Author Archive: mjdicker

A Fat Guy By Any Other Name Would Still Be a Dicker

What a dicker.

What a dicker.

I think I just hit a goldmine. It will be a boon, at least, for those who want to make fun of my last name not just in English, but in German as well.

For me, this discovery is the most amusing reschooling in etymology, foreign language, and genealogy that I could ever want. Tonight I felt inspired to look up the German translation for “Dicker,” my last name, after reading my future brother-in-law’s blog post about Andy Dick’s recent arrest. Dick accosted a 17-year-old-girl and urinated in public outside a buffalo wings “emporium,” which sounds like a classy joint for a classy guy. The incident just provides further evidence for what I already know: Having “Dick” as part of your name may correlate with a life of crime (Exhibit A: Mr. Cheney). Before you know it, you not only have profanity on your birth certificate, but you also have a permanent record and “Dick” as the fitting caption beneath your mug shot.

My sister Gill and I are proud of our dad’s German heritage and family. We are also staunch feminists. However, since we were little girls, we have dreamed of the day we could get married and change our name to something a little more….humane. Next January 17, Gill will achieve that dream and become a Burgess. I, on the other hand, expect to relive the playground teasing and the “Is that really your last name?” disbelief as Reschool Yourself takes me into the upper grades. (When substitute teaching 4th grade years ago, I found that the kids were still innocent enough to turn my last name teasingly into “Miss Sticker” or “Miss Tigger,” and nothing more. I just about hugged them.)

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A Colorful Cast of Young Characters

Turns out that my hand is twice the size of a first grader's.

Turns out that my hand is twice the size of a first grader's.

It’s been one week since I kicked off the classroom phase of Reschool Yourself, and I have so much to share. The challenge lies, as always, in time. I’ve been busy adding features to the site and will post more writing this weekend.

As I mentioned in the video log, I finished up in the kindergarten on Monday morning and began rotating through the five first grade classrooms. I prefer staying in one class, to build relationships with the kids, but the first grade teachers each needed my help. There are a few benefits of rotating, such as observing different teaching styles for the same age group, getting to know all the teachers — they’re a cool bunch of women — and meeting a variety of kids.

I do miss my kindergarteners! Since I was part of their very first school experience, they seemed to get as attached to me as I did to them. On Friday, due to another meeting, I came late to school (no, I didn’t need a pink tardy slip). When I walked into the kindergarten, several kids bombarded me with hugs around my waist and exclamations like “Where were you?” and “You’re heeere!” With those long eyelashes and baby-toothed grins, those kids turn me into putty in their hands.

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Day 4 Video Logs: Classroom Update & Childhood Journal

Here’s an update on what I’m up to in the classroom this week. Fingerpaintin’, here I come!
(FYI, this was recorded Monday afternoon, 8.25.08)

In the second video, I read from my journal at age 5, to remember who I was at that age. Having spent a lot of time with 5- and 6-year-olds this week, I’ve been trying to piece together what I was like myself. I bet you’ll never guess my answer to “If I could be any famous person, I would be…” (answer at 2:12)


Class photo, 1985-1986

This week I’ll post about:

  • My 6-year-old admirer and other amusing pint-sized characters
  • Kids’ creative answers to “What’s the name of this letter of the alphabet?”
  • Recess, the cafeteria, P.E., and other elementary school memories
  • Wise words from a kindergarten teacher

If you have journal entries or keepsakes from your school days, share them here or on the new forum.

Reschooling Tool #2: Find the Opportunity in Every Challenge

Tonight I broke my digital camera. I had the lens extended to take a photo, and I dropped the camera on the kitchen floor. The lens wouldn’t move, and I reacted as follows:

1. Swore at the top of my lungs.

2. Googled “Fix Digital Camera.” Followed suggestion to hold down the power button while twisting the lens outward. Managed to push the lens back in, but it still wouldn’t extend.

3. Ate half a bar of dark chocolate. I always default to this when at a loss for what else to do.

4. Decided that breaking the camera might be a blessing in disguise.

5. Resolved to use my parents’ camera until I can get a new one.

I’d wanted a different camera anyway, since my camera takes terrible low-light pictures and has recently started shutting itself off randomly. It also has one of those ridiculous docks to download photos, instead of a cable. Since I’ll be documenting my reschooling and travel experiences through photos, it’s essential that they’re good quality and easily transferred. If I hadn’t broken the camera, I probably would have continued to get by with my old one and compromised the quality of Reschool Yourself. So even though I’m still annoyed at myself for being Miss Butterfingers, I choose to believe that the mishap opened up the opportunity for a better quality camera during the early stages of the project.

