September 30, 2010

THIS is why I teach

This afternoon I my 5th grade kiddos magically transformed into pre-school kiddos.  I'm not sure why, but suddenly I was staring at a group of little babies and had to put on my mean Viola Swamp teacher voice.  Yikes!!  Here it is:

I have about 18 pillows in the classroom, ranging in size from huge to tiny.  I bought them when I started doing Daily 5 last year because part of the idea is to spread the kids out and help them find comfy seats all around the room in their own space.  The pillows help a little with that.  Last year I had them very well trained about sharing the pillows, and I have been working very hard to train this group too.  The thing is, I have a very immature group of boys this year, and they honestly are pitiful when it comes to sharing.  This afternoon, I banned pillows (possibly permanently, possibly temporarily).  I had some VERY grumpy 5th graders, including 2 having temper tantrums.  I'm serious, we're talking laying on the floor making, "Hmph!  Hmph!" pouting noises and covering faces with their books.  Umm, what the hell grade do I teach???

ANYWAYS, last year this would have made me SO ANGRY.  But this year, I'm over it.  We're working on it.  And it's kind of comical, in retrospect...
You're probably wondering about the title of this post by now--no that's not the reason I teach.  I definitely DON'T teach to get to yell at kids and witness temper tantrums.

This is why I do teach:
Last year I blogged constantly about a certain tough child who made my life hell and literally almost made me quit.  We worked SO HARD to make growth last year and he made such amazing progress.  By the end of the year, I would look at him sometimes with tears in my eyes, amazed at how far he had come.  While CERTAINLY not perfect, what a difference.  I am a better teacher because of him and what we went through together last year.  Over the summer, his family moved to another school in the district.  I couldn't believe it--I had "wished" for him to move HUNDREDS of times last year, but then by this point, when I found out he actually was moving, I was heartbroken that I wouldn't be able to see him in the hallway and share what we'd worked on with his new teacher.

Anyways, yesterday his mom emailed me!  She told me how well her son is doing and how she is so proud of how far he's come.  She thanked me for all of my hard work and support last year, and said how she missed me.

It brought tears to my eyes.  I teach for moments like this.

Dirty Little Teacher Secret:

By the time we get to the bottom of the grading pile, we are really just "glancing" at the work and assigning a grade...

I have been at starbucks grading papers for an hour and a half.  The workers may think I've moved in.  And I have to say, the bottom papers in my pile are averaging much higher grades than the ones I graded when I first arrived.  Coincidence?  Or just a side effect of the loss of the will to care once my caffine and sugar buzz wore off?  You be the judge.
^tonight's mountain of papers and journals.  
Okay, i realize to the untrained eye it might not look that bad, but after hours of copying, it was just too much!!!  
thank goodness it's an office/grey's night :)

September 28, 2010

What I learned today:

No matter when I take them out for recess, or for how long, it is never enough to satisfy the kiddos.
Case in point, this afternoon:

At 1:35, we line up for a short recess.  Students are warned that it will be a SHORT recess.
We traipse out to the playground with kickball, basketball, and hw that should have been done last night in tow.  We are the only class outside, but there are two toddlers running around with their grandma.  About 2 minutes of my hooligans' "lively activity" sends them heading for the hills...We are joined by the other 5th grade classes about 5 minutes later.  Kiddos proceed to play, climb, jump, race, tumble, and generally participate in various shenanigans.

I holler at this one to get down from the top of the monkey bars, motion to that one to leave the lawn maintenance worker alone, nervously supervise back bends and hand stands, coax this one to join the group instead of laying on the bench alone, hurry over when that one frantically yells, "Miss Teacher!  He fell!," breathe a sigh of relief when I hear, "Never mind!  He's okay!," ponder why the wood chips feel suspiciously like quicksand as I walk across the playground, monitor 3 homework delinquents as they sit against the wall with clipboards, shield my eyes from blinding sun, and check my watch every 30 seconds.

15 minutes later, I raise my hand and begin to walk towards the door.  The monkeys notice 1 by 1 and race over to line up.  (Except for the handful that are always oblivious and need another student to be sent to round them up...)  I am met by a chorus of, "That was too short!" and "The other classes are still outside!" and "We never get to stay out the longest!" and "Why do WE have to go in first??"  I attempt feebly to reason with them (although by now I'm not sure why) while simultaneously doing a head count.  Darn, 2 still missing.  I say on repeat: "_____, go see if you can track down the last two" and "We are going in first because we came outside first!" and "No, we did NOT have the shortest recess, we just came outside first" and "If we come outside LAST and come inside LAST we will have the same amount of recess time as we did today!" and finally, "[sigh] Voices off 5th graders.  Feel free to walk quietly in the hall if you'd like to have recess again someday!"

