Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Making a Wish Come True

Students from my class finally finished a project one month in the making. We have been studying social issues in our reading workshop. One part is to see problems happen to more than one individual. Another part is to apply their reading to their lives by asking questions like, "How does this make me think differently?"

We read Sadako and the Thousand Cranes by Eleanor Coerr. This story captivates the life of Sadako Sasaki, who had leukemia due to the radiation from the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. Her friend had given her a good luck charm, a gold crane. There is a legend that states if you fold 1,000 cranes, you will be granted a wish. Sadako gave her best effort to fold 1,000 cranes. She has able to fold over 600 on her own. After a great battle, she died at the age of 12. Her classmates finished the remaining cranes in her honor.

My students decided to start on a project to give someone an opportunity to make a wish. We brainstormed different people in the community and challenges they faced. One of our favorite intervention teachers, Mrs. S., a teacher who comes to help the class in small groups, has a husband who has been in the hospital since January 2008. She is one of the most patient women that I know. Each day, she loving takes care of her husband by visiting in his various care facilities or taking care of him at their home. Our little community decided to make 1,000 cranes for her family.

Students did the math, and they realized that they had to fold at around 50 cranes each. I taught them how to fold cranes. There were a few that definitely had personality. I think the most important thing is that they were made with love.

We finally reached our goal after four weeks of folding cranes. After the first day, I made them fold the cranes for homework. Some students got their after-school programs involved and taught other students how to fold the cranes. Others had their parents and family members help them. As we were counting the cranes and stringing them together, one student stated, "Ms. M, we reached out goal!"

The students presented the cranes by writing letters and how they were inspired for the idea by reading a book. This experience has made me realize how we are impacted by what we read. If we do not get involved or are changed by our experiences, then we cannot grow. I also realized how I need to also be aware of my community.

Ms. S. was surprised and a little teary eyed. The students made their presentations the Friday before Mother's Day. She also told us that her husband was able to come home from the hospital and spend the weekend with the family.

Perhaps our wish for her came true. It was our little effort to make a difference. I am proud of them.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


During our reading period last Wednesday, I felt that the class was extra loud. One of the teachers who pushes into our room for literacy came into the room. She is a sweet woman, but I think she just got fed up with one of my students and his talking back to everyone. I was in the back of the room working with a student and writing down something. I heard her say something like, "You are a nobody."
He continued to talk back to her, but I could not hear what he said. She replied, "You should be in the first grade!" The boy said back to her, "Well, Ms. Mitarai does not think that I am a nobody." They continued to have a conversation, but I could not hear what they were saying. After she left, we started to get ready to leave for computer. He came up to me and said, "Right, Ms. Mitarai, you don't think I am a nobody..."

We then had a conversation about how you cannot control what other people say to you. We can only control how we react to what people say to us. I told him I did not think he was a nobody. I asked him how it made him feel to have someone call him names. He said, it made him really mad. I told him that is how other people feel when he says mean things to them. We talked about how in life people will call us names, but it is how we react to them that makes the difference or something like that. I then told him that if he cannot say his words to himself in the mirror, he probably should not say them at all.

It did make me happy that he knows how I feel about him and the rest of the class. . . a little light to brighten up my day. I am happy that they know they each have worth. I just wish they realized how much their education meant to them. :)

I have not posted for a while mostly because I have not felt like there was a lot of positive things to write about. But perhaps, I am not looking hard enough or even thinking to write reflections. I think I shared this story with some of you in Utah, so I will try and post something new for you soon. I am grateful for all of your support that you give me.

*I posted a picture of a few of my students when we went ice skating in Central Park in December.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Out of the Institution

Institute is finally over. For our last day, we had a writing celebration for our class and each student presented their non-fiction book. Sabrina illustrated her book about schools. She taught us about the different types of schools in New York City. In her "about the author" section, she encouraged all of us to try school out because we might like it too! I will miss students like Sabrina. She always helped others, worked hard, respected her peers, and had a smile on her face. Her grandmother and little sister came to hear her read her book on the last day of school. Sabrina's eyes lit up when they walked into the room, and she was all smiles as she read her book aloud to the class.

