December 31, 2009

Does the grading ever stop?

While I haven't had the pleasure of enjoying a COMPLETELY school-free winter break (see previous posts about what has kept me busy), I had up until now almost completely avoided the bin o' grading sitting on the floor in my office.  Every now and then I'd glance at it or rifle through the papers as if to check if they had miraculously graded themselves, but no such luck.  Today my very good friend Miss R and I spent a happy afternoon of grading, movies, and cookies on my family room floor.  (is it sad that the only time we can spend together must involve grading multi-tasking?)  Anyways, I actually made a huge dent in the grading bin, not to mention had a great time catching up with Miss R and sharing all sorts of ideas for school.  You know what they can take a teacher outta school, but can't take the school outta the teacher... sad, but oh. so. true.

Well, one of the big items I had to grade were my Heroes expository essays.  Yes, those expositories I had them start on in November.  How did I manage to drag them out until winter break?  I have no idea, but somehow it happened.  With them being written over such a looong period of time, I was really dreading grading them, expecting them to be pretty "interesting."  In fact, I was pleasantly surprised!!  Many of even my generally average writers really bared their souls sharing why these special people are their heroes.  Some of their reasons again reminded me of the realities of these children's lives: admiration for parents who manage to get food on the table, gratitude for parents who risked losing their jobs waiting tables to stay home with their sick child, love for fathers who love their child even though their mothers left with the kids years ago...beautiful, and more than one left me with absolute chills. 

Today was one time when I was absolutely proud and just awestruck at more than one of my students.  One described the way his dad cares for those around him, and makes him want to be a good person and care for his family too, just like dad.  So often when I look at these children, I think about how they are all in such a hurry to grow up as fast as possible.  It is refreshing to know that they are still kids who idolize their parents.  And it is even more refreshing to realize that they see how hard their families work for them, and that they value things like integrity, character, and values (though none used QUITE those words... ;)

Well, that was the bright spot in my day of epic grading.  Even though those essays were still a pain, between navigating my rubric and writing a note of comments to each child, many of them reminded me why I teach, and why I love children.  Even fifth graders :)

December 29, 2009

Book Review: Home of the Brave

Wow.  That's all I can say about this book.  Well, almost all...I've never been a person of few words! ;)  Another Battle of the Books pick, Katherine Applegate's Home of the Brave wasn't the first one to fly off the B.O.B. shelf in my classroom.  Most of the students grabbed for Wednesday Wars, Maximum Ride, or Wait til Helen Comes, and I have to admit I was with them.  This was at the bottom of my list of the B.O.B. "to-read's."  However, having read this amazing book in just a couple hours, it is definitely the BEST youth novel I have read in a long time, and I have read some pretty stellar ones lately! 

Written in a beautiful poetic free verse, Applegate spins a tale of a young Sudanese refugee, Kek, who finds himself suddenly dropped into snowy Minnesota.  Kek's story is one we can all relate to: that of an outsider who is conflicted in every possible way, who doesn't seem to fit in, and who desperately wants to find his place in the world, but who isn't sure what that place is.  As Kek learns both English and these strange American customs, readers will laugh and cry along with him.  From putting a set of dishes into the washing machine to breaking down in tears in the grocery store at the sight of so much plentiful food to rejoicing at the idea of free school in which one can sit at one's own desk and chair, Kek's journey is powerfully moving.  Not only is it one that any young person who has ever felt isolated or misunderstood could relate to, but it has the potential to open students' eyes to ideas they may know very little about: poverty, refugees, civil war, prejudices, etc. etc. etc. 

In short, Applegate's story is beautiful and powerful, and as I finished reading it, I was left with one thought: "I want to share this book with every child I can..."  A quick read and well worth it; definitely 5 stars!!

The Reading Record Book, or Why I spent 3 hours at school yesterday on a day off

While there are about a million and a half things I would like to improve on in my teaching, my management, and in the students' learning, one particular thing that I've been struggling with lately is holding the kids accountable for their independent reading.  I think sometimes I just assume all the kids in my class go home in the evenings and curl up with a good book.  HA!  Just because I did that as a child (and still do...) doesn't mean my students do. 

For most of my kids, it's not a challenge getting them to read in school.  They like reading!  But there are a few that I am worried about.  You know, those kids who abandon way more books than they actually finish, who pick out new books but just turn through the pages barely reading, and the ones who read books way below/above their level.  Then there are a few of my good readers who have never ventured out of a particular genre.   Yes, I KNOW you like mysteries, but have you looked in any of the other book bins lately?  I UNDERSTAND you like humor, but let me introduce you to the historical fiction book case... Ultimately, I'd like the kids to all just be held a little more accountable for their reading, and to be aware of what they're reading.  While I've sent home a reading log each week since August, I still only get an average of 5 returned to me.  Sad, but true. 

Enter the Reading Record Book.  Thanks to my friendly Scholastic newsletter emails, I started reading about Beth Newinghams Reading Workshop.  While the workshop itself sounds interesting (...I would NEVER be allowed to use it in my literacy block as long as I'm in this district), what caught my eye was this teacher's Reading Notebook.  Each of her students had a binder that they used to keep track of their reading and respod to the books they read.  Since I'm not using the Workshop, I don't have a use for the response portion, she had downloads of the sheets used for data collection.  They were great!  And, voila!  With a little tweaking and organizing, I created a template for a Reading Record Book that definitely makes sense for me, and that I think will make sense for my students. 

Here's how it goes:  When we get back to school next week, each of my kiddos will be presented with a bound booklet with their name on it.  Inside the front cover is a Genre Overview table listing all the different genres in my classroom library, their definition, and a "code" corresponding with each.  (ex. RF = Realistic Fiction)  Then, there is an Interest Inventory page for students to record some of their favorite authors, genres, and topics.  Ideally, I'd have them fill this out in August, but what can you do. :)  Next, students have a log for them to record books they plan to read and check them off when completed.  I liked this idea, since I love giving/getting book recommendations and I want to encourage the students to be doing this too. 

One very important part of the record book that I'm going to be monitoring is a goal-setting aspect.  I'm going to ask that each student set a personal reading goal for him or herself at the beginning of each month, and reflect on that goal at the end.  Of course, we'll do this together intially at least.  I'm thinking that the goals can be genre-related, simple completion of books, or reading books by a certain author.  I think goal setting is so important to teach, and this seemed like a good place to incorporate it.  So, the kids have a Monthly Goal sheet  in the record book.

The 2 big sections of the book are the monthly reading logs and monthly genre graphs.  The kids will record the books they read in the log, and then at the end of each month, make a simple bar graph so they can look at the genres they've read.  I don't think this will take too much class time, and once I teach them how, it should be a simple end of the month routine.  Then, we will go back and see if we've met the goals.

Of course, since my little darlings are not always the most self-motivated, I will have to throw some incentives in here...first, I'm going to collect the books monthly and give a simple grade based on writing a goal, recording reading, and correctly making a graph.  Then, I'm going to have to give some kind of prize/reward for meeting the monthly goals.  What it will be, I don't know yet, but it better be good to motivate some of my reluctant readers! (or my LAZY little students...yes, I said lazy.  but it's true, if you are not even willing to write down the titles of books you read, I have no sympathy!) 

I am really proud of how the books turned out and have high hopes for them.  I'm sure they will need to be tweaked further, but we'll see how they go!

NOTE: If you would like digital copies of what's in my reading record books, email me at juiceboxesandcrayolas AT blogspot DOT com :)

December 27, 2009

Some big choices

Today I finally started doing a little planning for after break (although the grading is still untouched...) and looking at my lesson plan template, realized that it is sooo close to being January 2010.  Wow, 2010?  When did that happen??  This time last year I was thinking the very same thing about 2009.  2009 had always seemed like that far off in the future year I would eventually graduate from college, and then suddenly, it was here.  Last New Year's I remember thinking that it was the first New Year's when I had absolutely NO IDEA where my life would take me in the next year.  Well, as I sit here typing this in my childhood home at a desk I got when I was about 10, at first it would seem like nothing's changed.  When in reality, soo much has.

Anyways, on that note, with it being both the start of a brand new year and nearly the halfway point of my very first year teaching, I've been doing some thinking about my plans for next year.  When I took this job, I didn't tell a lot of people that I was planning on only staying here for a year before leaving to pursue my life-long dream of service abroad.  But even though I didn't tell everyone, I was fairly certain that that was my plan.  Now that I'm here...things are less clear.  Basically, here's the dilemma:  service abroad is still my dream.  When I think of how amazing it would be to travel to an impoverished country and help improve the schools and train teachers, it feels like the most exciting thing in the world.  But, realistically, when I think about leaving this school...I have second thoughts.