Today I learned (for the 50th time, maybe someday it will stick?) that 10 year olds cannot be reasoned with and no recess is ever long enough, both for the kids and myself.  It turns out even this teacher needs 15 minutes of sunshine. :)

PS: had my post-observation meeting this afternoon and got some great feedback.  :) yay!

September 27, 2010


During one of my MANY summer brainstorming sessions spent pondering the question, "What should I do differently this year to make sure it sucks less than last year?" (okay that's a little dramatic, last year hardly sucked!  it was just a little rough!), I entertained the idea of starting my mornings with journal writing instead of morning worksheets.  I'm not a big busy work person, but I started having the kids do a morning work page as soon as they came in very morning because it settled them down, got the class quiet and in work-mode, and gave me a minute to check in hw, greet the kids, etc.  Anyways, when I was reinventing the Daily 3 this summer and trying to come up with more options for the Work on Writing piece, Mrs. J suggested I try morning journal writing.  That way, the kids would always have the option of continuing an entry during Work on Writing, and would also be in a stronger writing routine.  I decided to go for it and compiled a list of about 100+ prompts from various locations.

I typically have the kiddos write a letter to me about their weekends Monday morning, a miscellaneous prompt Tuesday and Thursday, (Wednesdays we do DOL instead) and write on a prompt connected to our weekly literacy theme Friday mornings.  This weekend, I took home a crate of journals to peruse.  I have collected them a few times previously, but hadn't for about two weeks.  The prospect of reading and responding to entries in 24 journals was a bit daunting..I don't reply to every prompt, but I do read them all and try to respond to the ones that really show their best effort especially.

As exhausting as it is to respond to that many journal entries (I know, shame on me for waiting too long to collect them, but there are always SO MANY other things on my mind at the end of the day...), I am SO GLAD I am doing the journals this year.  It's amazing how much I learn about my students from some of their entries, and I feel like it's a great opportunity to build relationships.  Also, I found a few true "gems" among the journals:

Fabulous student entry 1:
One of my girls, in response to the prompt, "Something that bugs me is..." wrote about her older brother.  She told me that her brother bugs her because he will always put on his "Jason mask" and sneak up on her and her friends when they are playing.  I almost DIED laughing because that sounds EXACTLY like the way my older brother used to bug me!  Actually, it was the Freddy Kreuger mask that really got to me...I mean seriously, I'm 10 years old, I turn around, and THIS GUY is standing behind me, knife-claw and all.  SCARY.  Anyways, I loved writing back to her and telling her about MY brother and how he used to love to bug me. :)

Fabulous Student Entry 2:
In response to the same prompt (Something that bugs me is...), one of my "diva-ish" girls wrote the following entry:
In case you can't read it, it reads, "Something that really bugs me is boys.  Boys bug me because they think they know everything.  They think that they are smarter than girls.  And they think that they are tougher than a girl.  And last but not least, they think they are cooler than girls.  Then they say that they're richer than girls.  The next day they will be asking us for money because they want to buy something."

:-D I was DYING laughing!!!  You go, girl :)

In any case, I am loving the journals.  Today I implemented a new system though to avoid getting bogged down with the journals on the weekends.  I'm collecting journals from 1 team every day, and two teams on Thursdays (my stay-late day).  Ex. Monday collect team 1, Tuesday team 2, etc.  I figure this way I will have less to respond to at a time, less to cart around with me, and most importantly, I'll be able to spend more time reading and responding since I won't be overwhelmed.  I hope I am able to keep up with them!

September 25, 2010

Sweet Saturday

It seems that fall has FINALLY arrived!  This week we had two days of 90 degree weather and a whole bunch of humidity.  Don't get me wrong, I'm a summer girl at heart, but this was a bit ridiculous.  This morning I was happy to put on jeans, a tshirt, and a light jacket, and to step outside without my hair immediately frizzing and sweat ruining my makeup (the little of it that I bother putting on in the first place). While I would have liked nothing more than to sleep in, I dragged my sleepy booty outta bed bright and early to meet teacher buddy and basically soul sister teacher Miss R for a yummy breakfast at Corner Bakery.

Okay folks, here it is.  As much as sometimes it bugs the heck outta me to talk about school on the weekends with friends, sometimes it is just SO WONDERFUL to compare notes with someone who COMPLETELY understands what you are going through at your job.  Miss R and I teach in two very different schools with two very different sets of challenges, yet we just GET each other.  A bowl of swiss oatmeal & fruit, hazelnut coffee, and good conversation was the perfect start to this fall day.  Then, since I was already up I figured I might as well be productive, and did a Trader Joe's run, stopped at the library, dropped off dry cleaning, got my car washed at one of the local elementary schools, stopped in walgreens, and got a pedicure.  Phew!

