Bird on a Bare Branch

Attempting to fling a frail song in my little corner of the world

She Going to Kiss With Boy April 21, 2012

Filed under: Marriage,Teaching — Jen @ 7:48 pm

I thought my kids knew I was getting married.  Apparently they didn’t all understand.  Or they forgot.

The other day as I was bringing my kids back to our classroom from Art, another teacher asked me in the hallway when I’m getting married.  The kids at the end of the line perked up and started twittering, “She getting married?”

The five kids who came to the table for small group wanted to verify:  “You going to marry?”  Someone asked, “Why you want to marry?”  I said, “Why do I want to get married?  Well, why do people get married?”  The only girl in the group said, “To have baby.  You want baby?”  Umm…I said, “Well, one day I’d like to have a baby.”  That seemed to satisfy her, and she told me her mom wants to have a baby.

Then one of the boys said, “I feel so sad you going to marry.”  I asked him why he felt so sad, but he told me he didn’t know.

Two other boys were chattering in their language and giggling.  I said, “English please.”  One of them looked at me sheepishly and said, “I tell him, “When Ms. Hubers get married, she going to kiss with boy.””

And with that we moved on to some math.


Sponges January 28, 2012

Filed under: Teaching — Jen @ 4:41 am

I am so proud of my kids!  They are so eager to learn, and I love teaching them.  I’ve only been with them for four weeks, but I’ve already seen growth in that short amount of time.  Even this week, there has been evidence of learning…little nuggets that make me so happy:

– Several students in both groups (3rd/4th grade in the morning and 1st/2nd grade in the afternoon) who are very beginners with English took risks this week by raising their hands to answer questions in whole group.

– We’ve been working on subtraction this week and I overheard one of my boys, who struggles with school, talking to himself: “Okay, I need to count backward…11 minus 4…put 11 in my head…11.  10, 9, 8, 7.”

– M.O., who typically sits for a solid two hours doing absolutely no work – truly, I’ve never met a child like this – discovered he could do a subtraction assignment the other day.  He’d cross the little pictures out then count what was left and yell, “Teacher, 5!  Right?  5!”  I’d give him a thumbs up then he’d repeat the process for the next one, and so he yelled out and I thumbed-up all the way through the assignment.

– I always start my small groups out with a warm-up of counting around the table.  Yesterday, just as one group sat down, I was interrupted by another group working on a math game on the floor.  I said, “Just a minute,” to the group at the table and went to address the issue on the floor.  When I came back, the group had already started counting around the table.

– I often say “good job” to my kids, and I’ve been overhearing them saying it to each other when they notice one another doing something well.

– Everyday I have a different door holder for the day.  Usually a handful of kids will say “thank you” to him or her as they walk through.  The other day I pointed out how nice it was that someone had said thank you to the door holder.  Since then every child says thank you to the door holder.

– This week I introduced journals to my homeroom (3rd/4th).  They spent a couple days writing about their families then we had a circle sharing time this afternoon for a few kids to read what they had written.  I allowed other kids to ask questions.  One girl had written about her brother giving her $100 for Christmas.  A boy asked, “If your brother give you $100, how many money he have left?”  We’ve been working on subtraction in math and using the vocabulary “how many” and “are left”.  I loved that this boy made the connection and was using it in a real-life situation.

I continue to be so grateful for this job and these kids.  After last year, I didn’t think I could find joy in teaching, but these moments truly bring me joy.


Children Playing January 21, 2012

Filed under: Culture,Teaching — Jen @ 7:59 pm

One of my responsibilities as a teacher is taking my partner teacher’s class and mine outside for recess.  Everywhere I’ve taught, it’s the duty I prefer since it means I get 20 minutes of fresh air and daylight in my otherwise completely enclosed day.  But this year brings me extra joy as I watch my 46 Burmese and Iraqi refugee kids play.


Because these kids actually know how to play.


