February 24, 2010

Sticky Fingers...

I am a sucker for books.  I started collecting books for my classroom library LONG before I even had a teaching certificate, much less a classroom to put them in.  Every time I see a garage sale or thrift store or scholastic book order, I absolutely have to look.  And I don't allow myself in the children's section at borders because I have no self control but can't even remotely afford those price tags.  So needless to say, I have a pretty impressive library for a first year teacher.  I also have an "open door policy" in my classroom library.  While initially I planned to have the kids sign out books, after I started the Daily 5 I realized there was no way I could keep that up.  My kids all have book bins and I'm constantly tossing books in them, and encourage the kids to pass on books they've enjoyed to each other.  I think this is a positive thing for the kids, so I am willing to risk a few books getting lost in the shuffle here and there. 

That is I was until I realized the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books had disappeared from the "humor" section...I have 2 copies of each of the 4 books and haven't seen any of them for awhile.  All but 1 of them I bought with my own money and 1 is a hard back that cost me $9.  (I couldn't resist getting the newest RIGHT AWAY!)  I started asking the kids about them, and no one knew where they'd gone.  I started having stern discussions about the books and how I trust them to return them and how I bought them with my own money.  I threatened to take home all of the books if they didn't come back. 

I waited a week and none were returned.  I started getting even more frustrated.  I decided if books weren't returned this week, I was going to start calling every student's parents and asking them to be on the lookout, as well as cover all of the bookshelves in butcher paper and getting rid of book boxes (temporarily of course).  Books would be on a BYOB basis.  Yes, this conflicts with every best practice I know of, but I felt I needed to make a statement.

Thankfully, it did not come to that.  I have a little...stealer.  She has stolen cell phones, mp3 players, and the list goes on.  So, almost positive that it was her, I decided to call her mother and ask her to look around.  Well, today after school I had a voice mail from her saying she had found MANY books, in fact too many for her daughter to carry.  She will be delivering a bag to school Friday.

I know I should be disappointed in this child, but honestly I feel like a kid on Christmas--it feels like I'm getting a whole bag of new books Friday!  (never mind I already paid for them...)  Not sure what I should do about this student, though...She has already been reprimanded for each of the phone stealing incidents.  I somehow don't think anything I say or do will sink in.  Obviously she does not have book privileges in the classroom... but after that, I'm not sure what to do.  Thoughts/suggestions?

February 21, 2010

Oh my school...

Friday's guided reading made me laugh and shake my head with this fantastic quote:
Student: (reading) "and they foiled his plan."
Me: "Foil. That's a word with multiple meanings. What are some meanings for the word foil?"
Student: "like metal?"
Me: "Good, like tin foil."
Student: "yeah some people make grills out of that."
Me: (momentary silence) "um yes...can you think of any other meanings for the word foil..."

Oh my...

In other news, ISATs are 1 week away. And I'm not exactly feeling confident. I gave an extended response friday morning and when I graded it yesterday was more than a little dismayed to see that 3/4s of my class got 1s and 2s. After all our hard work. It is just so frustrating. Then my mom suggests that maybe I am grading them too harshly and I about lost it. Excuse me, mom, but while you are an excellent teacher, I don't appreciate hearing any suggestions from a teacher of gifted and talented students in an affluent school. Excuse me for thinking you just may not understand. I know it is not her I am frustrated with, and it's not even (entirely) the kids. Because as I was filling out report cards today, I saw how so many of my kids have made growth in their subjects since first trimester, and many have improved their grades. And as I wrote comments describing their work habits and social emotional development, I couldn't stop thinking, "These students are so much more than just a test score."
Good teaching is about so much more than test scores. I am frustrated that the state and the country do not understand that. My students are doing their best. I am doing my best. That is all we can do, at the end of the day.

February 17, 2010

Relax & Reteach

3 Day Weekends:  a tricky thing.
The pros:  putting my school work off until the last possible second, an extra night's sleep, actually getting to do something fun on the weekends (it's amazing what that extra day can do for you!)
The cons: CRAZY kids when we come back.  Man oh man, you'd think they had a 100 day weekend with they way they always seem to have forgotten how to function as a student.

Anyways, as wonderful as the weekend was (especially a night out with my best friend, catching up on family time with my brother, making it to the gym for the first time in a long time, and getting my snazzy new phone), the kids were NOT GOOD yesterday.  Yikes.

Today, though, I gave them a stern reminder of the rules (like Mrs. Mentor Teacher tells me: "there's a new sheriff in town, kids!") and we spent a good chunk of recess practicing routines like lining up in the hallway, raising hands, and what we do after lunch.  Believe it or not, they needed a little more practice later and we missed 5 minutes of PE practicing the same thing.  By know, though, I know with 100% certainty that a little reteaching now beats a lot of headache later.  Practice makes perfect after all ;)  (Mrs. J: I know we are both laughing right now about our dear little friend W...)