It's not that I love going into work every day and can't imagine every being anywhere else.  On the contrary, while I love teaching and believe this is my life's work, this first year has been incredibly difficult.  It's more that after the hours and hours of blood, sweat, and tears that I have poured into my teaching, my classroom, and my kids these past few months, I cannot imagine leaving and starting over somewhere new.  Everyone told me the first year would be the hardest, and they didn't exaggerate--it has been rough.  But after putting so much effort into building the foundation for my career here, I can't really imagine leaving it behind to start fresh at something else, and then returning to the profession in a few years only to start completely over yet again.  Shouldn't I plant some roots here for while, grow as a teacher, develop a routine?  Shouldn't I hang onto the job I am SO LUCKY to have and learn all I can while I am here?

Shouldn't I.....????

^ A counselor once told me that playing the game of "the shoulds" is a dangerous habit to fall into.  You know, that game where you tell yourself over and over what you "should" and "shouldn't" be doing, thinking, feeling.  Right now, I'm thinking a lot of "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts" when I consider what I should do here.  The reality is, this may not be the right school for me for the rest of my life.  But how can I leave after just 1 year when there is so much I have to learn and to give back in return?

Another reality is that a little part of me keeps thinking that I have somehow taken the "easy way out" and settled for what is comfortable (yet again).  I am comfortable living here and I am comfortable working another year in the suburbs.  This is more "sure" and definitely more comfortable than taking a huge risk to leave and go live in a third world country for awhile.  But the thing I have to remember is that this job and this career really is ANYTHING but the easy way out.  There is nothing about teaching (and certainly nothing about the school I am at) that is easy.  NOTHING.  And this is not just "some job" that I have for now to pay the bills.  This is a career I am passionate about and a career that allows me a very special opporutnity to help children who really need me and to make a difference in my own community right here in the suburbs.  The truth is, you don't need to travel to the third world to find kids who need love and support and good teachers.  The need is right here.  So as much as a little part of me keeps thinking I've "settled," in reality I've done nothing of the kind.  I have a job that is stimulating, challenging, and meaningful.  And whether I leave or stay, I know in my heart that it can't be because of some "should" I am feeling.  There is no "easy option."

What it boils down to is that I am just a little bit confused.  I thought my late nights of soul-searching would end when I graduated college, but it turns out I am still in the middle of a "quarter-life crisis." Sigh... But honestly, I think I will end up staying right here, learning all I can, and making all the difference I can right in my own little community.

A Very Teachery Christmas :)

I think my Christmas presents this year really represent the extent to which teaching has consumed my life.  Highlights among the gifts:
  • Fancy Paper Pro 1 touch stapler (staples 25 sheets!!!!)
  • Fancy 3 hole punch that can punch a WHOLE BUNCH of pages (my current one jams seriously EVERY time I use it)
  • The gigantic pack of flair pens--so I can grade in style :)
  • The gigantic pack of Sharpies 
  • Post-its
  • Children's books
  • Gift card to Lakeshore\
  • A new little name plate for my desk with each letter made from a different photograph
It was a very teachery Christmas in my house :)   New school supplies are so exciting!  However, I can't say the new flairs made me any more excited to dive into the crate of grading I brought home to do over the break...alas.  Maybe tomorrow??  Orrr...maybe not ;)

December 20, 2009

Annnd I'm caught up on sleep...

Let me recap the past 2 days...sleep, sleep, reading, sleep, movie watching, reading, more sleep, more movies...

Today alone I watched 3 movies IN A ROW on the couch while eating caramel corn.  I guess my insomnia/lack of appetite is cured.  The antidote?  Sweet winter break :) 

December 14, 2009

Sharing Books

Last week, I gave one of my very mature students Lois Lowry's The Giver (one of my all-time favorite books).  Nothing makes me smile more as a teacher than recommending my favorite books to children and having them fall as deeply in love with them as I am.  Today, she finished it and wanted to discuss the somewhat unsettling ending with me.  And of course I was happy to find 5 minutes at the end of lunch to kneel by her desk and talk...because I teach for exactly this kind of moment.

December 12, 2009

"Reach for it, work for it, and fight for it."

Hope is not blind optimism. It's not ignoring the enormity of the task ahead, or the roadblocks that stand in our path. It's not sitting on the sidelines or shirking from a fight. Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, work for it, and fight for it.
Barack Obama

I had a long conversation with the school social worker Friday afternoon, mostly strategizing about handling the student that has consumed so many blog posts.  She also reminded me to be consistently checking my emotions, and focusing on what I need to do at that moment to keep myself from getting too frustrated, too emotional, or just too burned out. 

During the course of this conversation, she told me about her first post-grad job.  She was working in a residential home for disturbed youth (teenagers I believe) and she said that after her first day on the job, she went home to the apartment she had JUST moved into and called her parents, begging them to come pick her up and take her back home.  There were too many things wrong and, as she said, "Of course I insisted that none of them were my fault."  She said her mom calmly told her, "This is what you're going to do.  You're going to get down on your knees and pray.  Then tomorrow, you are going to go to work.  And the next day you're going to go to work.  And you're going to keep going to work." 

After awhile, she realized that it wasn't just them, it was her too.  She had a lot more to learn, and described that job as one of the best learning experiences of her life.  Not only did it give her the tools to deal with countless future occupational challenges, but it gave her the emotional experience and strength to persevere through all the challenges her career would offer. 

So for the next week, I'm going to follow this advice.  I'm going to go into work every day and get down on my knees every night to pray for the strength to keep going.  I am going to remember that I am as much accountable for my actions and emotions as I expect this student to be.  I am going to give myself a fresh start each day, just as I will give him.  And after winter break, I will come back to school and do the same thing every single day.  Because when you something is worth it, you don't give up.

 A few weeks ago, I wrote in a blog post of absolute frustration and despair, "Something, anything has to change here."  Tonight I'm realizing that that something has to be my attitude.  I may not be able to change this child, but if I don't change the way I feel about this situation, I WILL never make it through this year.  Instead, I can accept that, yes, he is going to be disruptive.  But I can ignore disruptions.  Yes, he is going to be disrespectful.  But I can accept and ignore the disrespect and offer back only firmness and positivity.  Yes, he is going to test boundaries.  But I am capable of passing those tests.  Eventually, we will grow and move on. (I emphasize the we here).  For this week, though, this will be enough.

Finally, I am going to remember, "despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, work for it, and fight for it."

December 6, 2009


"Everyone has a talent, what is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads."
-Erica Jong, author

I guess I have to keep telling myself that no one ever said this is easy.  Like one of my favorite books, The Alchemist says, when you are following your personal legend, your life's work, the struggles are greater, but so are the gains.  This is so frustrating because I so desparately want to succeed.  I am so exhausted because I care so much.  This child brings out such rage and saddness in me because I am so emotionally invested in him.  As my principal reminded me the other day, this is not just my job, it is my career and my craft.  This is my life's work, and like Erica Jong said, sometimes following a talent brings you through some struggles.  I guess I just have to accept this as one of the low points, and remember that it's not always going to be like this.

December 3, 2009

To my student who asks me for a hug everyday:

Most every afternoon, you come up to me and say, "Miss Teacher, can I have a hug?"  And I of course smile and say, "Absolutely you can" and squeeze you into a tight hug.  You always smile back and say, "Thanks." I know you appreciate those special hug moments and I am grateful that I am so easily able to give you what you need.  Just a hug.  Your home life is not great.  I know you are lacking so many of the things you need, and I know that adults in your life have let you down.  Many, many times.  Yet you come to me, and when you could be asking so much, all you want is a hug.

What you do not know is that those hugs mean as much to me as they do to you.  What you do not know is that on some days, I need them as much as you do.  Your hugs are not the quick, "How's it going" kind, but those tight squeeze ones that you can tell the hugger never wants to let go.  The hugs that make you think, "Wow, that was a good hug."  When I am exhausted, or stressed, or losing my patience, they remind me for that split second why I teach.  They remind me why I am here, and why I will come back again tomorrow.  Your hugs say with so much more intensity than words, "Miss Teacher, you are my teacher.  I need you.  I need so much, but right now, I just need you to be here for me and take this moment to remind me that you care."  They bring me away from the hectic classroom for just a moment and bring me to that place inside me that whispers, "This is your life's work.  Don't give up."

So, my student, my answer tomorrow will be, "Yes, of course you can have a hug."  Thank you so much for asking.

let me teach like the first snow, falling

Undivided attention
By Taylor Mali

A grand piano wrapped in quilted pads by movers,
tied up with canvas straps - like classical music's
birthday gift to the insane -
is gently nudged without its legs
out an eighth-floor window on 62nd street.
It dangles in April air from the neck of the movers' crane,
Chopin-shiny black lacquer squares
and dirty white crisscross patterns hanging like the second-to-last
note of a concerto played on the edge of the seat,
the edge of tears, the edge of eight stories up going over, and
I'm trying to teach math in the building across the street.
Who can teach when there are such lessons to be learned?
All the greatest common factors are delivered by
long-necked cranes and flatbed trucks
or come through everything, even air.
Like snow.
See, snow falls for the first time every year, and every year
my students rush to the window
as if snow were more interesting than math,
which, of course, it is.
So please.
Let me teach like a Steinway,
spinning slowly in April air,
so almost-falling, so hinderingly
dangling from the neck of the movers' crane.
So on the edge of losing everything.
Let me teach like the first snow, falling.

