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...
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