April 27, 2010

New Student

Since the evening I first browsed my school's website (in preparation for my interview, actually), I have been well-aware of the high-rate of mobility in the boundaries.  Because we serve mostly apartment buildings, it's natural that students will be moving in and out more frequently than single-family homes.  However, unlike the revolving door that seems to be installed in my friend Miss R's classroom downstairs, I have only had 1 student move in and 1 move out.  Fairly normal, I'd say. 

Well, yesterday I received an email that I'd be starting a new student Wednesday.  No big deal, although I can't help but worry that any student joining my class in late April is most likely VERY low--anyone who is bounced around from school to school can't help but fall behind, unfortunately.  But I was confident we would be just fine.

This afternoon I received a second email from the school secretary informing me that she and her siblings haven't been in school since February.  FEBRUARY.  As in 2+ months ago.  Good lord.  Considering how much knowledge seems to leak out of my kiddos' brains between Friday and Monday, I can't imagine where she will be when she starts school again tomorrow. 

I also can't imagine the kind of home life she must have that means she's moving so close to the end of the year after being out of school for such a long period of time mid-year...

On the other hand, as I hurried to get a name tag and desk ready for her after school today, I made an awesome discovery: I was assigning her #10 in our numbering system, planning that she would take the number of the student who had moved away in December.  Easy enough!  Well, as I was writing her name on her name tag, I realized that her last name starts with the same 2 letters as the previous #10--SO SHE WOULD HAVE BEEN #10 ANYWAYS!!  (is it sad that I got so excited about that?  probably.  oooh well...)

We'll see how tomorrow goes!  In any case, I did manage to be super productive after school today and got all my reading packets and handouts made, printed, and copied for next week.  It's always a relief to have SOMETHING ready in advance when so often I am scrambling just to barely get by!!!

April 24, 2010

one AMAZING workshop!

Let me say this: I am not a huge fan of leaving my students with subs.  I have anxiety about it all day beforehand, write incredibly detailed lesson plans, and spend hours organizing everything the night before I leave to go home (control freak? check...)  That's why I didn't initially get too excited when each grade-level team was asked to choose one member to attend a day-long seminar on teaching writing through mini-lessons and writers workshop, and my teammates "nominated" me.  However, I agreed to go, well aware that I have the most to learn being the new teacher!!

Sub or no sub, I am SO SO SO glad I went!!!!  Diane Murphy's "101 Writing Mini-Lessons" workshop was an incredibly worthwhile experience.  Not only was the presentation engaging and upbeat, but I left completely motivated and excited about planning writing lessons for my classroom, and ready to restructure my writing time into a truer model of writer's workshop.  Mostly I am excited about all the new things I will try NEXT year from the start, but I'm trying to integrate a few ideas in my classroom now, if for no other reason than to try them out.  I even tried a lesson right away Monday afternoon!

Since we are already in the beginning stages of a writing project, I decided I should probably just stick to mini-lessons that support that project rather than starting anything new on the side...it's already challenge enough for me to find time to teach writing!  We just finished brainstorming and outlining narrative essays about a "special day," so I decided to try Murphy's lesson for choosing a "good beginning."  We practiced tons of "hooks" during my expository writing tirade earlier this year (thank you ISATs...), but I wanted to try a few new ones specific to narrative writing.  I chose 6 hooks I thought would work especially well for a narrative and wrote each on a sentence strip.  Then, I wrote an example for each about MY special day that I've been using as an example on separate sentence strips.  The kids matched the correct examples to the types of prompts in a pocket chart and discussed each style and we discussed them all (next time I might have them look at the first page of books and write down the attention grabbers authors used...but 1 thing at a time).

They then went back to their desks and we rolled a cube I had made that had a different hook on each side, and the kids got 2 minutes to start writing an opening paragraph to their narrative using that hook.  It took them awhile to catch on, but after the first 2 or so, they totally got it and did a great job.  When we were finished, they cut out the best one and taped it to the top of their draft-in-progress.  Overall, I think it was a success.