November 29, 2009

Back to Real Life

After a wonderful, relaxing Thanksgiving break during which I did not so much as crack a teacher manual or uncap a colored pen until Sunday afternoon, it's back to school tomorrow.  I definitely needed (and very much enjoyed!) this break.  My plan to work ahead and stay late last Monday and Tuesday in an attempt to prevent getting stuck in what I assume will be a crazy long copy line tomorrow morning worked like a charm.  I have my week planned, and mostly copied, and am feeling refreshed.  Thank goodness.  On the down side, I am being observed first thing tomorrow morning and who knows how the kids will be after their marathon weekend...who knows how on my game I will be for that matter!  I am well prepared though, and the lesson is a standard Monday shared reading...pretty predictable as lessons go.  The only thing that will make it unpredictable is the kids, of course.  Man, wouldn't all of my lessons be perfect if it weren't for them! :)

Anyways, we'll see how things go tomorrow.  First day back after the break, first day actually doing the Daily 4 method we rehearsed last week, my observation, parent visitation day (thank goodness I only have one parent coming...she WILL be here to see a science lesson though, which should be interesting...eek), and Battle of the Books.  Oh my.  My goal after all that is to actually work out.  Hmm, we'll see if I make it.  :)

3 weeks til winter break, 3 weeks til winter break, 3 weeks til winter break...

November 28, 2009

Book Reviews: Esperanza Rising

As part of my new role as one of the coaches for Battle of the Books, I have to read the same books the kids are reading for the battle and help write questions on them.  Yes, it's one more thing I have to do, but the list of books has some great ones on it, and as I told my brother yesterday, "Reading kids books is amazing!  I was at page 60 a few minutes ago, and I'm already on 100!  I'm never reading grown up books again!"  Anyways, I digress.  Tonight I finished Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan, a beautiful coming of age story that truly shows both the realities of poverty and racism as well as the strength of children and families to endure.  Esperanza and her mother lose all their money, posessions, and even their father/husband in Mexico.  They are forced to flee to America and start a new life as farm workers.  This book depicts an emotional, heart-wrenching story of hardship, starting over, and the power of love and children to endure.  I sincerely loved this book.

November 26, 2009


Today I am thankful that I have a job that not only pays the bills, but that is intellectually, emotionally, and sometimes even physically challenging.  No matter how often my job makes me scream or cry, I am thankful that it doesn't involve sitting at a desk or a computer, interacting only with technology and not with people.  I am thankful that it challenges me in every possible capacity, and that it allows me to make a small difference.

I am also thankful for some of the wonderful students who get me through the day, who remind me why I decided to be a teacher, who make the bad days worthwhile, and who keep me coming into school.  One example of this i the student who wrote me and my family a letter Tuesday and told me I was to read it on Thanksgiving with my family (of course I couldn't resist peeking early!).  He told my family they should be thankful to have Miss Teacher as family, because I am one of the nicest people he has ever met.  He asked them also to write back, and my mom assures me she will do so.  I am also thankful for the student who sent me an email this morning to tell me Happy Thanksgiving, and that I am a wonderful teacher.  This is why I teach.

Finally, I am thankful that God has given me the strength to make it through the first trimester (which ended last week).  Miraculously, I didn't quit, and I know that after this relaxing weekend I will have just enough energy back to make it until Christmas.  I am thankful for all the support I have received so far, from friends sending uplifting texts, to my mom helping with lesson plans and listening to my frustrations, to my amazing 5th grade team partners who help me SO MUCH and remind me that I will make it through the year and that I am in fact a good teacher, to Miss R and Mrs. J without whom I think I would have lost my sanity so far.

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 20, 2009

And I'm happy again

Today, I kind of remembered why I'm a teacher.  My lessons weren't particularly stellar (Fridays never are--specials, test, review for test, silent reading...), but the day just went great.  My troubling studnet had a complete personality change yesterday and had two FANTASTIC days in a row.  After what we've been going through, this change is amazing and I frequently find myself holding my breath as though I'm watching a ticking time bomb, just waiting for it to go off unexpectedly.  But thankfully, nothing set it off and he was a completely different kid.  I'm not sure WHAT changed, but he was friendly, respectful, kind, and funny.  And I remembered how much I really do like this kid when he's "on."  And it's amazing how different my emotions were with him being in a good mood.  Everything was fine.  I was happy, I enjoyed teaching, I enjoyed my students.  Even when other students were off task, I was more patient and better able to laugh things off.  I was less stressed, and I just plain LIKED IT today.  There have been enough days lately where I just DIDN"T LIKE IT that I'd been doubting whether or not I'll be able to make it for the long haul.

Some things that made me smile today:
-This kid getting 100% on his behavior points chart today and being so ecstatic.  I was so ecstatic that I asked him if I could give him a hug and he said sure. :)  Suddenly we're BFF.
-My hilarious guided reading group today during which we were discussing voting and they got onto so many side bars about elections and the president etc. that I was liracking up.  I love when they are distracted, but talking about something KIND OF related!
-My kids being thrilled about the new books I got yesterday.  I put new ones in some of the kids' book boxes with post-its on them saying, "I KNOW you will like this book.  Let me know what you think!"  They loved it.  And I remembered how easy it is to show them that I care and make them smile.  When some of these kids constantly feel like they don't matter or no one cares about them, I know that part of my job is to let them know that I do. 
-Being observed by an ed student who's also a mom in the school and having her tell me she enjoyed being in my room and observing my teaching
-Getting things all set for my re-implementation of Daily 4 (I decided Read to Someone was a disaster waiting to happen...), including a new display of my anchor charts

Well, it's nice coming home on Fridays in a good mood.  It reminds me that even though my lows are incredibly low, the highs are so worth it.  I will not give up on this one child--maybe God knew that I needed this refresher and reminder of his wonderful personality to make it through the days when he just can't let that personality shine for all those reasons I am trying so hard to understand.

November 18, 2009

Thank you, Regie Routman!

This afternoon I had planned on giving the kids a solid 45 minutes to work on their Heroes essays.  They are progressing nicely, and I know a few kids really need some time to catch up.  With my Tier 3 kids leaving for interventions in the afternoon (and needing tons of extra help as it is), some have fallen a little behind.  But just as I was passing out their work packets, I had a flashback to Methods of Language Arts class and remembered one of the tips from writing guru Regie Routman's Writing Essentials: When you teach writing, CELEBRATE WRITING! 

I decided to take the first 10 minutes of my writing time to invite a few students to share either their introduction or first body paragraph with the class.  We discussed expectations for when students are sharing work and talked about how it takes courage to share your writing.  Then, all my fifth graders sat quietly on the carpet while the sharer got to sit in my special chair.  My sharing students read a paragraph of their writing and we applauded.  Then, the sharer decided whether or not he or she wanted feedback--they all did :-).  I was so proud of them.  My fifth grade "audience" raised their hands to offer 1 cheer & 1 suggestion.  Then we applauded again to thank the sharer for sharing his or her work and the audience for listening and giving feedback.  No one talked during the sharing, which for my group is a feat in itself.  Tons of kids wanted to share, and I promised them that by the time we finished the essays, everyone would have an opportunity.  It made me so happy to see how well they listened and how eager they were to share.

My fifth grade class of tough kids who are always on each others' nerves and who can't sit quietly hardly ever did such a great job with this today that it almost made up for the fact that I had to call the principal TWICE today to escort my little trouble maker out of the room.  Thank you Regie Routman for reminding me how important it is for kids to not just turn in work and have it returned with a grade on it, but to celebrate both their own work and the work of their peers.  I teach for moments like this.

November 16, 2009

and we're back

Okay.  I'm hoping to get to bed early tonight, so I'm not going to get into everything that's been going on.  But after last Monday's somewhat bleak posting, I feel I should briefly update.  Monday (last) was a real low point for the year so far.  It was just one of those days where enough things went wrong to make you wanna throw in the towel.  Between a whole new level of behavior problems with my "difficult student," the rest of the class being off-task in general, a really irritating display of unprofessionalism geared at me from a colleague, and my car being keyed in the parking lot one night I was working late, I was about done.  Thankfully, the next day my team stepped in and helped me out enough that I could get things back together.  I've been working hard the last week on reteaching expectations, enforcing rules, and gaining control of my class (minus 1 who I am OUT OF IDEAS for).  In general, it's going well.  Although I never dreamed we'd need assigned carpet seats in 5th grade...but that's besides the point.

