The Year of 40

  • October 31, 2014 7:50 am

Last month I celebrated my thirty-ninth birthday, and began my journey to 40.  Birthdays have really never bothered me, and I hadn’t given much thought to turning forty until thirty-nine rolled around. However, now that I see that birthday cake bonfire on the horizon, this particular milestone is taking up a lot of space in my mind.  I find myself thinking of a lot of “should” and “should nots.”   For example,  I probably shouldn’t eat cake for breakfast.  I shouldn’t hope for snow days.  I shouldn’t get traffic tickets for running stop signs or not wearing my seat belt.  I shouldn’t be surprised by bad manners, and I shouldn’t forget my cell phone at restaurants.  At the same time, I should be more responsible with my money. I should watch the news. I should know and understand the intricacies of our political system.  I should cook dinner every night, and probably drink more water.  But mostly, I should feel more like a grown-up.  The problem is, I just don’t.  In fact, I actually find myself referring to other people as grown-ups—some of which are younger than me.  I don’t feel in charge of anything specific—other than my family.  I can give orders to those crazies better than any CEO, but in dealing with everyday people, I feel like I blend.  And now a month into this year of 40, I see myself stepping out of my comfort zone more than usual.

I’m speaking my mind more often and with more confidence—thinking that my ideas, beliefs, and goals have value.  I see solutions to problems more clearly, and work to solve those problems more efficiently.  I feel myself not wanting to be ignored—in my profession, with my kids, or even in the check-out line at Wal-Mart.  I expect people to use good manners and be competent in what they do—no matter that task.  While I’ve always leaned towards shy, lately I’ve come out of that shell and connected with people because of common interests and experiences, and it’s those experiences that have given me perspective.  I’ve seen a few things, done a few things, made a few mistakes, and had a few successes.  Shockingly, I’m beginning to realize I know things.

I also find myself wondering where my place is among my peers, co-workers, and community, and if I’ve earned a cushion of respect and loyalty to be more comfortable in my own skin—something that has always been a struggle for me.  It’s always been  easy to see my faults, to criticize my failures, and to downplay my successes. In doing that, I’ve become a master at shaking my own confidence.  I’m realizing that being a grown up is finding confidence in my skills and strengths, accepting my faults and failures, and knowing that those faults and failures don’t define me.  They have built my character, added to my perspective, taught me life lessons, and given me the power to accept who I am.

Last week I traveled to Washington D.C. to attend a friend’s wedding.  The last time we were together in the city was in 1997 during our Congressional Internship.   At that time, we had no clue how to manage our lives, what goals we had, or where our decisions would take us.  Breathing the same air together this many years later, and reflecting on our work, kids, friends, heartbreak, and celebrations since that time added to my brain frenzy about turning 40. I realized how much I have changed in the last seventeen years, and surprisingly, how much I have actually grown up.

As I inch closer to celebrating the past four decades, I feel myself letting things go, looking to the future, and daring myself to relax, get comfortable, smile, and say my piece—whether I should or should not.