Now, I'm about to curl up with a brand new playlist on my ipod, a plate of soy nugs and bbq sauce from Trader Joe's (because even vegetarians need chicken nuggets sometimes!), and a big ol' pile of grading.  tje former two make the later one just barely tolerable. ;)

Other projects for the weekend: figure out some revising lessons to teach next week in Writing Workshop (something that should be somewhat of a challenge since I forgot my writing mini-lesson books at school...oops!), respond to my students' journal entries, and begin thinking about some expository mini-lessons for October.  I just ordered Ralph Fletcher's Craft: Nonfiction book from amazon, and I've got my fingers crossed that it will bring me lots of ideas and information!!

Happy Saturday!

September 24, 2010


Adorable poem a student wrote in her spelling packet this week:

In case you couldn't read that:
It's red like a rose that has a thorn
Coarse with a flare, but not easy to scare
The use of a sword would be to harsh
I swear if you didn't get it by know this poem is about my heart

Oh how I love ten-year-olds sometimes... :-D

a happy little post-it

After all of that commotion yesterday, I finally did have my observation today.  Only after realizing on my drive home last night that I had rescheduled the lesson for the exact same time we had our class pictures appointment. Obviously. :)  Thankfully, it was no problem to bump up our pictures time, although it did mean rearranging some other things in the schedule, but I am learning that being a good teacher = being flexible.  And I'm working on it. ;)

Anyways, today, Mister Principal showed up right on time, and the lesson went great.  As one of our last "Ideas" lessons before we dive into some revising/editing practices, I read a selection from Desert Voices by Byrd Baylor, an author I immediately became attached to when my fabulous methods of science teacher read us Everybody Needs a Rock.  The book is written from different desert animals' points of view, and describes their daily activities in the desert.  Then, the kids came up with their own ideas for writing from animal perspectives, and wrote 5-minute "quick writes" from an animal's point of view, describing their actions.  Then of course we had the usual writing time.  The kids did a great job and the lesson went well.  I have the post-observation meeting (our first using our newly adopted Danielson Framework), but I feel good about it, partly because my principal left the following post-its on my computer:

As teachers, we do so much.  We work so hard, give so much, and are underpaid and far too often under appreciated.  What's more, it's so easy to feel like we can never do enough, especially with the unending criticism from parents, media, and honestly anyone who's ever been in a school and thus thinks this makes them an expert.  Anyways, I digress...but it is so nice to have even just a small affirmation that that I am doing a good job.  No, I don't need constant validation, but it's nice to have your hard work noticed once in awhile. :)

Back on the subject of teaching writing...
Let me just say that my skepticism about Writing Workshop is RAPIDLY draining away.  While I'm still not sure how things are going to go when I start teaching the expository, narrative, and persuasive genres in the next few months, this I know for sure: My students LOVE writing this year.  Even the one who can barely read.  They can write and write and write, and ADORE sharing their writing with the class.  And I believe in my heart of hearts, as I have said time and time again, that the first step to getting a child to make growth in ANY area is to get him or her to FALL IN LOVE with that subject.  Because too often kids just don't care, and if they don't care, they won't grow.  And that is why my goal this year is to capture my students' hearts in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies.
Do I expect them to love everything we do?  Of course not.  But I hope to share with them the same passion for learning that I feel.

One of my favorite teacher quotes: "Education is not the filling of a bucket but the lighting of a fire." (Yeates)

I hope to help them love a part of each subject; hope to plant a spark in them that maybe someday will grow into a fire.

September 23, 2010

How have I not already learned that teaching = NOTHING going according to plan?

So Wednesday night I was having a bit of anxiety over Thursday's observation with my principal.  My nervousness was a little irrational since all of my observations last year went really great, and my principal and I get along really well.  But the observation was scheduled DIRECTLY following a fire drill, and honestly any miniscule change in routine tends to throw this group what with the scenarios playing in my head of what reentering the classroom post fired drill COULD have been like, I was a little uneasy...

Miss Teacher's Imaginary Classroom of Chaos 
(aka various situations I predicted happening)

Terrible Possibility A: We go outside for the drill and I lose a child (I have one who can become a "runner" when emotional, which is pretty much most of the time).  I get back in, start teaching, only for Principal to inquire, "Um, where's ______??"