Each student worked so hard on their books! Some of them even asked if they could take them home to work on them. Students asking for homework at Public School 86! Ms. Tybinka and I were truly lucky to have such a wonderful class. Here is a picture of everyone with their books.

I love the different personalities that come in a classroom. From math wizards to students who have an opinion on EVERYTHING, we had a classroom culture that invited everyone to speak, to work hard, and to enjoy in each other's achievements.

Institute gave us a crash course on how to become a teacher. All I know is that I have long way to go. One day, I walked around my classroom checking on individual students. One of my students, always had a smile on his face and acted like he understood. Immigrating from Yugoslavia a year earlier, he did a great job at answering verbally to my questions during the lesson. I thought he understood the concepts and how to do the assignment. My advisor had been pushing us to give students books that were on their reading level. Thinking most of my kids were near the same 4-5 grade level, I created a worksheet that I believed was on each student's level. As I checked on this particular student, he had already written an answer. I asked him, "How did you get this answer?"

He just smiled. I noticed it was wrong, so I said,"Will you read the question for me?"

As he began to read, he struggled with pronouncing the different letters and making words out of the sounds. He could not read it! It really hit me that I was not doing my job because I expected him to read at a fifth grade level when he was reading on a first grade level! Even though he acted like he understood, his literacy ability hindered him from truly mastering the concepts. I realized I need to know the needs of my students before I can help them achieve high expectations.

I have a long ways to go!

Institute seems like a blur. We are out of the St. John's/ TFA bubble. I will not miss the school bus that picked us up in the crisp morning air, and dropped us off after we peeled ourselves from the sweaty, sticky seats. I will miss walking five flights of stairs to PS 86 room 504 and witnessing fifteen of the brightest minds in the Bronx at work.

My favorite educators loved what they taught and helped me love the subject too. Who inspired/influenced you?

Sunday, July 22, 2007


Greetings from room 604 of Da Silva Hall, St. John's University, Jamaica, New York. I sleep on the top bunk of a three person bedroom. My suite had eight people at the beginning, but now we only have seven. Some say that we are the all-american Teach for America corp suite. My suitemates are Greek-Chinese,Palestinian-American, African American, Anglo-Saxon heritage, Japanese American etc.

Each day, we get up around five, shower, go to breakfast, and load the bus by 6:15 am. My school is PS 86 located in the Bronx and one of the largest schools in New York. I work in the best 5th grade classroom ever. The first day of school, we asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up. One girl stated, "I want to be a teacher." My eyes welled up as she continued telling us that she like to help other people learn. Another wanted to be a policeman so he could help out people in trouble and another wanted to be a "flight attender" (I thought she meant a flight attendant, but she was adamant that she wanted to be a flight attender. So, flight attender she is.)

I am in week four of institute. Institute is our training ground for our classroom. At times, it feels like the MTC- minus the abundance of the spirit and nylons. :) We have a rigorous schedule of curriculum training meetings, teaching in the classroom, getting feedback on our lesson, and other meetings that tell us why we Teach for America.

Our classrom once had four teachers - a four person collaborative. Two of them are now happier in Washington, DC and Oregon. I miss them a great deal. But I am also enjoying the time with my other collab partner. Our collaboratives meet with other collaborates in a group, and we are under the wing of a corp member advisor (cma), her name is Mia Hood, who did her TFA experience in New Orleans.

I am expanding my horizons on multiple levels, and trying to get out of my social misfit-ism. Hopefully, I will get used to things. I know the first post of the blog is supposed to be profound, but if I wait for that time, then I do not think I will ever post anything! :)

I am grateful for all of the love and support of family friends. In one of our literacy sections, we talked about the word telephone." tele" meaning distant, and "phone" meaning voice. So, here is my telephone entry. I would love to hear all of your updates, comments, and such. Thanks for enduring my stream of consciousness.