One thing I'm working hard on is just letting the kids WRITE initially, and going back with them to revise later.  It's true, I'm a HORRIBLE (horrible) perfectionist, and unfortunately I do let that tendency involve itself in my teaching at times...I want to help the kids get it RIGHT, even though I 100% see the benefit of making mistakes and learning from them.  Then thing is, when we are always in a time crunch to teach a million and a half things, who has the time??  Anyways, I digress.  So, I am asking the kids to just write a first draft.  We will go back through and paragraph later, add detail, fix mechanics, rearrange the order, etc. etc. etc.  I honestly have no idea how this plan will work out in terms of student products, but I figure it's worth a try, and this is definitely the time to try it (post-ISATs I mean ;).

Anyways, even though I received an interesting report from my sub when I came back to school (something about how subbing in my class was a "good experience" which I don't think meant it was a walk in the park!!), it was definitely worth it, and not just because of the fact that I got an hour for lunch and actually got to use the bathroom any time I needed it during the day. ;)

April 22, 2010

We speak for the trees!

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.  It's not.
The Lorax

I remember about a month into the school year my friend asked me if I loved my new job. More than anything, I was irritated by this question. Do I love it? Was she kidding? Some days I could barely even get myself out of the car when I got to school in the mornings. Why didn't she understand how hard it was? But had she understood how hard it was, she of course would have said, "so quit!" That would have outraged me just as much. Quit? Quit on my students? How could she even suggest that???

The thing about teaching is that it's a love/hate kind of job. There is so much stress and so many little things to drive you crazy, but every good teacher knows that she could never, ever be doing anything else.
Today I was thinking about that question, and about how far I've come this year. Here's the thing--no, I don't know that I would say I LOVE everything about school right now. The kids still make me crazy and I am still stressed out sometimes. But I have come to realize that it's not about loving every single moment of every single day. It's about loving a few moments out of everyday. As long as those moments are the big ones, it's worth it.

For example, today was earth day.  Instead of doing our regular shared reading from the literacy series, I read The Lorax.  Just a quick word on reading Dr. Seuss aloud:  I love love love attempting to pronounce the bizarre with enthusiastic rhythm and voices.  Anyways, I digress.  So, I read The Lorax, a book that still gives my vegetarian peace-loving eco friendly self absolute chills every time I read it, and was so thrilled that my (rowdy) students actually enjoyed sitting on the carpet and listening.  We had a great discussion about the literary elements in the book, the author's purpose, and how the colors in the illustrations affect the mood of the book.  But more importantly, we had a wonderful conversation about the environment and wrote pledges for helping the earth.  Will this realistically change the students' ideals?  Not likely.  But at least they were talking about it. 

And this was one of those times that I can look back and say with utter certainty, "Yes, I loved teaching that today."  Did I love every moment of today?  No, I did not love when I had to yell at a student for writing a hurtful note to another student, or when I had to reprimand a student for running in the classroom and he was nearly in tears over it, or when one of my more challenging students couldn't find his scissors and proceeded to almost melt down over it, spending the next hour grumbling (audibly) about how someone stole his scissors or something along those lines...no, those moments I didn't love. 

But it is worth all those moments and so many more to experience those moments that really touch my heart, like reading The Lorax aloud on Earth Day.

April 20, 2010

What to do about the student I (let's face it) just don't really like...

Okay, the meeting with the parent was not so bad.  In fact, it was completely painless.  But it reaffirmed that one of my girls who has had a recent history of causing trouble has caused even MORE trouble.  This girl is driving me crazy.  It's a new thing every day involving a new student...

The thing is, I know that she's not trying to be a bad kid.  I know.  I get that.  She really doesn't know how to get along with other kids, how to respect adults, and honestly, how to make friends.  Sometimes when she's trying to be a friend, it completely backfires.  Also, because she doesn't quite fit in, she feels threatened by other students who do get along.  I feel for her--I know how hard it can be to feel left out.