Terrible Possibility B: We go outside and my kids will not stand quietly (not too much of a stretch, as last year's fire drills frequently resulted in my temporary transformation into Miss Viola Swamp).  I end up having to yell so much that by the time we get back in we are back in the classroom, NO ONE is in any mood for writing.

Terrible Possibility C: The fire drill goes decently, but a 5 minute glimpse of the "outer world" sends my students into such a "How many minutes til school is OVER?!?" frenzy that the writing lesson is a train wreck.

No, none of these happened.  Although none require ANY stretch of the imagination with my group of kiddos (don't get me wrong, I love them.  But honestly, sometimes...).  What did happen?

Unexpected Possibility D:  Principal didn't show up.  That's right, didn't show up...

Here's the scene in Miss Teacher's Fifth Grade Thursday afternoon...
I have miraculously managed to get the kiddos to behave during the fire drill (okay, bribery was involved.  I admit it...), not lost anyone, and settled them quietly on the carpet with their writing journals.  *Glances at the clock* 15 minutes after 1 and no principal yet.  Hmmmm  *stalls for time* "Well boys & girls, take a minute to flip through your writing journal and reread some of your work..."  (kids flip through, this occupies them all of 20 seconds)

"Ummm, now let's have some studetns share a favorite piece of writing they've written this year."  This is actually very effective.  It kills about 20 minutes.  *Glances at clock* 1:40.  Principal is very late.  I think about starting my lesson for the sake of not wasting my entire writing block, but realize that he may not be showing up, and if that's the case, like hell am I teaching this lesson and then planning ANOTHER lesson for him to see, including writing up a 2 page lesson plan plus a 2 page "pre-observation plan" detailing the lesson and learning standards...

" about we read a chapter of Wayside School is Falling Down?"  *starts reading*  After 1 chapter I look at the clock.  Nope, still no principal, and still time to kill before our intervention block at 2.  "Let's read another chapter..."  Phone rings.  My student "receptionist" for the week answers it, and sure enough, looks up to say, "Miss Teacher, it's Mister Principal."  Sure enough, he isn't coming.

He was very nice about it, and I understood, things come up.  But with how far behind my students are to begin with, it's heartbreaking to waste that much instructional time!  Don't misunderstand me--I am a FIRM believer in packing every moment of the school day with meaningful activities, and normally I would NEVER waste that kind of time.  However, as long as there was a chance he was still going to show up, I didn't want to switch gears too much into a different lesson when the kids were shockingly settled, then have to reel them back in.  Oh well. :) Just another day of last minutes changes of plan!!  And no big deal when it gets down to it...

September 22, 2010

Today's "Is this really happening?" Moment

One of my ever so challenging fifth graders who has some pretty deep rooted emotional struggles started off with a rough morning.  He was written up for his hallway conduct by another teacher, and then I gave him a "check mark" for not staying in one spot in the hallway after I specifically asked him to.  By the time he got in the room, he was pissed off.  I approached him with a, "hey, let's let this go and start the day fresh," but that just wasn't working for him.  One of my mentors always tells me that kids like this one need to be told over and over that we like them and want them here.  So I make sure to do that constantly.

I went back up to him shortly after and said, "Hey, I can tell you're upset, but I'm glad you're here and I really like you.

Student: "(grumble grumble) I hate this school!"
Me: "I'm sorry you hate this school, but I like you and I'm glad you're here."
Student: "Well I DON'T like you!"
Me: "I'm sorry to here that, and you don't have to like me.  But I will keep liking you all year long."
Student: "well I will keep NOT liking you all year long! (Grumble grumble)"

Ladies and gentlemen, this is my life.
(You should know that we were getting along by the end of the day.  And I WILL keep liking him all year long ;-)

September 21, 2010


I like to get to school a little bit early and sit in my classroom looking over the day's lesson plans with the lights half-off.  It's quiet, calm, collected.  Lately, thanks to the fabulous keurig, I've been enjoying these quiet mornings with a delicious cup of sumatra roast coffee.  And this week, I've discovered that sumatra + chocolate soy milk = BLISS.

Don't get me wrong, I love the kids.  But there's something about those quiet moments alone in the classroom that's just so refreshing--exactly the pick-me-up necessary to get through the day. :)

Mid-week busy-ness

This was one non-stop day.  One of those door duty before school, common planning meeting during your 1 and only 1/2 hour special, making up math tests with students at lunch, parent meeting right after school, principal meeting right after THAT, no time to pee until 4, forget to eat lunch, making 240 copies of club applications at 5, crazy kind of days.  Phew.  I just got exhausted again reliving it.