In my previous five years of recess duties, there would be the handful of kids who ran around with a select group of friends playing tag or racing or jumping rope or playing soccer (usually the Hispanic kids).  Many of the kids would complain about having to walk or run.  Many would hover around me unsure of what to do.  Lots of kids would fight.  Lots of tattling would occur.  Kids would sit by themselves or walk by themselves.  If a kid scraped his knee, he’d be afraid to play again.  Empty fields were the worst recess venues.  Kids would stare at me blankly or ask what they could do.  I’d yell, “Go play!”  They would wander aimlessly across the field.  On those empty field days, I’d organize games of Mother May I, Red Light/Green Light, and What’s the Time Mr. Fox? hoping that they’d take initiative to organize themselves on the days I didn’t organize them.  They never did.


My previous classes always had obese children in them.  (In my class of fourth graders last year, half were obese.)  They could talk endlessly of the video games they were mastering at home, and the horror movies they watched with their older brothers and sisters and parents.  One year, on a Friday, I told a group of first graders that they had homework for the weekend.  I said, “You need to get outside this weekend.  Go to the park.  Go for a walk.  Play tag.  Ride your bike.”  One girl said, “Can you write that down for me so I don’t forget?”



Until now I thought play was a forgotten art among children.  Then I started teaching refugee kids and took them outside for recess.  No one sits.  No one fights.  Every child runs.  Every single one of them.  They play hard.  The big kids play with the little kids, and the girls play with the boys, and the girls play with the girls without being catty.  The groups are big and fluid, and everyone is included.  The Iraqis yell Arabic to each other.  The Burmese yell in their various dialects.  And across the cultural divides, they holler at each other in their limited English.  There’s always the group playing some kind of tag.  Then there’s the group doing gymnastics.  Some of the big boys can do front flips and back flips.  The little kids practice their headstands and are learning cartwheels.  Sometimes they race.  Sometimes one of the Iraqi boys brings an American football, and they organize a game.  The girls like to swing and slide and build things in the sand.  Some of the little girls pick clovers and dandelions and bring them to me.


I love watching them play!  But it makes me sad too because one day they will be mainstreamed into a regular classroom and start learning how to be “American.”.  I fear they will stop playing.  I fear that as they assimilate into this culture that they’ll stop going outside and play more video games and watch more movies.  They’ll stop including everyone and start excluding.  The girls will start being mean, and the boys will be too cool and tough to do their gymnastics or let the girls play with them.  But maybe they will hold onto play.  Maybe they’ll realize it’s more fun.  Maybe their peers will learn from them.


In the evenings when I leave school, there are always groups of Asian adults utilizing the school fields for games of soccer.  Older men walk the dirt path that weaves around the field and playgrounds.  Last night when I left, in addition to the athletes, there was a small group of Asian teenagers in skinny jeans and spiked hair smoking cigarettes in the parking lot.  My kids will have choices to make in their new culture.  They can go either way.  I pray they continue to play.


Photo #69 October 12, 2011

Filed under: Pictures,Teaching — Jen @ 10:40 pm

One of my favorite parts of my job in Mozambique was being able to visit schools.  Sadly, it didn’t happen as often as I would have liked, or as often as I should have pushed for it to happen, but I did get a chance to observe my colleagues teaching Moral Education.  On this day, Arsenio had just passed out the new curriculum that Oasis had produced.  The kids were so into the little photocopied books!  I think in Mozambique it’s just such a treat to have your very own book.  Even in schools, they do not necessarily have access to books.


This was a nicer school with a somewhat small class.  There were probably about 40 students in this class.  I’ve sat in classrooms holding 80+ students.  It was also a treat to watch Arsenio teach because he genuinely cares for the students, and they respond well to him.