But...it becomes very, very difficult for me to empathize TOO much because...well...she can be very tough to like sometimes.  She talks back, doesn't follow my directions, and gives minimal effort.  She gives me attitude 90% of the time.  I want to help her, but I really need her to work with me here...I have tried so hard this year to find a way to love this child, and to form a positive relationship with her.  But it's not easy when I get so little back in return... :-/

Thankfully, it looks like we'll be having a parent meeting complete with admin. and social worker later this week.    I can only hope that someone has some new ideas for us, or some way to reach her...


The only thing that can make me more nervous than seeing the blinking red light on my classroom phone is a vague email from a parent. Yesterday I received one that about had me peeing in my pants with nerves. To sum up, a parent emailed me me and said she had concerns about classroom activities and wanted to meet in person to discuss them as soon as possible.


"What could this mean????" I panicked. At Miss R's advisory (she has become quite the expert at diffusing parent frustrations!), I opted not to email back and called after school to ask for more information and set up an appointment. It turned out that she is concerned because another student has alledgedly been hitting her daughter--one of the very same girls caught up in all the girl drama in my room. Greeeat. My gut says that it's probably something minor and just irritating, but either way it's inappropriate.

I'm not sure how the meeting's going to go this afternoon--I don't really have anything prepared except to listen to the parent and her daughter and attempt to come up with some problem solving ideas. I did invite the asst. principal to sit in on the meeting and I feel good about that decision. I am positive she will be a good presence in the room and help us work something out.

Man oh man...will post later about how the meeting goes!

(the good news, though, is this afternoon I get to go to the book room and pick out new books! sweet!!)

mondays, mondays, mondays

when i think about the less happy days of this school year, i think there has definitely been a pattern to which day of the week they have fallen on--MONDAYS. it seems like every monday the kids are chatty, someone is "bothering" someone else, and i am so incredibly inarticualte with every direction that i can barely get my point across. yikes. yesterday was no exception!!

The chattyness i can handle, by this point--and let's be honest, they are MUCH MUCH MUCH better than they were at the beginning of the year (that, or my tolerance has sky rocketed...). What I have had way more than enough of, though, is the "bothering each other." The true culprits here are my lovely ladies.

Yes, we have some serious mean girl drama in 5th grade. It started about a month ago with some jealousy on behalf of some of the girls regarding who another student was spending most of her time with (a common tale...). Well, instead of ignoring this or socializing with new students, the girls who felt "betrayed" in this situation decided to (metaphorically) draw a line in the sand and ask the girls in the class to take sides. You can imagine how that went...

By the time I had multiple girls in tears, I turned the situation over to the social worker who did her best to work things out with the girls, but the story obviously doesn't end there! In the following weeks, mysterious writing about my girls started showing up on the walls of stalls in the girls bathroom. Now I know without a grain of doubt in my mind who was responsible for this, and all the kids have confirmed my suspicions, yet without a witness or confession (these girls can lie through their teeth without cracking, it's ridiculous), unfortunately there was no consequence. Man oh man.

Following the bathroom writing we have had to institute a "group" and "buddy" bathroom procedure so that multiple people can be checking for writing before and after they use the bathroom. Seriously, I can't make this stuff up.

Well, the bathroom writing has toned down, but the girl drama perseveres. These girls are just plain being MEAN. We're talking insults, manipulation, and even hand to hand contact on a couple instances. If they are like this now, just IMAGINE what junior high will be like in a few years.
The worst part about it all (well, besides the amount of TIME it has occupied for me, between parent meetings, phone calls, and discussions with the asst. principal and social worker...oh, and just THINKING about it...) is that all I want to do is help these kids. I am so attached to so many of them, and want the best for every single one. Yet I feel so, so, so unbelieveably powerless. Nothing I say or do is sinking in. I am doing my best to prevent opportunities for this behavior, but I am not always around and have limited control.

I have done my absolute best this year to create a positive classroom atmosphere, but this has happened anyways. I have to wonder, is there something, anything I could have done to prevent this? Or is it inevitable... I guess more importantly, what can I do to make it stop???