Anyways, things are going a little better.  It's still really draining, and I am constantly wishing that this one kid would just get sick and spend a day at home, because he is so exhausting.  Every second I am making choices on how to handle his behavior, and I'm just never sure if I'm doing the right thing.  I spend half my time and energy on trying to keep him in line, or dealing with him when he has a melt-down, a tantrum, or does something crazy...but that's life I guess, or at least teaching.  I'm crossing my fingers that SOMETHING changes and that maybe someday we'll be able to get through a day without any real disasters...wishful thinking...

On another note, I'm in the middle of an expository writing project that some of my students are enjoying as much as I am (I say some, but that's really the best you can hope for in 5th grade!).  We're writing about someone in our life who we think is a hero.  I'm modeling each step of the process and am enjoying writing about my hero as much as I'm enjoying hearing about my students' heroes.  I'm looking forward to seeing the final product, although we are nowhere near that point. 

Tonight I spent the true elementary educator's evening in my kitchen making playdough and doing experiments on "buoyancy."  This I learned:  when you read a lesson plan for a lab on the internet, always always ALWAYS try it at home first.  They're not always as simple as they sound!  Cross your fingers that the few experiments that look like they WILL work actually do tomorrow...

Finally, today was the first day of Battle of the Books meetings.  While part of me knows it was crazy for me to take this on this year, another part of me is so glad I did.  Reading with kids who love reading and are volunteering to take part in this club/competition is so refreshing.  I need something like this back in my life--spending time in small groups with kids who want to learn.  During guided reading, I spend most of my time meeting with my approaching grade level groups and deferring my on and beyond students to my aid and lit coach.  I miss reading with kids who are strong readers and love engaging with texts and having discussions as much as I do.  So, even though the time committment is huge (and I have to read all the books for the battle too...eek), I am confident that the payoff will be well worth it. 

Anyways.  Off to find some fabric scraps in the basement because I promised my future fashion designer student I would bring her some to work into her designs...and then bed.  Bon nuit :)  Let's hope I have no more "I'm going to quit" melt downs anytime soon!

November 9, 2009

break down

I want to quit.  I can't remember any of the reasons I got into teaching anymore and I just don't know if it's worth it.  I just need one thing to go right tomorrow.  I can't handle this.

November 8, 2009


I knew when I took this job that it would come with some of the natural challenges involved in teaching in a low-income school.  MIA parents, disorganized students, forgotten homework, missing lunches, kids who are behind because no one read to them at home as a young child, mouthy kids who don't know how to talk to adults because they have no role models, and kids who are just starving for attention and who seek it in any way posible.  I've seen it all already, but I have to say there are so many things I love about this population regardless.  Anyways, today I was presented with two other realities of where I teach:

1. This one isn't sad or tragic or heart wrenching, it's just annoying and frustrating.  So today I came out of the house and my dad asked me what happened to my car.  "What now..." I thought, remembering how my mom had  accidentally backed into it in the driveway last year.  Did that happen again?  Nope, it turns out my car was KEYED and now has a beautiful little swastika and F-bomb etched into the trunk.  Sweet.  Since my car hasn't left my driveway since Friday, I'm assuming this happened in the school parking lot on one of my marathon nights last week (probably Friday) and I just didn't notice.  While it's possible it happened in my driveway, I'd say the odds are stacked in favor of the teenagers who tend to loiter in the school parking lot at night.  Sooo...yeah, that's fun.  I hope that anyone who notices it will see the autism ribbon on the back of my car and the cross dangling from my mirror and assume that a person who would choose to display those things wouldn't pusposefully have carved profanity and white supremisist symbols into her car.  The good: they're small, not immediately noticeable, my dad attempted to cover them, and I'm hoping to get a new car in about a year anyways (maybe sooner...).  The bad: I'm a little freaked out about staying late at school now and just plain pissed off.

2. Much, much, much worse and makes me feel ashamed that I even just complained about my car.  Of course anyone who goes into teaching knows the drill: child abuse is real, it happens, and it's tragic.  Not only that, but we as teachers are legally required to report any and all suspect child abuse.  Simple, right?  Well, today I found out that a student of my friend, another young teacher at my school, stole something from another teacher Thursday afternoon.  She was yelled at and her father was contacted by that teacher.  Friday morning when she came in, she didn't want to take off her coat.  When she did, she was so covered in bruises that her arms were actually swollen.  It turned out her legs were covered too, and she was actually taken to the hospital.  Of course, the standard protocol was followed: DCFS was called, the father was arrested, the child was brought to her mother's house.  Hearing this story today made things seem very real.

This is one of those things that as a teacher you know in theory you might have to deal with, but you never really think you will.  Then, when you hear a story about it, you pray like hell none of your students ever experience that, and that you never have to handle that.  Because the truth is, when you sign up to be a teacher, you sign up for a whole lot more.  Even the students who sometimes I really think I hate I am emotionally invested in.  And to think that when they leave us at 3:00 some of them might go home to parents who hurt them or neglect them or just plain aren't around is something that none of us ever want to imagine.  Because should something like this happen, we know it will just leave us thinking, "Was there something I could have done to prevent this?  How could I have allowed this to happen?" even though we know that the very thought is ridiculous.    And the truth is, school may end at 3:00 but our minds never turn off--we are teachers 24/7 and we bring our work home:  the papers to grade, the lessons to plan, and the kids who we lay awake at night worrying about.  Tonight that child will not be one of my students, but my friend's student.  I will be laying awake praying for her, praying that my own students are safe, and praying for my friend, her teacher, hoping that she will be able to sleep tonight.

November 7, 2009

note to self: do not say at school until the custodians close the building EVER AGAIN

This has been QUITE the week!!!  Tuesday Mrs. J and I stayed EMBARRASSINGLY late at late, I don't even want to say what time I made it home.  There are always just so many things to do.  I stayed at school forever and was literally constantly working, but did not even get ahead.  I feel like so much of the time I am just barely staying above water.  This is NOT what I'm used to--I am a planner big time and like being on top of things.  So it's a little unnerving for me to feel disorganized.  Anyways, after that marathon and a half day, Wednesday felt even worse: full day at school, autism therapy, then back to school for celebrate reading and writing night.  Thankfully, my team would not allow me to stay after that and continue working.  One even threatened to pull me out by my hair if I tried to stay. :)  I believe she would, too...  Anyways, it's been a long week.  You'd think if I put in that many hours, I'd have the next MONTH of school planned.  But I feel like so much of my time is just spent staying organized.  So many papers being turned in all the time, I've started just recycling the morning work and random hw pages. It's not even worth the time to check some of it.

Well, after that incredibly long week of early mornings and late nights, by yesterday, I had about lost my mind.  I was crabby all day and very sarcastic with my kids.  And, by the afternoon, I wasn't even feeling like myself.  I think I literally was just completely overworked.  I'm going to try not to put in another week like that again, because it just really screwed me up.  This weekend, I am planning on having some fun to recover.  However, I also want to get a lot of work done this weekend so I'm not left with it next week. catch 22 really.

Hmm what else to update on...well, my challenging student's behavior has been improving.  He still goes off about things and can be disruptive in class, but he's made a big improvement.  I also find that when I am well-rested and calm in general, I can handle him so much more easily.  I know we are headed in the right direction, though. 

I started a unit in science about water on Earth and did a cool experiment about density of salt and fresh water.  I'm hoping to pull some other experiments and activities from Project WET, and am excited about actually teaching my favorite subject.  finally.  I also had this epiphany last night and decided to start a writing unit on Heroes this week.  I'd been planning on starting an expository essay and didn't really know how to approach it in terms of topic.  So I settled on heroes.  I think I'm going to connect it to Veterans Day initially, then we'll right about heroes we know personally for the essay.  Finally, as a social studies tie-in, because god knows I don't teach it enough, maybe we'll do a little research of heroes in history.  Anyways, I still have no idea how this is going to turn out, but I like when I get excited about planning things.  So often school just feels hard or stressful or frustrating that I really need some of these little happy things to keep me going.

Anyways, here's just one small thing that made me smile last night:  I was grading my math quizzes while watching Say Yes to the Dress (for someone who has anything but weddings on the brain, I'm not sure why I even like that show!), and the quiz was on angles.  I had them label points on the angles and they could choose which letters to use.  5th graders are hilarious.  I loved seeing the different words they would make with them: RAT, DOG, OMG, BED, CAT, their initials, etc.  I know that's just a tiny little thing, but it reminded me that, yeah, they drive me crazy, but they really are still kids and they really are cute sometimes.  (I especially liked the OMG). 

Well, in the spirit of productivity, I think I'm going to get out of bed and start my day...