I can’t say why this is so, whether the universe has some kind of master plan. All I know is that it doesn’t hurt to think that things happen for a reason, that there’s a hidden opportunity in every challenge or mistake. For example, if you miss your flight, consider that perhaps that plane might have had a serious problem, or lost your luggage. Perhaps you will meet someone on your new flight who will become a close friend or romantic partner, or connect you with a job. Maybe you’ll inspire someone or pass on a life-changing recommendation. The best part is that you may not ever know what opportunity arose from a certain challenge, but you can assume that one did — or will in good time.

When things don’t go according to plan, brainstorm the wildest and most positive possibilities that could result. I don’t know yet why I dropped my camera today, but I have some ideas. Maybe it’s so someone will donate a Sony Cybershot camera to the project, ya think?

Update: Through some generous donations, I was able to buy a Sony Cybershot in October. Thank you!

Construction Site

If you’re using Internet Explorer, you may have noticed that the navigation menu and logo on the Reschool Yourself site look all jacked up. The problem is apparently with how the software displays web pages. Explorer is known for its bugginess, so I’d recommend downloading Firefox anyway. It’s free, and apparently available in languages like Belarusian and Gujarati if you happen to speak them.

You’ll notice that the website continues to evolve. I started it knowing very little about web and blog design, and I’ve been improving it a little each day by teaching myself or asking Darren’s help. I’m happy to report that my technophobia is on the decline, and in the last two months I’ve learned a bit about the following:

  • WordPress & other blogging software
  • Transferring files using an FTP site
  • HTML
  • CSS
  • Digital filmmaking with iMovie & YouTube
  • Widgets, plug-ins, themes, feeds, and other blog fancifiers
  • Google Ads & Analytics
  • Adobe Photoshop basics

To my fellow tech dinosaurs: If I can learn these things, you can, too. It’s amazing how many how-to’s you can find on the Interweb, and how much your friends can teach you in a few minutes.

If you have requests for features that would make the site easier to use, let me know. For example, some of you have suggested integrating Digg and ClickComments. They’re on the list, so stay tuned. By December, I plan to have reschooled myself in technology and communicate exclusively in binary.

Flickr Creative Commons image courtesy of billjacobus1.

Reschooling Tool #1: Victories & Gratitudes

For all of my adult life, I have kept daily to-do lists that are much longer than I can ever possibly complete. Even though I realize this, I still get upset with myself for not finishing every task. “You didn’t change phone plans, send out resumes, cook dinner, or catch up on emails. What DID you do with your Saturday?”

In order to appreciate what I DID do, I began to write down a list of victories — little and big, as many as I could think of — before bed each day. I found that celebrating even boring accomplishments like “Scheduled dentist appointment” helped me focus on what I had been able to check off the list, rather than what still remained to be done. Recognizing myself for my efforts made me happier and more energized to tackle the next day’s To-Do’s.

Eventually I expanded my “Victories” list to “Victories & Gratitudes,” to include little things that I was grateful for that day: “Amazing chocolate cake,” “Rock Band on PlayStation,” or “Naan ‘n’ Curry” (at least half of the gratitudes are usually food-related). On even my roughest days, I felt pleased about the happy moments I’d been lucky enough to have.

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Video Log: Kindergarten, Day 3

I’ve decided that video blogging is a great way to keep you updated about Reschool Yourself. It’ll save me hours of writing, as well.

Those of you who know me can tell that I haven’t slept much lately. Those who do not may think that I normally look like this, but I’d like to think I’m slightly less haggard when rested. I hope that as I learn to manage my time and take care of myself, you’ll see me looking healthier and more balanced.

Here’s an update filmed the morning of Day 3:

Here’s a preview of the keepsake-mining and classmate search that I’ll begin this weekend:

Things Have Changed Since ’85

And I’m not just talking about Tom Cruise moving to Crazytown, USA.

In returning to my elementary school, I never expected to “step into the same river twice.” I knew that the school had changed quite a bit since I attended it from 1985-1991. Over the years, I’d taken occasional walks around the campus and seen new jungle gyms (or “big-toys” as we used to call them) installed and the paint accents go from red to green. I’d seen the library and office move locations, and new portables installed.

