January 30, 2010

This test won't beat me--it will not make me sad! :)

As I lay awake Thursday evening worrying about the fast-approaching ISATs (I know, I really need to chill.  I'm working on it...), I wondered if there was a song out there that I could teach my kids to help pump them up for the tests.  You know, some magic "Do your best on ISAT!" to break that test-panic that we are all (myself included) starting to get into. Well, I found a song written to the tune of "I will survive" about the Texas TAKS test. However, it was too short and if I may say so, sub-par (you know I've always been a perfectionist!). So, I decided to write me own.

I Will Survive--The ISATS!
(sing to tune of Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive)

At first I was afraid, I was petrified.
Kept thinkin' I could never pass the ISAT if I tried.
But then I spend so many nights
Thinkin' hard and thinkin' long,
And I grew strong,
And I learned ow to carry on.

Now ISAT's back, from outer space.
I just walked in to find that test there
staring me right in the face.
I know that I can really rock.
I know that I have got the key.
And now I know it's all because
My teacher's taught the strategies.

Like check your work!
Look in the text!
If I work slowly, I know that I will do my best.
I can highlight the key words.
Cross off answers that are bad.
This test won't beat me--it will not make me sad!
Oh no not I,
I will survive.
Oh as long as I know strategies I know I'll stay alive.
I've got pencils that are new
My teacher's given me the clues.
I will survive--I will survive, hey hey!

It took all the strength I had not to just give up.
Kept trying hard to find the answers before time was up.
But I spent oh so many days
practicing lots of strategies
I used to cry
Now I hold my head up high!
And you see me
Somebody new
I'm not that nervous little student
Still afraid of you.
I know all the strategies
I'm prepared to rock this test
Now I'm ready for the ISAT
And I know I'll do my best!

I'll check my work!
Look in the text!
I will work slowly, I know that I will do my best.
I will highlight the key words,
Cross off answers that are bad.
This test won't beat me--it will not make me sad!
Oh no not I--I will survive
Oh, as long as I know strategies
I know I'll stay alive.
I've got pencils that are new
My teacher's given me the clues
I will survive--I will survive...oh...
I will survive!

January 27, 2010

Making time for ME amidst a storm of staff development and ISAT prep

Today was an early-release day for staff development--those definitely have their pros and cons! 

Pros: an extra 5 minutes for lunch, going out to lunch with some of the staff, actually getting to sit down and use the bathroom whenever I want, not having to plan a whole day, spending time with my team.
Cons: frequently boring, nothing to keep me awake (like frantically teaching as I normally am), occassionally a waste of my time, plan time sacrificed.

 While this meant less to prepare for the day, it took away all the time I usually use during the day to plan for tomorrow!  Since I leave RIGHT at the end of staff development Wednesdays to go work with my little autistic kiddo, I didn't even get to clear off my desk or print my lesson plans before I left.  Leaving without the next day's materials and plans all set always leaves me a little bit stressed.  By the time I got home from work today, I was starting to get pretty nervous about being prepared for tomorrow.  I know that's silly-sounding, but with the way my math lessons have gone the past few days, and with having a sub for Friday that I have to figure out on top of it all, I'm not sure my nervousness was unfounded.  Once an anxiety-ridden person, always an anxiety-ridden person! 

Anyways, I got my plans in order, but as I started reading the extended responses from a reading ISAT practice I gave the kids Monday, my stomach started sinking.  If these prompts are any indicator, I am 99% sure that the majority of my kids will not meet on ISATs.  Yiiiikes.  They were...not good.  After all the work we have done on them, I'm not sure what's happening, and I can't help but feel a bit like a failure.  What went wrong?  What haven't I done?  Honestly, what I think is happening is that when they write an extended response on its own, they take their time and do alright.  But when it's combined with multiple choice, they rush and answer it like it's just a short response question, forgetting all our "In the text..." and "this reminds me..." practice.  Sooo...in these last rapidly depleting days before THE TEST, I guess all I can do is keep reminding them of what they've learned and keep practicing.  I never understood why teachers got so freaked out about standardized tests, and even now I still can't explain to my non-teacher friends why this happens.  However, I am now one of those teachers.  To the college professors who told me, "Just teach your best all year and your students will be fine," YOU WERE WRONG!!