October 30, 2009

"I'm pretty sure tasmanian devils just 'do it'"

Here is the eagerly anticipated (by Mrs. J at least!) blog post about the tasmanian devils incident of Thursday...  intrigued?  Just wait for it. :)

So as part of my school's insanity over ISATs, we start preparing our kids in September (bound and determined to make AYP...).  Anyways, my team gave a reading extended response common assessment this week.  The passage that the kids read was about tasmanian devils.  It was a pretty interesting article--did you know tasmanian devils can eat even rotten food?  It turns out they are nature's garbage collectors!  Who knew?  I swear I learn something every day in 5th grade.  Well, my wonderful lit coach Mrs. J and I have been teaching my class about taking notes on a text as you read.  We've practiced highlighting and writing comments and reactions in the margins, even if they are just "WOW!" or "That's sad :("  and my kids have been doing a fabulous job!  They're like little college note takers with their highlighting and comments.

So yesterday after school Mrs. J and I were grading these wonderful tasmanian devil extended responses (I use the term wonderful somewhat loosely--although they have come a LONG way!), and we were having a great time looking at the comments each kid wrote on the article.  Then, Mrs. J came to one with yellow and pink highlighter writing all over it.  I noticed her looking very closely at one part of it, and she pointed a word out, asking me what I thought it said.  There was a question written in the margin of the paragraph describing how when two tasmanian devils first meet, they usually bite each other and fight.  After peering closely at the scrawled highlighter that was partially obscured by text, we realized, "Wait, that DOES NOT say...does that really say?  Can that say...'Then how do they make love???' ?!?!?!?!?!"  Yes, no joke, this fifth grade boy read about that tasmanian devils fight upon first meeting, and became very concerned that they would never be able to "make love."  And if there was any doubt in our imaginations, on the next page, he very largely and clearly wrote, "It says they big each other then how do they get babies?!?"  He was still pondering this question paragraphs later!!!

Let me tell you, nothing spices up an afternoon of extended response grading like a 5th grade boy's concerns about the "love making" habits of tasmanian devils.  Aside from the randomness of this thought even coming to his mind, we just could not get over the hilarity of his word choice!!!!  As Mrs. J said, "I don't think tasmanian devils really make love...I'm pretty sure they just do it."  :D  I almost couldn't recover from my laughing fit and grade the rest.  And I'm not going to lie, I had to stiffle giggles reading other kids' papers later just because I remembered this kid's comments...amazing.

Let me just say, when I have to teach Family Living later this year, it will be INTERESTING...and I hope this student never asks me how tasmanian devils make love!

October 28, 2009

oh 5th grade

Drumroll...I taught science today!  Woohoo!  When I announced that we were FINALLY doing a science experiment, the kids actually cheered.  It made me so happy :)  Anyways, we did a short and sweet lab to practice applying the scientific method by checking how many water drops fit on a penny.  I love science.  It can be crazy at times, but it is so worth it seeing the kids get completely wrapped up in excitement.  And it was even more worth it today when one of my kids exclaimed, "Miss Teacher!  I noticed that this dropper is a little different than that one!  That might make some pennies have more water drops than others!" And me saying, "You're right!! But shhh!!! Let's see if anyone else figures that out too!"  I teach for "my kids are actually thinking, learning, and excited about school" moments like this. 

On the other hand, I had to call the office today because one of my kids flipped out and pelted his stress ball at the wall in a fit, and then another kid dropped an f-bomb at a kid...sooo quite the day all in all!

For the first time, though, when I left school right away for autism therapy, I didn't come back after!!  I actually left with all my things and went home after.  I decided I needed an evening off. :)  Definitely worth it...

Is it bad that I am DREADING the Halloween party Friday??

October 25, 2009

Book Reviews: Diary of a Wimpy Kid

While I had read bits and pieces of this book aloud to students and kids I tutor, I finally sat down and read Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid cover to cover this weekend. (Thank you scholastic book order for having a $15 set of books 1-3!)  I have to say, I was not disappointed.  While this book will definitely not rival my all time favorite children's books in my personal book hall of fame, it was funny, clever, and definitely an enjoyable read.  Kinney uses a kind of wit and humor that we can all relate to--the feeling of being a wimpy kid, and all that comes along with it.  Really, the idea of this book is genius.  Who among us can say that we have NEVER felt like the wimpy kid?  Well, I know I have at least!  Narrator (and diary author) Greg is a middle school student without much going for him.  His smirky, sarcastic journal entries are nothing if not believable.

What's more, his character is realistic not only in his "wimpiness," but also in the way he acts.  While I don't usually praise children's lit. that has main characters acting in bullying manners, Greg isn't always very nice to the people in his life (family, his few friends, etc.).  However, I think that quality about him is one of the genius aspects of this book.  Because really, a truly wimpy kid does't WANT to be a wimpy kid, and, like Greg, most would try to get ahead in whatever way possible.  Don't get me wrong, Greg's not malicious or anything.  His diary just offers a perfect platform for him to truly speak his mind with an honesty that not all children's authors can capture. 

Hands down the best quality of this book is that it is an instant hook for reluctant readers.  If there is a child in your life who claims that they're not "into reading," hand them a copy of Wimpy Kid and I promise you they will be hooked.  It can be tough to hook boys into reading at times, and there isn't a boy in my classroom who doesn't love this series.  The honesty, the snarkyness, and the hilarious cartoons offer something that not only can kids relate to, but that is down right entertaining (and just doesn't feel like reading!  in a good way!).  And hey, I loved it too--a 22 year old female NOT reluctant reader.  So really, you can't go wrong. 

If you don't have this series in your classroom, splurge and buy it!

more good & bad

Well, when I wrote Friday that the day sucked, I wasn't being dramatic in the least.  I'm not even going to get into what happened, because I honestly don't want to think about it.  The general picture is this:  we took a field trip, and of course my little behavior problem child was in my group.  While at the museum, his behavior was so inappropriate that I you wouldn't believe some of it.  I spent the entire trip praying for it to just end and praying that he wouldn't just grab something and break it.  It was the most disruptive, defiant behavior pretty much ever.  And on a field trip, of course, there isn't much you can do about it. 

Then, the cherry on top was a student from another class was in my group, and was being bothered by my student.  When I leaned close to him and put my hand lightly on his shoulder to whisper, "Why don't you move away from him if he's bothering you," he snapped, "Get your dirty hand off me."  Yup, it was quite the day.

After school though, I went out for a drink with a veteran teacher on my team and two other young teachers.  My team teacher, Mrs. P, reminded me not to let one child ruin my career.  She reminded me that no matter how horrible he is, I can't quit on the other 23 students who need me.  She also stressed the importance of going home and thinking about those wonderful kids in my class, NOT thinking about the one kid who makes my life hell. 

So, in the interest of taking her advice, I'm going to share a couple happy thoughts.  My school does an evening called Celebrate Reading & Writing, at which each class shares a book of writing they made.  Most classrooms do class books, or all write a poem, or something.  In the interest of time, I assigned the project as homework and asked each student to go home and write SOMETHING.  It could be anything they wanted.  I also really just wanted to see what they would choose to write about on their own.  I received stories, plays, narratives, informational paragraphs, poems, and even a comic.  As I was typing them up last night (again, knowing it would be so much faster for me to just type them), I read one student's mystery story about Miss Teacher and her missing diamond. :D  I love when I'm a character in the kids' writing.  (And what is this about a missing diamond?? I wish!)  I also read a student's acrosstic poem called CLASS, in which the second S was "Stunning Teacher."  These two little moments made me smile. 

I love so many kids in my class, and I love being their teacher.  It's just so hard coming home depressed every day about the kid who is terrorizing everyone, especially me.  I can't help but think how many easier jobs there are out there: waitress, barista, florist, nanny...I bet those people don't come home on a Friday night so bummed out by the day that they just lay around reading.  I'm trying to remember that I teach for the kids in my room who love learning and who work hard every day.  I can't let them down.  But man, I just don't know if I can take this crap anymore from this one student...

October 23, 2009

this. day. sucked.

i cannot even relive it right now...more tomorrow.

October 21, 2009

Trail of Tears (or, how I actually taught some social studies and attempted to make it meaningful)

Okay, I admit it.  I don't like social studies very much.  It's just not my thing.  Our text books suck, there's not enough time, it's not a tested area, blah blah blah.  I could go on forever.  My team has been teaching Native Americans in social studies, and I just can't see how learning all kinds of little things about different tribes is going to prepare them for the real world.  Especially since some of them can barely read.

Anyways, I finally made it a point to teach SOME social studies last week and this week (because I actually need to put a grade on the report cards!!), and decided that, since the curriculum is less than satisfactory, I'm going to teach about things that I think matter.  So, I decided to teach about the Trail of Tears.  I wish we could do a whole unit on it, but with the intense guidelines I have for teaching reading, there is just not enough time in the day.  A couple class periods would have to be enough.  Today, I sat my kids down on the rug and had them think about the area in which they live.  They, we talked about how it is different today from hundreds of years ago.  We discussed what the land was like, and of course, who lived here.