CSCOPE Is not a Four Letter Word

  • May 14, 2013 11:25 am

CSCOPE is not a four-letter word
CSCOPE — a curriculum program Decatur ISD has been using for the past four years — has become a four-letter word around this town.
It’s time we washed our mouths out with soap.
There have been many conversations, Facebook posts, blog comments and articles discussing this curriculum. Some of those conversations have been heated and emotional, while others have been calm and factual. We need to gather all that emotion, information, and vision and guide it into a common goal.
There are many misconceptions out there as to the intent and implementation of CSCOPE. The intent is to vertically and horizontally align the state standards and provide a scope and sequence for teaching those standards. Any school district has to be aligned, so that all teachers within a grade level teach the same standards for the same length of time and to the same depth. This sets the same level of expectation for every teacher, in every classroom, and ensures an equal education for all students.
Decatur’s size does not afford us the luxury of a employing a curriculum staff to design all this for us. This is what CSCOPE provides. In addition, it gives sample lessons and assessments — both optional for teachers to use in the classroom. Six-weeks assessments are written from this resource because of the rigor of the questions provided. Teachers write those assessments, and have the option to use other resources or write their own questions.
Teachers also have the flexibility to bend the sequence of instruction or use alternate resources for their lessons. While the lessons in CSCOPE are written in a scripted format, they are not intended to be read as such. It is a very detailed, living document — one that is updated constantly — and it is designed to be used as a resource for teachers to begin the lesson planning process. It is a web-based program that does not have hardback resources. It’s designed that way to make it more affordable to school districts.
And CSCOPE is not our only resource. In my fifth grade classroom, I also use Stemscopes, Simple Science, Sciencesaurus, and other materials bought with classroom budget money to supplement my lessons. And when I can’t find exactly what I want or need, I Google. I Tweet. I Edmodo.
To say that all teachers open CSCOPE, read from the script, distribute handouts, and throw up their hands is not only inaccurate, it’s insulting.
I understand that the investigations into CSCOPE’s funding and copyright protection give the curriculum a shady reputation, but CSCOPE was born out of a state funding shortage. Because it is web-based, distributing its contents freely would open the product to plagiarism and copyright violations.
The legislature has cut funding for textbooks, programs and teachers, while approving rigorous statewide testing and the TEKS that drive every curriculum, textbook and classroom in Texas.
No one will dispute there is a problem with education in Texas. But that problem is the result of politicians making decisions — not an educator-written curriculum following the guidelines they have set.
No, it’s not perfect. There are flaws, misspellings and less-than-amazing lessons. Like many educational resources, it is not user-friendly. It’s the job of the educational professional to filter through any resource to find the best fit for students.
These are the facts. We are not passing the buck. These are the real dollars that drive the everyday work of our educational system — the parameters within which we work to educate children.
The TEKS are written beyond concept mastery, and CSCOPE is a tool written to address these rigorous state standards — standards that require students to infer, critique, interpret, and analyze concepts. In order to prepare students for state testing at this level, we as teachers need to push them to perform at this level daily.
Does that leave out handwriting, timed math drills, and pleasure reading? It could. Are those important skills to learn? Definitely. Does learning only happen between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m? Absolutely not.
Times have changed. Standards have changed. School does not function the way it did 20 years ago, nor should it.
Amidst all this negative conversation, our school district has written a vision to prepare our students for the 21st Century. It has invested time and money in training and resources to increase the quality and rigor of daily lessons — to teach our students critical thinking and problem-solving skills to be “Ready for any Future”. Our teachers are becoming leaders in the digital educational community, and other school districts are requesting site visits to our schools to see how to implement technology, project-based-learning, and flipped instruction.
These are good things. These are things to post on Facebook, to blog, and to discuss.
The brand of student we are educating in the Google age is different, and therefore education is going to look and feel different. It’s hard — hard for teachers to create these authentic lessons, and hard for students to think, critique and problem-solve through these lessons. It’s hard because it’s not rote, it’s not familiar, and it doesn’t reference a textbook.
We need to embrace these growing pains and support our administrators, teachers, and students in their endeavor to embrace the unknown variables in their future.
Decatur ISD recently celebrated its 100th birthday. During that time DISD has indeed educated many citizens — citizens who have found success within and outside this community, and citizens who love this community. Unfortunately, it is that love that is dividing us.
We know that love drives the craving for excellence. But children hear everything. By stating that your children aren’t receiving a good education, you are ensuring they won’t be receptive to a good education. This negativity is seeping into their minds, teacher classrooms, and the town’s morale.
If not CSCOPE, then what? Any worthwhile curriculum would address the same state standards, and provide the necessary rigor to prepare students for STAAR. What is the solution? Action.
Instead of discussing problems, find solutions. Parents, invest time in your schools, your teachers and your students. Follow the legislature and be informed on all levels. Positively communicate with your teachers and administrators, and work together to solve any problem. Read to your child. Practice math facts with your child. Establish learning as a lifelong skill in your home.
Administrators, hold teachers accountable, and respect their professionalism. Provide daily resources and support, and listen to reports from the front lines.
Teachers, hold yourselves accountable. Dive into your TEKS, search for lessons that provide authentic learning, and stop the blame game.
Students, aspire to your own potential. Practice skills and concepts when assigned, and take ownership of your learning.
This is a multi-faceted problem that will take a multi-faceted solution — one in which each member of the team is invested and dedicated to final goal: the success of every single one of our students.

This piece was written by Danielle Scroggins and endorsed by fellow teachers from every grade level at Decatur’s Carson Elementary: Denise Joseph, Samantha Remington, Kristi Smyers, Stacy Williams, Brooklynn Stapleton, Carrie Greever, Jessica York, Curren Wicker, Jennifer Terrell, Stephanie Warden and Crystal Klose.

from the Column–STAAR and State Standards

  • April 8, 2013 8:09 pm

This week begins the STAAR testing season—officially closing the gap on the change in state testing from TAKS to STAAR.  Last year was the first year students took the STAAR, but with no accountability for students and school districts—meaning students did not have to pass the test to complete a grade level, and school district “report cards” were not tied to ratings or funding.  This year marks the real deal, with all those variables going into full play, and mounting tensions for every player—student, teacher, administration and school district.