So far, I’ve observed these other major changes:

  • Demographic shift. My 1985-1986 kindergarten class of 29 kids was composed of 27 white kids, one Latino kid, and me (I alone composed a good chunk the school’s Asian population — and I’m only half). Barbara’s 2008-2009 kindergarten class of 20 kids has 5 white kids and 15 Latino kids. This reflects the overall demographic shift in Sonoma County. Between 2000 and 2007, the county’s Latino population grew 30 percent, and the white population declined by 7.2 percent. The trend continues, making it challenging for the school to raise its test scores when many of the kids are English Language Learners.
  • Uniforms. The majority of kids in the kindergarten class wear tiny khaki or blue bottoms and solid colored shirts. Apparently, a few years ago the school adopted a policy where students would wear uniforms by default, but parents can sign a waiver opting out. That way kids can still choose their clothing if they wish, but the standard of uniforms evens the playing field for low-income kids. That way, there’s no pressure to wear the latest Hannah Montana watch or Gap Kids hoodie, and gang-related clothing is a non-issue.
  • Extended kindergarten day. Kindergarten used to be divided into morning and afternoon sessions. Now, with the exception of early release days, it keeps the same hours as the older grades, from 8:30 to 2:30. I’ve heard that the kindergarteners, even at age 5, now follow a curriculum based on state standards.
  • Lunchroom practices. Hot lunch used to be served on washable trays, but today it’s unfortunately packaged in disposable styrofoam containers. I’m curious about the reasons for this, and the difference in cost. On the upside, chocolate milk used to be available only on Wednesdays, but now it’s a delicious permanent fixture.

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Democratic Education in Public Schools: The Hope for a Hybrid

As you know, my heart is in democratic education (though I’d like to come up with a more inclusive term). After working closely with public schools for the last five years, the question for me has become, “How do we incorporate the values and practices of democratic schools into public schools?” Here are some of the reasons it’s much more of a challenge — though definitely not impossible:

  • Large classes. It’s nearly impossible for a teacher to customize the approach to the student when there are 20-30 kids in the class. I found it challenging to do so with 12 kids at a time at Spark. I often had to put the needs of the group over the needs of the individual.
  • Standardized curriculum and testing. The state and federal government requirements have become outrageously demanding under No Child Left Behind (I can’t even say those ironic words without wanting to vomit). In order for public schools to keep their doors open, they must continue to raise their test scores so that every child is deemed “proficient” in math and reading by 2014. Oh, the insanity. Future posts on this topic to come.
  • Lack of exposure. Most people haven’t heard about democratic education — I hadn’t myself until I’d almost graduated from college, even though I majored in Psychology. Information about successful alternatives in education and answers to frequently asked questions still haven’t hit the mainstream.
  • Lack of practical methods for incorporating student-centered learning into public schools. The reality is that most schools simply aren’t able to adopt a purely democratic model and may not know how to customize the approach and still meet their requirements. They need models for practices such as student-led parent conferences and after-school programs that give kids choice and voice in what they learn.

I want to assure teachers — especially at my own schools — that I understand the challenges they face, because I’ve worked in public education myself. This year, I hope to research programs and schools that have successfully applied democratic principles in traditional settings, and share what they’ve been able to do within their circumstances.

First Day of Kindergarten: Part 1

Today, for the first time in 23 years, I went back to kindergarten.

I slept 20 minutes through alarm and woke up with that blasted Billy Madison song stuck in my head (my own fault) and hurriedly got dressed and ate breakfast. With my backpack, notebook, and brown bag lunch, I walked the few blocks to my elementary school. I passed a few kids holding their mothers’ hands. I was surprised to arrive at school in just a few minutes. Apparently my legs are a lot longer now than they were between the ages of 5 and 10.

Everything at the school seemed to have shrunk. I almost have to kneel to get a drink of water at the fountains, and the classrooms and cafeteria seem half the size that I remember them. When I arrived on campus, I watched the principal greet parents and kids as they pulled up at the bus circle and observed a group of girls looking at the class lists posted in the hallway. My mom and I used to walk to the school a few weeks before classes started to look at these lists. One of my strongest memories is the apprehension I felt as I searched for my name, since my experience in the upcoming year would largely depend on my teacher and the kids in my class. I remember feeling relief when I spotted my friends’ names alongside mine, or anxiety when they’d been assigned to a different teacher. Though we’d see each other at recess, our friendship wasn’t quite the same as when we were in the same class.

At around 7:45 am, I headed to the kindergarten room where I’ll be volunteering through next Monday. My original kindergarten room now houses a first-grade class where I’ll volunteer next week, and the kindergarten is now in a portable next to the play yard. Barbara, the teacher and a family friend, is honestly one of the kindest people I know. Someone recently said, “People can’t mention Barbara without adding, ‘She’s so nice!'” Barbara asked me to help greet the families as they came in and get the kids settled, helping them hang their backpacks in cubbies and showing them puzzles that would occupy them as their parents left.

To my surprise, not one of the kids cried, and neither did any of the parents. One mom looked back at her son a few times as she walked down the ramp of the portable. Another mom ended up staying the whole day as a volunteer because her son didn’t want her to leave. While Barbara very much appreciated her help on the first day, she expects that if the mother continues in the classroom, the son will have a fit when she finally leaves him.

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