On another note, I had my LAST observation for the year last Thursday.  My principal came in to observe one of my guided reading groups, and it went great!  After he came in last time, I took some of his suggestions and worked them into my guided reading routine, and I felt really confident about the way everything went.  We met for a post-observation meeting yesterday and he had nothing but positive feedback, which was amazing to hear.  He also said that I have nothing to worry about for next year; that I'm definitely safe (aka I have a job), and if anything changes in the staffing plan or with budget cuts, he said he will "fight for me."  Wow, what a relief!!!!!  I can't believe that after being so ambivalent about accepting this job 10 months ago this place has come to feel like home.  I'm sure that many of my coworkers who have seen my frantic at the copier or crying in my classroom (or various other places in the school...) probably think I would leave here at the first opportunity, but really, that's not true at all. I love teaching, and I love teaching here, both in spite of and because of all the extra challenges and trials that come with the territory.  And while I don't yet know if I will be in the same grade or with the same team (what a miracle that would be), I am, tonight, grateful that I can breathe a small sigh of relief knowing that I may not have to live with my parents forever. :)

(though for now, I really am enjoying my parents' cooking for me, buying groceries, and various other wonderful things.  hmm...how much longer can I milk this before they realize how good I have it??)

February 11, 2010

Stupid Cupid

Note to self: do not wait until the last minute to buy valentines for students.

When I left school today after a very productive Thursday afternoon with my good friend The Copier, I started out on what I thought would be a quick and easy errand to buy some festive valentines day pencils.  Ha.  Easy.  What was I thinking...
Here's where it all began...

The other day, my mom made valentines for her student on the computer, printed them on cardstock, and cut them out.  They looked cute, so when she offered to print them for me (just change Mrs. to Miss please!), of course I agreed (while silently thinking she was silly for getting these ready days in advance...).   Well, and this is where it gets tricky, the cute little valentines message on the cards was something along the lines of, "Let's get to the point: Happy Valentines Day," and she was attaching a sharp new pencil to each card.  Get it?  Point?  "Okay," I thought, "that should be easy enough."  I figured I'd drive by the dollar store Thursday night after work and grab a couple packs of hearts and cupids pencils.

Well...it should be so simple.  No sooner than I had left school, but I found myself in a massive herd of parents and kids purchasing punch out cards, hearts candy, and cupcakes for the class party.  Yikes.  When Target let me down, I walked down the strip mall to Dollar Tree, only to find EASTER pencils.  Umm, huh?  "Alright, no big deal," I told myself, and continued my walk (in heels) to the other end of the strip mall.  "Surely Dominicks will have valentines gifts."  Nope.  Not even a section for candy and cards!  "Maybe I'll check Target 1 more time before admitting defeat."  This time, I felt a brief glimmer of hope when I spotted a cardboard bin on the shelf labeled "Valentines Pencils," only to find SPORTS pencils inside.  Really, Target?

By this time I was starving and had to open a box of crackers I had just bought in the car as I drove to Walgreens.  In my head, I pictured the huge, overflowing valentines aisle that I KNEW would be there.  Well...that aisle turned out to be a corner, and there were exactly 2 valentines pencils.  2.  Seriously.  Finally, I went home, put on my slippers, and immediately laid down on the couch.  Nothing like fruitless shopping to take the energy out of you!  Thankfully, my mom came through and found enough pencils for both of us (she went to SEVEN stores though!!).  Phew.

So, the moral of the story is, do NOT wait until the last minute, especially where popular elementary school holidays are concerned.

February 4, 2010

Conferences, Round 2

Today was one of those rare days that, against all odds, turns out happy.  It definitely didn't start that way though!  First, I woke up at 3am from a horrible, cold-sweats nightmare about today's parent conferences (seriously that bad!!), then woke up 50 minutes after my alarm went off.  Normally I would just throw my hair in a ponytail, grab something clean, and make my way out the door, but what with those pesky conferences I figured I should at least try to not show up smelly and looking like a 12 year old.  Thanks to a resourceful method of holding the blow dryer in one hand and eating pancakes with the other (I promise I'm not making this up), I somehow was ready to go CLOSE to my planned leaving time.  Of course I did notice halfway through the hair drying that there was definitely still some conditioner in my hair (note to self: quick showers are only effective when hair is properly rinsed), but what can you do.  THEN, as I'm getting ready to go, I poured my coffee and it tasted TERRIBLE.  Not sure what's wrong with my coffeemaker, but this just will not do.  After all this, I finally made it to school with 20 minutes to spare before my morning conference.  Phew.