 

Looking to the week ahead, my stomach is churning as both a teacher and mother.  As a teacher, I’m letting insomnia overtake me as I worry about how prepared my students are for THE TEST.  I’ve covered all the material, given test-taking strategies, and thrown as many practice problems as I could find at their little brains—but still, I worry.  I worry they won’t take their time, that they will make a simple subtraction error, or that they will simply have a case of bad luck and bubble wrong.  Even as we’ve reviewed and practiced, I’ve seen areas in which my students need real work—and that’s what worries me most of all.  This community has had many private and public discussions over CSCOPE, the curriculum DISD has adopted, and how that curriculum has influenced instruction—particularly in elementary school, and even more specifically, in math.  I do not intend to portray my opinion as pro or anti-CSCOPE, but I do want to showcase the backbone in which CSCOPE was founded–the TEKS, or the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills.  These objectives are written by the state of Texas, and are the tasks all students in each grade level should master.  The STAAR is then based on these objectives.  It is this component of Texas education that should be held under a microscope and thoroughly examined.  Below is an example of a fifth grade Math TEK, and a sample test question:

 

(5.3C) Use division to solve problems involving whole numbers (no more than two-digit divisors and three-digit dividends without technology), including interpreting the remainder within a given context

 

An employee at a video store worked a total of 90 hours in 3 weeks. She worked
5 days a week. If she worked the same number of hours a day, how many hours did the employee work each day?

(source:  www.tea.state.tx.us)

The objective itself is a skill fifth grade students should have the number sense and computation knowledge to complete and master with a high success rate, but the way the objective is tested integrates critical thinking and problem solving.  Students must interpret the math language, set up the problem, and complete the computation correctly to find the right answer—and every math test question is set up in a similar fashion.  Many students can rise to the challenge, and do well, but there are also many students that for various reasons come up short again and again.  I know how deflating it is for them, because it is for me, their teacher.

As a mother, I’m watching my children grow up in a very different environment than what I experienced.  I remember taking standardized tests, but rarely realizing the impact those tests had on my educational success.  However, my children know the drill of a good night’s rest, excellent breakfast, number 2 pencils, and focus needed for not just success—but excellence.  My fourth grade son not only knows the definition of stress, but has shed tears because of it, and that doesn’t sit well with this Mama Bear.

 

During this state legislative session, there has been much discussion on Texas Education.  There have been bills written and discussed to change some high school course requirements, and to change end-of-course exams also at the high school level, but there has been zero discussion on the topic of elementary testing.  I understand the need for standardized testing to monitor growth and mastery of basic skills, and I would like to see elementary testing focused on in that manner.  By monitoring academic growth each year instead of a set of tests given one day in the life of a child, school districts could focus on those state objectives at a deeper level, and more importantly, relieve the test anxiety of a 9-year-old.  State representatives of every community in Texas vote on these matters daily, and those votes cause change.

 

My students are eleven years old, and are tasked with the job of a math test, a reading test, and a science test by the end of their fifth grade year.  Last week one of them asked, “Why do we learn social studies?  We don’t have a STAAR on it.”  We should never STOP learning; we should always open our minds to art, music, theater, sports, photography, technology, cooking, and foreign language.  Always.  But, why learn about how our country was founded?  Because one day you will vote, and it could make a differ

4 weeks of the Holiday Season ahead…

  • November 26, 2012 2:40 pm

Today was REALLY hard.  I know I REALLY shouldn’t complain, because, as a teacher, I did enjoy the entire week off of work last week.  But today was REALLY, REALLY hard.

I was actually looking forward to the extra week in the holiday season this year because it always seems like we have so much celebrating to do, and so little time to fit it all in (terrible problem to have, I know.)  But today, looking ahead FOUR WEEKS until we break for Christmas, I’m not sure I will manage it all.

This truly is the most wonderful time of year, and it’s because of all the wonderfulness that it was SO VERY hard to hit the books today.  Usually I can compartmentalize my time almost seamlessly between work and school, and sometimes get most of it done, but this time of year my home list is LONG, and honestly, my brain hurts as I switch back and forth.  This is when it would be amazing to have my very own personal assistant just following me around and making all the random things that plop into my brain happen…

Order Christmas Cards

Buy extra tree lights

Look up recipe for staff lunch

Get present for book club

Schedule Christmas Celebration with everyone

Take Christmas picture

Get Christmas smelly candle

Organize Christmas Movie Marathon

Make popcorn

Family Bond–well, I think I could do that one all on my own.  It’s the part that all the other leads up to…if I can just switch back and forth faster!