Then, I "remembered" a notice that "had been in my mailbox" at lunch.  I unrolled a scroll and read the students the District Relocation Act that stated that our district had the right to remove any class from its classroom to make space for "more important" students.  The kids were outraged--to my shock, many of them believed it!  We discussed fervently all the reasons why we should resist the proclamation, and some of the reasons why we should just do what it said.  After a few minutes of discussion, the time came when it was time for us to "relocate."  The kids were angry that they weren't allowed to bring their backpacks, books, or supplies.  We walked out to the sidewalk and sat down.  "This is our new classroom,"  I said.  Angry, frustrated cries filled the air.  The students couldn't believe that our principal would allow this.  Why were WE the class to be kicked out, and not the other fifth grades?  How could other students be more important than us?  What will we do if it rains tomorrow?  What will happen to all of our stuff????

When I brought the students back to the classroom, I told them it was all a simulation.  I still am shocked that they thought it was real!  5th graders constantly surprise me.  So often, I think they'll be too old for something, but really they're still just kids.  They love sitting on the carpet, listening to me read picture books, art projects, and the firecracker cheer.  They believe me when I say we are being removed from our classroom and will be having class outside. (I guess my proclamation looked official!)  But then again, I hear them discussing things that they are WAY too young for.  So you never can tell...

In any case, they definitely got it today.  When I read aloud "Samuel's Memory," a story of a child on the Trail of Tears, they sat in awe, and I could feel how distressed they were.  (Then of course, they say something like, "He got served!" at the end, and I have to give them a talk about respect for the seriousness of this...but you can't win 'em all!)  This activity reminded me the importance of social studies, but more importantly, the importance of relevent social studies.  My students aren't going to leave the classroom thinking about the shelter the Hopi tribe built.  But I know today they left thinking about the unfairness of the Trail of Tears.

In fact, as we were discussing Andrew Jackson and the Indian Removal Act, one of my students raised his hand.  (I apologize, but this quote is just paraphrased--trust me, though, this was the general idea) "Miss Teacher, I don't mean this in a bad way, but, well, was Andrew Jackson white?  Because, I mean, sometimes people think they're better than people of other races."  (This student, by the way, is Hispanic, like many of my students.  My school is very diverse, with many different ethnicities represented).  This was one of those moments when I WISHED I knew the exact right thing to say.  Lightbulbs were going off around an imaginary sign in my brain that read "TEACHABLE MOMENT!!!!"  But...this wasn't one of the questions I'd anticipated.  The best I could do was, "Yes, he was.  And you're right.  Our country has a terrible history of discriminating against people of other races" (we had, afterall, been talking about Civil Rights that morning).  I went on to remind him that it wasn't just one group of people discriminating against the Cherokee, it was the majority of the country.  And I'm not sure if I answered his question correctly.  They don't teach that kind of thing in ed studies.  But...well, it reminded me that this kind of question and this kind of historical event are the ones that really matter to my kids.  They live that question.

So I'm glad that I made time for social studies today.  I am interested to see where we go tomorrow...

(PS- during this same lesson, I had a student tell me that Native Americans are extinct.  Then, when I corrected him, actually tried to fight me on it.  This wasn't a conversation I ever anticipated having...
"-Oh, that's why Native Americans are extinct.
-Actually, there are many still living in the United States.  You're right, many did die, but we still have...(gets cut off)
-No, they're extinct!
-No, actually...
-Are too!"
You can't make this stuff up.)

October 19, 2009

It's my hope that by the end of the year I will be able to wake up before 6am without hitting snooze a hundred times first, setting three separate alarms, and still being incredibly tired when I do drag myself out of bed. 

So.  Tired.

October 17, 2009

Could this be progress?

Since my posts for the past weeks have all been related to a certain troubled (and troubling...) student, I'd like to share one positive moment from yesterday.  I have let this student and his mother know that he is allowed to bring gum to school (in a desperate attempt to calm his sensory-seeking body and focus his mind).  Yesterday, he showed me in the morning the pack of stride gum he had brought.  He asked if I liked it, and I told him that I usually chew orbit gum and hadn't really tried stride very much.  He offered me a piece!  I asked if I could wait until lunch time and he said "sure."  Then, at lunch, he came over to my desk and handed me a piece of gum.  A big smile materialized on my face.  It was the highlight of my day

I know it may seem small, but this is the child who made it his personal mission the past few days to derail my entire lesson, distract his whole class, and make me insanely angry.  He knows exactly how to make me angry, and has no restraint in doing so.  Then yesterday, he gave me a piece of gum.  While I know this act does not mean our difficult relationship is over and his behavior will be angelic from now on, I appreciated so much this reminder that this child is not evil.  He does not hate me.  He is capable of being civil and kind.  I needed so much this reminder that he is just a little boy and we really do have a relationship.  The problems with his behavior are so much deeper than me or my classroom, and sometimes when he's acting out of control, he really is feeling out of control.  How scary it must be for him to, some days, feel like he can't control his body or his words or his emotions.  How frustrating it must be for him to melt down and then go the rest of the day knowing that he made a mistake and not be able to turn himself around.  How sad it must be to think somedays that I hate him.  I don't hate him.  I hate this behavior.

When he gave me a piece of gum, it was the reminder I needed that this child is really just that: a child.  He needs me and looks up to me.  He offered me a piece of gum.  He didn't offer any to the other students, but to me, the teacher who he has terrorized all week.  And even though I really hate cinnamon gum, I accepted it and pretended it was the best gum I had ever tasted.  And it kind of was.

Gum is not the magic fix to all that's going on with this student, unfortunately.  But I know we will get through this.

October 15, 2009

More Fun...

I brought home a whole bin of papers to grade tonight...but I only got as far as writing tomorrow's newsletter--at this point, I see even that as an accomplishment!  It was another touch and go day in the fifth grade zoo with regard to my "difficult" child.  We had another rotton morning, but the afternoon went well.  I am trying SO HARD to choose my battles, but honestly, I don't know which ones to choose sometimes!  My goal for myself for tomorrow is to find ways to distract him before he has the opportunity to spiral out of control.  And of course, to choose my battles better.  *sigh*  They really did not teach my enough in college.  Why isn't there a class in how to get these situations under control?  (And yes, I've tried every trick anyone has ever told me or that I've ever read about)  Also, why isn't there a class in how to make yourself come to work, composed and calm, and face the next day?

Well, things really aren't that bad.  It's just frustrating.  I want to help this kid so bad, and I hate the fact that I can't figure out something that works.   But we are taking baby steps. 

On the bright side, I FINALLY made time for social studies today.  Miracle!!!

October 14, 2009

you win some, you lose some

Just a quick update on my little "friend" at, my brand new behavior plan helped us have an outstanding morning in terms of behavior.  Really, it was amazing.  However, things quickly unraveled the last hour of the day.  I won't go into details right now, but it was NOT pretty. One of my wise 5th grade team members advised me to try and think about the positive students at night instead of the ones who make me want to call in sick tomorrow.  So I will just share a few bried smile moments of the day:

One of my "angel students" typed up a survey that he brought in to ask each student if they had any food allergies and their favorite candy, so that he can personalize his Halloween treats by our individual preferences.  It was multiple choice complete with an "other: __________" option.  Did I mention typed?  Unreal.

While filling out this survey, under the allergies section, one of my girls raised her hand.  "How do you spell amoxicilian?"  "Sweetheart, I don't think you need to write that..."

At autism therapy this afternoon, my little sweety and I were talking about our days. I told him I'd had a rough one because one of my students was having trouble behaving.  Being well-versed in the art of rough days and behavior management, he asked me more about the student and the events that transpired today.  After awhile, I asked him to give me a hug to make me feel better. :)  Of course he obliged and said, "Oh Amy, you had a bad day but let's let him have another chance tomorrow."  My thoughts exactly. 
^This is why I work a 9 hour day Wednesday's, race out of school and straight to his house for therapy, then go BACK to school to do work until 8pm.  Moments like this are so worth it.

So, as my wise little friend advised, we will start fresh tomorrow.  I better be well rested for the next adventure in the fifth grade jungle!  Who knows what tomorrow will bring!

October 13, 2009

another rough one

I had another ROUGH day's praying that my new behavior plan we're trying tomorrow helps...seriously, because I will never make it through the year if this continues.

October 10, 2009

I admit, that was a little dramatic...

Okay, I'm calm now. I know that that last post was a little dramatic, but that's how caught up in the whole thing I was feeling. My goal for myself and this child for next week:
stay calm. don't let him get to me. remember, he doesn't do it because he hates me. he needs my help whether he admits it or not. choose my battles.

Anyways, I am calm now, thanks to drinks and chips & salsa with a friend I don't see often enough last night. Thank goodness it's a long weekend--I need to pause and regroup. It's amazing though how the entire rest of this week was great. I'm feeling so much better about so many things. And then this one thing happens with one student and suddenly I feel like the worst teacher and person in the world.

