Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Zhenya's 80th Thanksgiving Potluck Party

A very young Zhenya, already thinking about gettin' straight and gettin' together...

Come one, come all and celebrate two big events together with us- Zhenya's 80th birthday and Thanksgiving. I know this is an odd place to post a personal family reunion event, but we are a little bit of an odd family. Zhenya's upcoming birthday has been on my mind for a while now. I wanted to recognize it in a way that helped bring the family together in a joyful spirit, and what better way to accomplish this than by pairing it with Thanksgiving? Asheville, NC has a typically mild temperature in November, so don't delay, buy your airline ticket today and mark your calendar for this event that will satisfy your cravings for delicious food, warm, lively company, good live music, and the opportunity to build new family connections with the next generations. I am looking forward to seeing everyone November 24th or sooner! Please leave a comment letting us know if you're planning on coming, or email me directly: tsenyak@gmail.com    With love, Tamar

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Building Community with First Graders

I am one week into teaching summer school, and I already feel like this is my best teaching experience ever. Have I finally arrived? Is this that moment when new manual shift drivers know they can let out the clutch without stalling? Wow, it took a lot more effort than I could have imagined. It’s a good thing no one told me how laborious this new career path would be, because I doubt I’d stick around for the fruits. As a grandmother who volunteered in my first grade class once said, ‘It’s like squeezing blood from a turnip.’ Sometimes, it’s just like that. But not this summer. I have 8 precious little lambs that are with me for the next three weeks. Yes, it’s a very small number of students for public school; and the fact that it’s just half a day doesn’t hurt either- but something is different this time. I am getting immediate feedback on how useful the strategies I’m sharing with my charges are in helping their literacy skills. We played ‘The Paper Bag Game,’ in which one student feels an object hidden from the other students, and he describes what it feels like and what it’s used for. I had another student act as scribe and list the descriptions on chart paper. All the kids were really engaged, and when it was time to write their own poems, they incorporated pieces of the lesson into their writing. I also am excited that they are receptive to The B.F.G. as a read aloud experience. I thought they might be more likely to enjoy the story since the new film version just came out. I wondered if the vocabulary and cultural references might go over their heads, and thus make them lose interest. When I first started reading it, I gave Sophie a nice cockney accent, and somehow turned the B.F.G. into a drunken Russian. My kids can handle two chapters at a time, and that’s about the limit of my strained vocal chords, so it works out well. I wanted to highlight some of the creative vocabulary Mr. Dahl used, so I reviewed a few words prior to reading the chapter containing them. I asked my students what they thought ‘scrumplet’ could mean. Lele questioned in the faintest voice in the world, ‘delicious?’ During math, Nester told me he still needs to find his backpack. Just then, Diego, a middle school student who is helping in my classroom, told me he needed to tell me something important. Diego took me aside and confided that Nester told him if he doesn’t find his backpack his mother is going to give him a beating. Nester just started summer school yesterday, and from the first time he came into the class, he just does exactly what he’s supposed to do without effort. I was rattling on about the B.F.G. on the carpet, and I look over at him, and he’s staring at me attentively with these huge sad eyes. The idea of a grown up hitting him is horrifying to me. I also understand that I can’t change someone else’s parenting or culture, and I want to be careful not to pass judgment, but rather try to understand- and more importantly, find that back pack! After asking the class assistant to mind the students, I dart in and out of rooms hunting for this back pack. When I come back empty handed, Nester, with his big sad eyes starts crying silently. Big tears falling out of his eyes onto his desk. I try to comfort him. His poetry partner Michael takes it a step further. ‘Maybe you left it on the bus.’ Nester: ‘No I left it in the classroom, I didn’t bring it on the bus.’ Pretty soon all the grown-ups (there were 5 of us!) were talking about how we would find this back pack. As I brought the kids to the carpet for our final B.F.G. reading, Diego said he would check next door since Nester had after-care there. Nester seemed more relaxed. I’m guessing that, although a potential spanking was still on the table, knowing he had a whole classroom full of peers and teachers that were routing for him must have felt comforting. ‘Where’s Diego?’ Keely asked. ‘He went to look for Nester’s back pack.’ Keely looked pensive and said, ‘We don’t want Nester to cry again.’ Diego walked in with the little black backpack with the green skeleton on it. Everyone was smiling and visibly relieved. When they talk about building community in classrooms to prevent misbehaviors, I feel like we’ve accomplished this on the highest level. I felt so much love for these Lovely Lion Cubs. They fully earned the dried figs and strawbumples I bought for them for our Friday read aloud of the B.F.G.
Nester and Michael's poem: Driftwood It's hard It's wiggley It smells like nothing. When I blow it [it] makes me cough. Drift wood