He falls for advertising…

  • November 15, 2012 6:55 pm

While eating a Dorito Locos Tacos….

“Mommy, this really does take Tacos to a whole new level.”

It’s not the first time he’s quoted marketing.  Maybe I should encourage this line of work?

from the column…for the love of a dog

  • November 7, 2012 6:24 pm

We are animal lovers.  In fact, when animals are signing up for people, I’m pretty sure there is a waiting list to get into “The Scroggins House.”  Pets are not just animals to our family.  They are, indeed, part of our family unit.  They have stockings at Christmas, and a signature on the Christmas Cards. We plan doggie playgroup, and have established daily doggie daycare.  We take our animals to the lake, to the park, on vacation, and even to other family’s gatherings.  As I type, I’m researching how to train our newest family member to become a therapy dog, at which point I will be able to take her to school with me everyday.  I’ll admit that I’ve taken a cat on walks (on a leash, of course), and my husband has asked for extra donut holes for his dog.  Like I said, we are animal lovers, and our kids have had no choice but to follow in our paw prints.

Our daughter was greeted with Collie kisses the day she came home from the hospital, and when we brought our third baby home, that same Collie gave a few kisses, but I promise, when she looked up at us, she practically rolled her eyes.  She was so wise.  Our babies never had a fear of dogs because they learned to crawl over a sixty pound Lassie-want-to-be.  We taught them how to talk, pet, and “be sweet” to the animals. As toddlers, they knew what kind of cozy spot to make for the cat, and which kind of treat to feed the dogs after a walk.  I spent hours posing the kids with the animals in front of the Christmas tree, in the bluebonnets, on the beach, in the grass, asleep, in the backseat of the car, or decked out in Aggie Maroon.  The kids learned to search for the animals as soon as we came home—and were always greeted with exuberant barking, wagging, and wiggling.  As the kids have grown older, the animals have grown more understanding and affectionate—often choosing their rooms for nighttime snuggle.  I can’t help but snap a picture every time I see one of my kids with an arm draped over Man’s Best Friend, not even noticing their face is buried in dog hair—sometimes I promise the dog and kid are dreaming of the same thing. I know at times nonpet people look at us and think we’ve lost our minds.  And, to be fair, we might be extreme in our all inclusive pet/family dynamic.  We agree that there are definite downfalls to pet ownership.  Pets bring the outside to the inside, so it’s not unusual to find dirt, mud, leaves, branches, and the occasional sacrificial insect or small rodent in our living space (which was awesome when the kids were crawling).  The pets also have to go potty, which poses a problem when they are left inside for too long; therefore, when we make “away from the house” plans, arrangements are always considered for their potty needs.  Along the same lines, vacation plans include pet babysitting plans.  While we tend to acquire our pets as they wander into our life for free, their cost of living is not.  We cover the costs of vet visits, food, toys, and medicine.  We clean up their messes, and always consider their safety. But, because they are part of our family, it’s worth it.

Recently, my husband’s Grandmama passed away.  We anticipated the loss, but even knowing it was coming did not ease the heartache of saying goodbye.  It was a day of prayer, of holding hands and wiping tears.  It was a day of telling stories, and looking at pictures.  But mostly, it was day of family.  We ate together, sang together, and mourned together.  We spent the afternoon gathered at Grandmama’s house, just being in her presence.  My daughter spent time “riding around” with her teenage cousins—basking in the glory of being included with the teenagers.  My older son bonded with the younger cousins over electronic devices.  I’m not sure how much they actually talked, but their worlds managed peace, so I’m guessing there were fantastic digital discussions.  My youngest son spent most of the day looking for the exercise ball he knew Grandmama had kept, and explained to everyone the necessity of just such a ball (while eating candy corn—no Grandmotherly house would be complete without candy corn.)  As the day came to an end, my daughter returned to the house with a puppy in her arms.  It was a beautiful, chocolate brown lab with big blue eyes—eyes that begged for us to take her home.  We weren’t in the market for another dog; in fact, we’d just celebrated the ease of our one dog status.  I tried to say no, citing our crazy-hectic-no-good-for-a-puppy schedule, and the fact that a lab had never made our Bucket List of Future Pets.  But, as a person who believes in puppy love, and signs from above, I knew we’d just added a member to our family.  On a day of sorrow, Maggie the Aggie brought Joy into our lives, and helped mend our broken hearts–all it took was a few thousand puppy kisses as she looked at us with her head tipped to the side, seeming to tell us she understood.  The irony of training Maggie to become an Official Therapy Dog is not lost on me—and she’s just one in the long train of animals that has made our life complete.