Anyways.  After all this, I decided to actually make time for me for a change by spending some quality time with my wii fit.  Believe it or not, I am NOT left with the lingering feeling after of, "Oh, I should have been using that time for something constructive instead of working out..." I actually am feeling LESS stressed and thoroughly enjoyed the workout.  Yay!  Yesterday I decided to go for a run at the gym when I left work, and it had a similar effect.  Isn't it strange how when I actually take time I could be using to get work done and use it for something constructive, I feel less on edge than I would have if I kept working?  I guess it's true that we all need breaks sometimes!  Who knew?

January 25, 2010

What made me smile today:

Today, I was glancing through some homework from last week.  Every Thursday, I have the kids do a short writing assignment using their vocabulary words from the week.  I pick a topic or assignment based on the weekly reading theme, and since last week's theme was "get out the vote," they wrote persuasive paragraphs to convince the reader to vote for someone they knew for president.  Well, one of my students who definitely causes his fair share of disruptions in the class wrote about me.  He wrote about that I always cheer the kids up, and that I care about them and make learning fun by teaching them interesting things every day.   He even included a campaign poster on the back that said, "Amy Rocks!" complete with a fist with painted fingernails.  Amazing.  That definitely made me smile on this sleepy, sleepy Monday.

January 24, 2010

Here we go again, Miss Perfectionist

Ok, so here it is.  After grading ISAT practice expository essays for a few hours Friday afternoon, (okay, so it was about this much grading and THIS MUCH chatting with Mrs. J), I started feeling conflicted.  Part of me is so proud of the growth some of these kids have made.  I mean, thinking back to my diagnostic writing assessments at the beginning of the year, a bunch of these kids have seriously come lightyears.  They have voice, hooks, second order support, and transitions.  A few almost brought me to tears.

But then there is the far too large to ignore group of students who, well, have made less progress...And while a few of the essays were flat out hilarious with their odd examples, convoluted "support," and random lapses in focus, the reality is that they are really frustrating.  We have worked SO HARD on writing this year.  And it is amazing to see the growth, but so disheartening to not see growth in some students.

Mrs. J. pointed out to me that some of these students I'm so worried about have made growth.  As I think about it, yes, I see the growth.  But...there is just so much further to go.  And I have to wonder, do I get so caught up in my own standards when I look at my students' work?  See, "good enough" has never been good enough for me.  And baby steps have never been easy.  A little bit of progress has on many occassions just reminded me of how much further I have to go.  And as I sit and think about my students and how I tend to feel when I grade their work, I'm realizing that it's not them I get disappointed with--it's me. 

Being the perfectionist extraordinaire that I am, I like to see results from my hard work to validate the fact that I am actually accomplishing something.  I have been working so hard this year at becoming a good teacher and developing my teaching craft.  I have also been working SO hard to teach these kids writing.  Since there is no real curriculum for writing, I have spent hours brainstorming how to teach effectively, grading work, conferencing with the kids, and trying to help them grow as writers.  And to see that some of them have so far to come still is hard, because I can't help but think that it just means that I'm not doing enough. 

That's an easy trap to fall into with teaching--am I ever doing enough?  They all just need so much all the time.  I am only one person.  I cannot give everyone everything they need all the time.  As much as I wish wish wish I could.  So...I think I will try to keep reminding myself that to do my best will have to be good enough, just like my students' best will, in the end, have to be good enough.  That is all we can ask of each other.

January 21, 2010

oh what a day

My current stresses: ISATs, conferences, kids who don't turn in their work, kids who turn in crap work, kids who lose their work and have to start over...and over...and over, ISATs, having to bring treats for the teacher's lounge tomorrow, ISATs, the pile of papers I need to grade, oh did I mention ISATs...

What made me smile today: free books from the book room (woohoo!), birthday student bringing pizza and cupcakes for the class, the kids semi-comprehending our crazy hard reading this week about politics, and when my water bottle spilled and one of the kids jumped up, ran to get a paper towel, and helped me mop it up as though it were the natural thing to do...

Yikes, this teaching business is sure something...but I have to say, I think I'm gonna stick with it a little while...