Welcome to my crazy world of black-and-white thinking! Does that go hand in hand with perfectionism? Most likely. :) Oh well. My goal for the weekend is to take some school breaks. This morning's break is brunch with my girlfriends and I am determined to talk about many other things besides school! Then hitting the books this afternoon with some grading and planning. I'm actually looking forward to some of the planning, though, because I FINALLY came up with an idea for a social studies lesson that I actually like! It's a miracle. I thought this day would never come.

Anyways, if, after reading that last horrible post you thought I might be quitting, don't worry. That's crazy. I was just a little crazy yesterday. I'm much better now. Phew.

Annd...these final words on teaching: I cannot be the perfect teacher, but this does not mean I cannot be a good teacher. Tension with one student does not negate the relationships I have formed with 23 other students.

Off to brunch--spending time with people who are NOT teachers for a change! As much as I LOVE my teacher friends, I might need this :)

October 9, 2009

To the child who made me cry today:

How do you do it? How do you make so angry, so frustrated, so stressed? Our argument today happened ten hours ago, yet somehow I'm sitting here at home on a Friday night, so upset with you that I can't get over it. I don't understand how you are able to make me this angry. And I really don't understand why you do it. Today, I thought, "You are the student who is going to make me quit my job." Yes, that's dramatic, but no child has made me feel so livid and push me so close to the edge as you did today.

When you decide to misbehave, you make me feel that YOU are the one running the class. I hate that feeling. Every strategy for classroom management I've been taught is lost on you. Whatever I say, whatever I do, you have a comeback. You just don't care.

You make me forget why I love teaching. You make my classroom feel like a prison and you make me feel like the worst person in the world. I am out of ideas. I don't understand why you behave this way some days, and other days have a huge smile and want to tell me about your favorite books and joke around with me. I don't get it!!! I don't understand. But I am trying so hard. I refuse to tolerate your lack of effort. No, I won't accept the work that you hastily made up answers on just so you can get it over with. This is not your best. Do it again.

And then...then, we get into an argument. Because I refuse to put an F in my gradebook for you when I know you are capable of SO. MUCH. MORE. I am doing everything I know how to help you learn and grow and achieve. But I can only take you so far.

Don't you see? I WANT to help you. I WANT to understand you. But on days like today, when you act like you did and yell and throw your things around, when you kick your chair and stop class with your protesting yell that you did nothing wrong, even though you know what choice you made...days when you leave me so shaking angry that I wonder if I'll be able to pull myself together enough to teach my next lesson...on days like today, I just want to give up and say, "Okay. You win. Congrats."

So here I am, 8:24 Friday night, still crying about how I'm failing you as a teacher. And how I'm allowing you to get to me. And how you are making me fail as the teacher to the other 23 kids in our class. And as much as I know I need to let it's not that easy. Today you made me want to quit my job. I know that that's ridiculous: I'm frustrated, I'm exhausted. I also know that I will never quit on you.

I will never quit on you. Let me say that once more: I will never quit on you. I don't understand why you're so angry.  But you need to understand that I will never quit on you. We will make it through this year.

October 7, 2009

what made my day today

Almost every day, I have a handful of kids stay in at recess to make up hw. Today, after finishing his, one of my students came up to my desk.

"Miss Teacher, do you believe in finders keepers losers weepers?"

", i don't really think so."
"You don't?"
"No, why?"
"Just asking."
"Well, I think that if you lose something, and someone found it, wouldn't you like them to return it to you?"
"What if you had no idea whose it was?"
"Well, you could put it in the lost and found."
"What if it was something that didn't belong at school?"
"Are you asking me this for a specific reason?"
My student reached into his pocket and pulled out a nintendo ds game he had found.

At first, i didn't know quite what to say. I knew i should choose my words very carefully.
"If that were yours, wouldn't you want it back?"
"Why don't you bring that to the office."
He agreed.
"I'm proud of you, by the way. It can be really hard to do the right thing sometimes. Thank you for letting me know that."
That's what I said out loud, but it didn't do justice to the pride I was feeling about this student. He's not the kid you'd expect to find a game and tell the teacher about it. I could tell he was a little conflicted about the whole thing. But I am SO incredibly proud that he did. It's moments like this that make me feel like i just might be doing my job. Even if i wasn't the one who made him think, "hey, maybe i should return this game," he at least knew that he could come ask me about it. The fact that this student, one who frequently forgets his hw, one who can have an attitude at times, and who doesn't often come to me just for a chat, the fact that he knew he could come ask me what i thought, makes me feel like i've made some impact on him. i teach for moments like this.

October 5, 2009

I just copied Michael Jackson's greatest hits onto my ipod because the kids keep pestering me about it. I'm feeling torn: On the one hand, I feel like I should only play Beatles until they decide they like them (It pains me that they don't!!!). But on the other, Michael Jackson is so superior to all the trash on the radio these days. So I'll take what I can get :)

just another manic monday

Last night I set my alarm for 5am. After staying up a good two hours later than usual scrambling to get some last minute grading done, my lesson plans finished, and writing post-it notes in my leveled readers for my aide to use when he met with a guided reading group (if I don't write out word for word EXACTLY what I want him to say, it's a disaster. This being said, it is sometimes a disaster anyways...), I didn't exactly wake up on time. Let me rephrase that. I woke up at 6:23. I left my house at 6:35. I know, I'm awesome. I didn't exactly shower and putting on makeup really just involved me smearing (literally) on some foundation and brushing on a little mascara, but somehow I got in my car with my coffee and mug of oatmeal to eat on the way. Phew!

Anyways, after that FRANTIC start to the day, I assumed that the whole day would be a nightmare. However, it actually went just fine. The kids were only marginally chatty today (with the exception of two who are making me CRAZY with their attitudes...when I tell you to stop talking, just stop. Don't say 'what did i do???' and groan), which for a Monday, is a small miracle.

Some of my favorite things today/recently:
1. Starting element 2 of the Daily 5: We started Work on Writing today, which is going well so far. Just like Read to Self, it is a miracle that the kids can actually sit and work quietly. I LOVE IT. I know that they're going to love being able to choose what to write about, and they love the opportunity to sit all over the room and quietly work. And I love the quiet too. :)

2. One of my girls brought in her "fashion notebook" to share with me in which she has all her clothing designs, divided into sections of dresses, pants, skirts, vests, sweaters, church dresses (i know.), bathing suits, and pajamas. There might have been a few more sections, I can't remember. Each section had a page of drawings of the clothing, and then pictures of the outfits on models. It was AMAZING. She showed me the entire thing page by page and pointed out her favorites. Not only was it adorable, but it was a wonderful reminder that I really have built a relationship with these kids.

3. My student who is incredibly bright but has done little to no quality work this year had a very serious parent-teacher conference. When I shared with her and her parents last week the samples of her "work" (by which I mean lack there of), she was visibly upset and her parents took it very seriously. Today, when she wrote her reading response letter for the week in her journal, she showed it to me when she was finished, and was so proud that she'd written an entire page. This was HUGE for her, and it meant so much just to see that not only had she put forth the effort, but that she actually was proud of herself.

4. I added some new books to some of the kids' book boxes this morning, and some of them were really excited to see my picks for them. That will never get old. I don't care that it's more work for me to choose the books, I love it and they do too. Which I guess I understand--I know I would feel pretty special even now if someone brought me a book and said, "I chose this JUST for YOU." :)

So, once again, it's the little joys that pull me through the manic mondays. Things still really suck from time to time (especially when the copier breaks for the millionth time...seriously, aren't we a Title 1 school? Can't we use some funds for a freakin copier???), but sometimes there are things I just love. I'm reminding myself to focus on the little things. There are rarely perfect days, but there can be perfect moments. They are what are getting me through this.

October 4, 2009

updates on the class fish

I just received a question from one of my (few) readers about the outcome of the class fish crisis, so I thought I should update about that. Thankfully, Ultimate Fighting Champion (UCF for short) is alive and well. Well, he was as of Friday. I always worry about him over the weekend. :) I cleaned out all the gross extra food that had settled at the bottom of his bowl, gave him fresh water, and put him on a diet. By this I mean, he now only receives the CORRECT amount of food each day, instead of the huge dumping of food he was previously receiving. He seems to have made a great recovery. Phew. 1 crisis evaded...:)

October 3, 2009

parent conferences--check!

This past week was one of the longest, most exhausting ones so far this year. I was at school every day for at least 12 hours preparing preparing for conferences in addition to my regular thousand and a half things to do. But, miraculously, I made it through the week and all my conferences (minus one to be made up Monday and two that will happen over the phone next week). Conferences were not too scary. We had both the parents and the student at the conferences, which I loved. I got to discuss my concerns, but it was more of a conversation between all of us. When I showed examples of the poor quality of work I was receiving from some students, the parent got to talk to the student about it right then. I'm hoping that this will result in some changes in certain students next week. *fingers crossed* Most of the parents were completely supportive and even the ones who I had to discuss some issues with were on the same page as me. How refreshing. One parent commented that she hasn't been getting anything sent home that I'd actually graded, but honestly that is her child's fault because he is so freaking disorganized that nothing seems to make it home. I cannot go home with him and place it neatly on the table for mom to see. I'm doing what I can.