April 17, 2010

I teach so parents see what their children are capable of:

From an email to a parent
Re: Child's Social Studies Project
Hi [parent],
I just wanted to drop you an email and let you know that I am grading the travel brochure [your child] just finished on his colony, and he did a fantastic job! He worked very well with his partner, and I can really see his unique, humorous touch on the brochure. I'll give the boys their grade next week, but I am very impressed. I thought you should know right away what a good job he did!
Have a great weekend,
Miss Teacher

Wow! Thank you so much for letting me know. Such a HUGE difference in [my child] these last couple weeks. He comes in my car every day when I pick him up happy that he had a good day in school. I was going to email you and [principal] this week to thank you both. [My child] had kind of a rough year since July and what you both did for him made all the difference. I think he has really stepped it up, so thank you again for letting me know. It's so important that we get on the kids when they fall off track but so important to praise them when they do well also! Thank you both!

These are the moments that, even when I seem to be doing so many things wrong, that I know I have done at least one thing right.
I teach for moments like this.

April 14, 2010

Why yes, those were my thoughts exactly...

Me: "Yes, my birthday is next Wednesday."

Student: "That's the same day as the Talent Show!"

Me: "Yes it is..."

Student: "Wow, that's the best birthday present EVER!"

I too was THRILLED that I will be attending the school talent show on my birthday...

yes, you should be taking a shower every day...

today we are teaching the first session of the "family living" unit aka human reproduction aka sex education. except we are forbidden to talk about sex. (interesting, i know.)  the focus is mostly on "the reproductive system," "changing bodies," and "adolescence," with some fun hygeine thrown in.

anyways, this is the day i've been dreading ever since i heard the words "fifth grade."

yup, it's days like today when i wish i taught 3rd grade, and also that I had better control of my laughter. because my team and i already can't stop giggling when we're together, throw in a power point with words like "scrotum" in it and forget about it. good lord, wish us luck...

1 good thing though is that, as a first year teacher, the nurse has decided i will just be "observing"...and hopefully not cracking up/blushing too much!!

April 13, 2010


What if teachers start the school year with a certain amount of energy, like a battery charge, and they have to use that energy to get them all the way until June?

If that's true, then I'd say I've about used up my supply--a little prematurely, I know. I am EXHAUSTED.

I almost nodding off while driving to school yesterday (that's never a good sign for the rest of the day...), and all day long i was a little off. I must have stopped my teaching 10 times and said, "hang on, let me reword that--i'm a little tired today..." because none of my explanations seemed to make any sense. Then, after I finally made it home around 6, all I had the energy to do was eat a PBJ sandwich and promptly pass out on the couch for TWO HOURS. You'd think after all that rest I'd be wide awake this morning? You'd be wrong. I still slept in way past the time I normally wake up and am dead tired again this morning.

How many days until summer???

April 11, 2010

Book : Chains

Well, I certainly have fallen in love with Laurie Halse Anderson during the course of this year.  Where was she when I was in high school?  (or, more importantly, what was I reading???)  Today I finished off my most recent Anderson novel, Chains.  This wonderful, emotional, thought provoking read tells the story of Isabel, a slave to a loyalist family during the American Revolution.  Written with Anderson's typical honesty and lack of sugar-coating, Isabel's story literally made my stomach turn and heart hurt.  Isabel and her little sister Ruth are sorely mistreated by their mistress, and our powerful heroine desperately seeks freedom from every avenue possible: the patriot army, her master's sensitive aunt, the british army, and, daringly, by her own pursuit.  As she learns more and more about the battle being fought across the colonies, she begins to ponder the question of, if the patriot army can seek its freedom from a tyrant, then why not she?  and why not now?

Throughout the book, Isabel is desperate to find freedom and allies herself with whomever she believes will offer her that very gift.  However, she gradually learns the both painful and liberating truth that, in the struggle against the chains binding her spirit, the only one she can trust to free her is herself.

My one criticism of Chains is the horrible, blatant cliff-hanger ending that practically stops mid thought.  I thought it was a cheap plug for the sequel, Forge, coming to shelves in the near future.  I mean, I would have read Forge anyways, but Chains's final page left me clawing for some closure, and not in a good way.
That being said, I would definitely recommend Chains to my higher reading level 5th graders--it might offer just the perspective change they need on life.
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