Anyways, after all that the morning went well with the kiddos.  We reviewed expectations for the student-led conferences and rearranged the desks into "conference corners."  Yes, after all my moaning and groaning, I decided I might as well embrace the student-led conference format my school uses.  This meant that I had two families at a time in the room for most conferences, and floated between them.  The kids walked their families through their MAP test scores, trimester goals, and work portfolios.  I added my 2 cents and answered questions, but they were mostly running the show.  It wasn't as weird as I expected to have two conferences going on at once, but I don't know how any teacher would do more than 2!  Some had 4 conferences at once!  That just seems excessive...

Anyways.  Conferences went amazingly well (minus the phone call I received at 8am from a parent whose son brought home the reminder notice the previous evening and had somehow not brought home any of the previous reminders I'd sent so she hadn't known to take off work...my, we have SO very much to discuss at his conference...).  By the end of the (long) evening, I was left not so much with a feeling of exhaustion, but with a feeling of pride.  I've spent hours and hours lately agonizing about these stupid ISATs.  All these practice tests and writing prompts have left me feeling LESS prepared somehow, and mostly just feeling disappointed in myself and my students. 

But today, looking at those MAP scores and work samples, and reflecting about their growth so far this year, I realized, maybe for the first time, that they have grown.  tremendously.  It was amazing to see how excited the kids were to share their work with their parents, and really rewarding to be reminded how far they've come.  Yes, there were a few conferences where all the news wasn't so positive, but there were no real surprises for the parents.  As exhausting as conferences are, there is something really special about hours of telling parents all the wonderful things about their child--and really meaning it.  I teach for moments like this. 

February 3, 2010

Well, isn't that interesting...

Update on yesterday's crime scene investigation:

This morning I pulled aside the suspected thief of yesterday and very calmly asked her if she knew anything about the missing mp3 player.  She responded with an agitated "no!" and said that two girls had already called her last night to ask if she had taken it.  I asked her 1 more time and she still said no, so I told her I believed her and dropped it.  Right before lunch when all the kids were in the room, I gave a friendly reminder to the class that we don't bring electronics to school because there is no way we can prevent them from being stolen.  Lots of different people come and go from our room during the day, and we can't lock up backpacks.  Then I told them that we should all be on the lookout for the mp3 player, but that they're not the police and it's not their job to spread any gossip about who may or may not have taken it, or to hound friends about it.  I did say, though, that if anyone took it or knew who took it, if they returned it, there would be no consequence, and suggested (thanks elmo for the advice!) that they just bring it to the office, or to me, and say they found it...and we would let it go.

Miracle of miracles, the girl from whom it was taken came up to me later in the day and just said, "I got my mp3 player back.  A student found it in their backpack."  I smiled, "That's great."  The end.
Well isn't that interesting...but I'll take it!

February 2, 2010

Note to self: Speak. Slowly. And install security cams near the coatrack...

Today was just one of those days.  You know, those trying to cram in a million things, time is slipping away, talking way too fast, explaining too many things at once, and letting my hectic-frazzled-craziness rub off on the kids kind of days.  They are never very good days (although this one wasn't terrible or anything, but definitely not a winner).  My goals for tomorrow: breathe.  speak slowly.  remember that we can finish things tomorrow. 

It's just hard with ISATs looming not too far in the distance, parent conferences this week, and so many shortened weeks lately with inservices, conferences, and holidays.  I constantly feel like I need to be moving faster than I am, and consequently rush to try and get things finished, which means we all end up a little crazy.  But tomorrow, I will do my best not to let my craziness show.  I will speak slowly, give clear directions, and remember that everything will get done, just maybe not at the pace I had hoped.  Tomorrow I am going to daringly make time for a 15 minute read aloud after PE.  I know.  The audacity.  15 minutes that could be used for ISAT prep.  I am going to try my very hardest, against all better judgement, to sit the kids down on the rug and read a short picture book, because honestly we need a little break.

On another note, this is the dilemma I found myself faced with this afternoon: 
The kids are frantically packing up (aka I am yelling at them to clean up the room--more on that later), and one girl exclaims that her mp3 player is missing from her backpack.  I have everyone check desks and backpacks "just in case" to no avail.  Well, it's then that I notice my little darling who already was caught stealing not 1 but 2 cell phones from building STAFF this year is not in the room.  She has already left to check out (she's on the school behavior plan).  THEN I start having to not only console a crying child whose mp3 player (that she stupidly brought to school) has been stolen, monitor the cleaning of the room (see above comment about the yelling), AND quell rumors that are already spreading like wild fire that the aforementioned notorious stealer was seen over near the backpacks earlier...My oh my.  And this all in the last 2 minutes before the bell.

Here is my dilemma:  when I ask this particular child tomorrow if she stole the mp3 player, I'm certain the response will be absolute denial.  That was, of course, the response when interrogated about the cell phones (that she did in fact take).  So...what do I do then?  I have no proof.  The other student shouldn't have had that at school anyways.  I have no idea what the next step should be, or if there should even be one.  Why, when we were given "what would you do in THIS situation" scenarios in teacher class, was this type of event never among them?  Thoughts?  Opinions? 
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