Anyways, now that conferences are done, the next big looming event in the future is...REPORT CARDS. They are still over a month away, but I know that they will be here before I know it. So...I guess I need to teach some science and social studies! Slap some points on things, get a grade in the grade book, etc. Yikes.

On that note, it's off to starbucks to grade papers and write lesson plans...

September 30, 2009

To the child who stole from me;

When I caught you with your hands in my desk drawer, I got angry.  When I asked what you were doing and a series of lies poured  frantically out of your mouth one after another, I got furious.

Don't you understand that I give everything to you and your classmates?  90% of my day I spend with you, worrying about you, planning things to do with you, or talking about you.  I spend my money and time all on YOU.  You have become a part of my life.  I do everything I can to help you learn and grow both academically and emotionally.

I trust you.  I put books out in the room and let you borrow them and take them home.  I leave my purse in a cabinet.  I have stickers and candy and a camera in my desk drawer.  I leave my laptop in the room when you are here. I trust you not only because you are a child, but because we are a team. 

Then, when your hands are in my desk taking something of mine and I see you in the act of stealing and yet you have the guts to lie to my face about what you did, everything is turned upside down.  I sent you out in the hall to sit because I couldn't look at you right then.  I felt disgusted.  I felt angry.  I felt...betrayed.  By you.  A little girl.  I trusted you and your classmates.   

I let you wait until the end of the day before we talked.  I admit, part of me wanted you to think about what you did.  But another part of me knew that if I talked to you before then, I'd yell.  After school, I wanted you to tell me why you did what you did.  Yet again, the excuses poured from your mouth as fast as the tears down your cheeks: "I found it," "I was going to put it back," "I didn't mean to," "I didn't do it," "I was borrowing it."  You couldn't explain why.  I sent you home to explain what you did to your parents, knowing that that would be punishment enough.

The next day, you apologized.  We chose a logical consequence.  You accepted it.  You looked at me, still teary, and I saw how young you are.  You became not just a child who stole but a child who would do anything to earn my trust back.  When I told you that you had broken my trust, I meant it.  When I told you we could move on, I meant that too.

I am still your teacher.  I still care deeply about you.  I still will make your education my priority and still lose sleep, worrying that I'm not doing enough for you.  We will forget about this.  I am not angry anymore.  But I will still wonder sometimes if leaving my ipod in my desk is a mistake.  I will still wonder sometimes if I should keep better track of which books you and your classmates take home at night, and check that you brought them back.

You reminded me that it's as important to teach morals and character in school as reading and math.  Sometimes it's easier to say, "Oh, the kids will learn that at home.  It's not my job."  But what happens to the kids that don't learn those things at home?  If it's not my job, then whose is it?

what, you don't find the temperature in here quite comfortable?

Why being the teacher is sometimes better than being the student:

I have control over the temperature in the room. So. Much. Power.

Student: "Miss Teacher, I'm so cold! It's freezing in here!"
Teacher says: "That's too bad, remember to bring a jacket!"
Teacher means: "Really...I'm quite comfortable. I'm running up and down the stairs 50 times a day, standing in front of a hot copier, and then doing a song and dance up at the front of the room to get your attention! I need it a little cool in here. Deal with it!"

Just kidding...but only kind of :)

September 28, 2009

grr mondays...

Dear Kids,

Please talk less tomorrow. Please. You're making me crazy.


Miss Teacher

September 26, 2009

you know you're a teacher when... spend way too much money at target on stickers, colored pens, individually wrapped candy, decorative pencils, and miscellaneous little notebooks and stamps from the dollar bin...

drumroll, please...

...I think I actually enjoyed teaching this week!

Aside from being sick this week, things went very well, and I finally feel like I have figured some things out! I guess I should clarify: I am still making things up as I go along and 90% of the time I am confused, but a lot of things are feeling better. For example, shared reading went really well this week. Maybe it was because I was so interested in the topic, or maybe it's because we have gotten into a good routine, but things just felt better. Easier, more relaxed, and more, well, successful. So yay!

There are still a million things I'm figuring out, and everyday another thing gets added. For example, at my postobservation meeting with the principal, he asked how I'm helping my tier 3 (lowest) kids in preparation for boosting ISAT scores. My response: ummm....
And now that we're switching for math, I have to start getting into a whole new routine with my new math class. But, I feel less lost than I did a few weeks ago. I haven't cried lately, and I've enjoyed some things at school. I feel like I've been building a good rapport with most of my students, and am continuing to work on getting to know each one separately (which is hard--I am constantly thinking about which students I am neglecting or letting fall through the cracks, and I feel terrible about this). Things are getting better. Thank goodness.

In other news, Parent conferences are this week: yikes!! I'm terrified...

On that note, I better get back to my grading. But first, here're a few more words to teach by:

A child is not a vessle to be filled, but a lamp to be lit.
Hebrew proverb

September 24, 2009

my 1st observation, or, "shooting for the stars in literacy" ;)

Today was my first time being observed by my principal--oh the excitement. I am one of the most anxious people on the planet (ok, exaggerating a little, but only a little) and really tend to freak out before things like this. However, this morning I was able to calm down, remembering that my WORST teaching happens when I am nervous (flashbacks to the lesson I taught when I interviewed here! yikes...). Thankfully, the lesson went really great. The kids were on task (maybe the principal should observe every day?), they participated, and we had a great time. And, MOST exciting for me was that the kids FINALLY got interested in the subject matter!
Our reading theme for the week is space (my favorite!!!!), and Monday when I introduced it, I asked the kids who thought they might want to be an astronaut when they grew up. Guess how many hands shot into the air?


That's right, zero. I had to practically hold back my tears! I would have spent a MONTH on space, reading and writing about it, but thanks to my friendly literacy series, I must test and move on every week. :-/ Anyways, so my big goal was for them to get at least a little interested in space by the end of the week. Today I think I got my proof--some of them seemed to think the whole idea was pretty cool! Not sure if I have any budding Aldrins or Armstrongs, but I still have another 8 months to pound it into their heads. :)

Anyways, back to the observation. I managed to stay calm and was pleased with how it went. Even my challenging little buddy stayed on task and participated (our MORNING was great today, the end of the day unraveled...). When he left after the observation, he even left a note on my desk telling me I did a great job and that I have definitely built a relationship with my kids. Maybe he's not regretting hiring me after all...well, not yet. Maybe after ISATs...

Well, I made it through another week. Now I have to frantically get some more grades in the gradebook and get ready for conferences next week! I am literally petrified of parent conferences. I know that for the most part I don't have scary parents, but still...I hate that, "You're so young!" stare and "But, do you have children yourself? So, you don't understand, do you" comment... oh well.

September 22, 2009

1 sick day down

Well, I'm definitely glad I took everyone's advice and took a sick day today. There is no way I would have made it through a day of school the way I felt all day! I went to bed last night at 8:30 and slept until 11:30 this morning. Then I took two more naps during the afternoon, and still am completely exhausted and ready for bed at 8:15 tonight. Yikes. I hope I have more energy tomorrow!

It was nice to catch up on sleep, and after pumping my body full of vitamins, I am sincerely hoping this cold is on its way out. Even though I left very detailed subplans, my sub still had a few curve balls thrown at her today it turns out! I woke up at 5am remembering that Tuesday is band/orchestra lessons day, and I forgot to post the schedule on the board. Oops! I'm hoping the kids checked the schedule at home before school like they're supposed to, and found their way to lessons without my reminder. They are, afterall, fifth graders... :) Also, this afternoon we were supposed to have one of our biweekly community meetings with the social worker, but it turns out those are starting NEXT week...soo I hope the sub was able to come up with something to do with them for that half hour!

I know that teachers tend to fall into the self-righteous trap of thinking that the world will come crashing to a halt (or at least the school day) if we're not there, but I'm so glad that I took today to take care of myself. Hopefully nobody died and according to my neighbor teacher, there were no screams or anything from the next room! Phew. While still tired, I am feeling much better than I did this morning, although I seem to have developed a nice deep, attractive cough... :-/

A half gallon of v8 spash and a box of tylenol cold later, I am heading back to school tomorrow, cough or no cough!

September 21, 2009

zinc, vitamin c, and kleenex, oh my

Well, looks like tomorrow is going to be sick day #1 for this stuffed up first year teacher. They all told me I'd catch every illness under the sun this first year. Hopefully this one's just a cold. I should have known when my guided reading group members actually needed to bring the whole kleenex box over to our table Friday...I had every intention of sticking it out and getting through the week, but today after school my mentor convinced me to take the day off tomorrow. She's right, one day of rest will hopefully make all the difference, whereas going to school would make this cold drag out nice and long.

Anyways, at 8:23pm it's off to bed for me... :(

(good thing i finally registered with subfinder this morning...)
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