The End, Part 2 June 10, 2011

Filed under: Teaching — Jen @ 2:36 am

There were so many teaching-related posts I wanted to write in the past nine months.  In the end it was too hard – too emotionally draining or too tiring or not enough time or worried about who would read it.  So I didn’t write anything.  I regret that now.  I regret that I spent so many hours in conversations with colleagues about what we could do to take a stand.  I resigned, but that isn’t taking a stand when the majority do not follow.  I never wrote the letters to HR that I wrote in my head.  Neither did anyone else.  Most people were too scared.  Who can afford to put their jobs in jeopardy this year with all the layoffs?

In the end my year didn’t seem all that bad.  I often told my kids at the end of the day, “Don’t end on a bad note now.  We’ve had a great day.  You want to go home remembering that and not have it clouded by one bad incident at the end.”  Equally a happy ending can rosily cloud a year’s worth of negativity.  In the end my kids did well on their standardized tests.  Reading could have been better, but all but a couple kids made a year’s growth.  I’m proud of that.  I’m proud of them.  Sadly, though, a year’s growth from a second grade level to a third grade level will not get them over the fourth grade hurdle.  The whole class did miraculously well on math and writing.  I feel good about their performance, and then I stop and ask myself if the ends justify the stressful means.  No.  I wish I could have gotten them there a different way.  I wish I had been in an environment that truly put the child first instead of the test results and school status first.

More importantly than the results, I ended knowing that I had not failed my kids as an encourager.  That’s why I became a teacher in the first place.  I want kids to feel loved and know they are important and worthwhile, especially the kids I’ve always been with in Houston who rarely get that at home or anywhere else.  I hated who I was this year – part of a system putting undue stress on children, placing performance above everything else, harping on kids about arbitrary rules, taking the child out of the child.  On the last day several kids told me they were going to miss me.  One girl actually said, “I’m having a problem today.”  I said, “Oh no, what’s that?”  She said, “I’m really going to miss you.”  Another girl told me that I was a good teacher for her this year.

I don’t know if I’ll miss them.  I will miss individuals.  I will miss the personal connections I had.  I will not miss the class as a whole, the management, the teaching aspect, the cave-like classroom, the bomb shelter school building.  I will not miss the hours and the stress and the lack of friendliness and positive feedback.  Did I mention I won’t miss the stress?

Will I ever be a classroom teacher again?  I don’t know.  I thought I had left it for good five years ago and then life circumstances changed.  I’d like to say I’m taking a different road now, but as of today I don’t know what that road is.  Will it lead back to the classroom?  I hope not.  But only time will tell.


The End, part 1 June 2, 2011

Filed under: Teaching — Jen @ 1:23 am

When this week finally came, it came too fast.  Tomorrow is my last day – for the foreseeable future – as a fourth grade teacher.  We had our class parties today.  During our party the technology teacher came by to drop off a gift my students had made for me.  It was a book filled with poems that they had written.  They really wanted me to read them out loud, which I did.  It was one of the few moments in that group where everyone was genuinely proud and happy and no one made fun of anyone’s written words.  I was really touched by what has stuck out to them about me.  Here are a few of my favorites:


Nice, smart, grateful, sensitive

Teacher of J.W.

Who loves me

Who feels good when I get positive reports

Who said, “Good job.”

Who will like to see me going to 5th grade

Who teaches at S. Elementary



She is nice, pretty, helpful, intelligent

Teacher of S.S.

Who loves 555

Who feels happy all the time

Who said, “Good job.”

Who gives best hugs

Who wishes the best

Who would like to see the inside of me

Who teaches at S. Elementary



Nice, pretty, sweet, loving

Teacher of A.C.

Who loves the whole class

Who feels proud

Who said study about Honduras

Who gives help

Who wishes to be nice

Who would like to see good behavior

Who teaches at S. Elementary



We’ve Taught Them Well April 15, 2011

Filed under: Teaching — Jen @ 4:13 am

This is what’s happening down the street.  Way to go students!  They are doing what teachers in my school are too scared to do.  And probably what many teachers across the state are too scared to do because of the bureaucracy that leaves us feeling like we have no voice.  I’m not scared, but I’ve already resigned.  Others who have not been let go don’t want to do anything to compromise their precarious positions.