stay on and wait out the escalating conflict. The bus stayed stopped until the driver could get her off. Eventually, she did leave, but not before being asked/pleaded to/berated by at least three other very, very angry passengers. Tyler and I debated getting out to walk home, but we still had two miles to go and we had made it that far into the fiasco, so we decided to stick around. Eventually, the bus driver got off the bus and started yelling at her. I think that sent a message, because the woman finally decided to get off the bus. A girl sitting near Tyler and I looked at us, shrugged, and said apologetically, “I’m really sorry, guys. This is California!”