I’d like to dedicate this article to Do-si-Do, Bonnie the first, Sambo, Tramp, Hopalong, Bonnie the second, Nicki, Gatito, Tiki, Pudding, Chelsea, Tabitha, Baby, Shiester Beau, Bogie, Storm, Ringo, Sahara, Windy, Sandy, Cleo, Louie, Chrissy, Marley, Beau, Beauty, and Maggie.  You taught us about life, love, loss, a

Cozi

  • November 4, 2012 10:00 pm

I know I talk about trying to be organized, and the crazy of our life kind of…all the time.  It’s not the I’m obsessed, it’s more like I’m oppressed by the magnitude of everything that needs to get done every.single.day.  And, believe me, I try to NOT put things on the calendar or to do list, and actually schedule “lazy time” any.time.I.can.  For now, I’ve just decided that Fall is crazy busy because of football (Gig ‘Em!), school, pumpkins, and just the thought of Christmas.  But, I’m hopefully beginning to get a handle on all the lists, calendar entries, and to dos.

Right now, I’m in love with Cozi (www.cozi.com).  I have the app on my phone, my husband’s phone, and my daughter’s phone.  I’m thinking of loading it on anyone’s phone that might have cause to ever pick up one of my children, go to WalMart, or run across a pair of awesome size seven shoe.  The app has a calendar, shopping list, to do list, and journal.  So, I’ve added the places we shop (Wal Mart, Braums, Lowe’s, etc), and keep a running list of what we need.  In addition, I’ve added a list for each family member, and have started keeping a running list of THOSE needs.  AND, I’ve assigned everyone a to do, and keep that as up-to-date as I can.

Now, before you turn me into the OCD police, I must share the best part.

THE APP TALKS TO EVERYONE.  Meaning, as I update any list on my phone, it’s updated on all the other phones with our account.  My husband and daughter can add to the shopping list, to do list, or list of needs as they want.  We’ve started keeping common or repeated calendar events on the calendar, as well as when each kid has a test or project due.

I might just have to have tshirts made.

Try it.  It’s free, and worth all the nerd-out time you might waste.

 

Graduation from the Mom Bag?

  • October 29, 2012 8:03 pm

I got a new purse.

It’s exciting in my world because it’s a small purse, and it’s a name brand.  I haven’t owned a name brand purse since I was in college and of course had no money at all to buy one.  Granted, I didn’t buy this purse–but actually WON it in a drawing, which makes the whole experience just that much more exciting.

I’ve been addicted to the large tote bag since the onset of the diaper bag in my world.  Never in my life have I ever needed so many different types of items as when I entered the world of motherhood.  We all know the crazy that goes into packing the diaper bag:  wipes, diapers, extra clothing, snacks, drinks, extra clothing for mom, toys, books, wallets, more snacks, matchbox cars, polly pockets…I think you get the idea, and any mom out there will not have to try that hard to go right back there.  Since I graduated from the diaper bag, I’ve still had a strange collection of items in my purse:  matchbox cars, snacks, caprisons, play money, ipods, ipads, books, more snacks, McDonald’s toys, crayons…and again, you know what’s in THAT BAG.

I thought that I was doomed to the Big Bag forever, and truly could not comprehend how other moms managed without the GIANT BAG FROM CRAZYTOWN.  But, since this new small bag has come into my life, it’s like a whole new world has opened to me.  I can see in the ENTIRE BAG, from top to bottom, and all the parts in the middle.  It’s not even a little scary to put my hand in the bag and try to find something, because I haven’t introduced the possibility of sticky with a new NO CANDY policy.

I like that policy.

I like knowing that everything in my bag is MINE.  I like that there aren’t toys in my bag.  Or diapers.  Or wipes.  Or snacks.

It feels so grown up.  And clean.

Can I enroll in the Masters Program?  I’ve got this small bag thing down!

Crossword Confusion

  • October 25, 2012 3:18 pm

In helping my fourth grader with his math homework this week, I couldn’t help but notice he’d “x’d” out a box on his crossword, and added an additional box on another part of the crossword.  I explained to him that the beauty of the crossword for homework was that if the answer he discovered did not fit in the box, THEN it was an INCORRECT answer.

His response:

“The crossword is wrong.  That’s why I had to change it.”

Where did these people come from???

I guess they do pay attention…

  • October 21, 2012 10:22 am

Me:  You are becoming SUCH a great reader!  You know all your sight words, and are really good at sounding out the words you don’t know.  I’m so proud.  :)

Kid 3:  It’s because my six year molars finally came in.  They are magic reading teeth.