January 10, 2010

The 1st Week Back

Last Sunday at this time I was sitting at home gradually getting more and more freaked out at the prospect of returning to school the following morning.  I'm not sure what did it, but I somehow managed to convince myself that during the 2 week break I had forgotten how to teach, the students would be a nightmare coming back to school, and the week would essentially be a trainwreck.  (Aren't I Miss Susie Sunshine?)  I tossed and turned all night and meticulously went over my lesson plans Monday morning, as nervous as I was the first day of school.  Why did I freak out this much?  I have no idea.  It's not like teaching is something you forget how to do.  So much of who I am is about teaching; why would I think that after a short two week vacation I would suddenly be inept? (Dear God, what will I be like next August after a 2 1/2 MONTH break??) 

Well, obviously I don't have to tell you my fears were unfounded.  This week actually went pretty great.  We spent a lot of time Monday morning reviewing classroom routines and procedures and going over our classroom rules.  The time was definitely well spent, and the kids were overall well-behaved this week.  Not perfect, but whose class is afterall. :)  Even my little challenge student seemed to be in good spirits.  He was testing me a lot Monday and Tuesday, but I just ignored any negative behavior and didn't let it get to me.  I guess I passed the test--at least for now! 

It's amazing how much more organized I feel about school.  I have a schedule that pretty much looks the same from week to week, I plan more in advanced and am able to avoid those horrible Monday morning copy rushes for the most part, and I have much fewer late nights at school.  (And late nights are now 6:30 or 7pm and not 10pm!  Even those 6:30 ones are rarer)  Basically, I just feel a little more in control.  There are still a million things that manage to go wrong allll the time, and some of the kids I still am not sure how to help or what to do with.  But...it's getting easier.  For sure.

Of course, over the coming weeks I am going to gradually become more and more on edge about ISATs...I already have taken down any superfluous posters to make room for all kinds of writing and math reminder posters, and I'm really not planning on teaching any science or social studies until late March...which breaks my heart to admit, but with both a writing test and a reading extended response to prepare for, it's going to be writing, writing, writing for the next month and a half.  But we WILL BE READY!

Anyways, I am hoping that this week goes as smoothly as last, and that this calm feeling keeps up.  It's refreshing...to actually enjoy teaching for a change. :)

January 6, 2010

Book Review: Flipped

I bought FLIPPED by Wendelin Van Draanen with the intention of putting it in my classroom library, but then became concerned that a book centered entirely around a relationship might be a little too old for some of my kiddos. So, I decided to preview Flipped.

At the risk of sounding silly, with in the first chapter I flipped for this book! I literally could not put it down. Van Draanen takes a story of adolescent relationship drama and combinines realistic dialogue, believable characters, and a fantastic he said/she said writing style to make a fantastic youth novel. The only reason I didn't give this novel 5 stars is that the ending was a bit abrupt. And by a bit, I mean very abrupt. What can I say, I had become very attached to Bryce and Juli and was not ready to let them go without a little more resolution!

January 3, 2010

Overreacting? Probably.

As the last hours of winter break dwindle away, I can't help but get nervous about going back to school tomorrow.  While I know it should be know big deal, it feels so much like the first day of school all over again (except I am even more nervous, because now I am starting to think about ISATs!).  What if I forget to copy something in the morning?  What if I forget someone's name?  What if the kids forgot EVERYTHING they learned before break?  What if they are incredibly off task because they forgot how to behave in a classroom???

Obv, the list goes on.  No matter how many times I look over my plans, I still feel unprepared.  There are so many things to do this week and not enough time to squeeze everything in AND start our ISAT prep.  Plus, I'm starting a social studies unit this week and don't know when I'm ever going to find time to teach that.

I know I am forgetting something for tomorrow...and I'm pretty sure that I will have a hard time sleeping tonight and be extra tired tomorrow.  I've really enjoyed this whole staying up past midnight and sleeping in until 10!  It's been fabulous!  My body isn't going to be too happy when my alarm goes off at 5:30 tomorrow--that is, if I even wake up to hear it!  Note to self: set extra alarms.

I guess I shouldn't be nervous.  I have everything I need ready and once the kids come in it will feel just like a regular day (I hope).  All that's different is I should be extra well rested after 2 weeks. Should being the optimal word. :)

Okay, off to pack up my things and attempt to relax/get some sleep.  Will update tomorrow about the chaos that likely took place in crazy room 202... 
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