Busy as it was, there's no time to be exhausted on a day like this!  Not until I was in the car driving home, kicking off my heels next to the pedals, and cranking up the music that I realized how tired I was.  The only way to recover was by watching a little Grey's, enjoying a diet coke, and icing my sore ankle.  (Oh, I slipped on the stairs at my friend's apartment building Saturday night and rolled my ankle.  Yes, my right tibia is still recovering from a now 8-week stress injury.  Obviously, I rolled the LEFT ankle.  Now I have pain in both legs.  But it gives me an excuse to teach on a stool. :)  But I digress...

We did another great science activity today that showed how salt water is denser than fresh water.  It turns out it you add food coloring to water to help you see it better, and drop a droplets of fresh water into a cup of salt water, you can actually see each drop float back up to the top!!  If you put enough in slowly, it will actually form a layer on top.  How awesome is that?!  The kids were really into it.  I love when they get as excited as I do about an activity.  Hey, I love that I have a job that I get excited about!  Yes, the lab was a lot of extra work and was part of the reason I missed my lunch, but it was worth it.  I also love that the kids fight over each other to help me clean up.  Seriously, you really want to wipe down the table with paper towel and dry out all of the plastic cups?  oookay then... :)

Tomorrow is a 1/2 day in-service which, while potentially boring, is always a nice change of pace mid-week.  It's always nice to go out to lunch and be guaranteed an entire lunch period free of students.  I always end up keeping a few in with me because of missing homework or behavior, and while I know that it's my choice to do that, it's nice to have a day of lunch with grown ups. :)

And as if this week weren't busy enough already, I have my first observation of the year Thursday afternoon.  Yikes!!  While I have gotten nothing but positive, supportive feedback from my principal since I started this job, I'm a little unsure of how this lesson is going to go.  He will be observing Writing Workshop, and while I know my lesson plan is DYNAMITE (seriously, it's a good one), there is a LOT of potential for things to go wrong in WW, especially since we haven't done it in over a WEEK.  So I'm a bit nerve.  Also, we are doing the observation lesson IMMEDIATELY after a fire drill (our first of the year).  I'm talking principal is bringing his notes, etc. outside for the drill with him and accompanying my class back to our room right after.  Hmmm...honestly, I picked the day for this observation.  What was I thinking?  Keep your fingers crossed that we have no melt downs during the drill and everyone reenters quiet, calm, and ready to WRITE!!!

September 17, 2010

AND weekend. :)

Wow, after the four-day week last week (seriously, was that only last week?), this week was LONG.  I had dinner with the fabulous Miss R monday evening, which was the perfect way to start the week.  Although by that time I was already convinced that it was Tuesday.  That should tell you something!!

No, it wasn't a bad week.  Actually, it was pretty good overall.  I taught a few fun lessons I really enjoyed, some that kind of fell apart...but I'm definitely getting better at knowing when to STOP and reassess, and also when to decide it's just NOT worth trying to rush and squeeze in everything I had planned for a day.  For example, this afternoon I just knew my last lesson of the day was SO not going to happen...and opted for a quick recess and a quiet read aloud with the lights off to calm everyone down.  Definitely the right choice--anything I tried teaching by that point wouldn't have made an impact, and would have resulted in me VERY frustrated and yelling.

It was certainly a LONG week though.  Good things: someone on our staff kindly purchased a fabulous keurig coffee maker for communal use in the lounge.  hooray!  While I have always scorned single-use coffee contraptions like keurig and tassimo for their incredibly WASTEFUL single serving packagings (seriously, so. much. waste.  my coffee maker doesn't even use filters), I am crossing over to the dark side.  Sorry, Earth.  Sometimes you just need a pick me up.  And it makes REALLY good coffee... :-/ <- my guilty hippie soul... Oh well.  You gotta do what you gotta do to make it to 3:00 sometimes!  (I did get fair trade coffee, so at least that's something?  Maybe?...)

Anyways, I am looking forward to a productive and fun weekend.  My to-do list for tomorrow morning is pretty ambitious, so we'll see how it goes!!!

One quick "insight" from one of my "sharpest" fifth graders: "The sun is so bright!  Look, it follows me wherever it goes!"  Oh dear...

September 16, 2010

1 of my few talents:

I've never had a lot of fun talents that I could share at parties or in the talent show.  Nope, can't Irish dance or sing or even something silly like tie a cherry stem with my tongue.  I AM though GIFTED at reading aloud.  No seriously.  I excel at read alouds.  Reading aloud to the students is my favorite time of the day.  Last year I didn't make time for it as often as I should have.  This year, I am really making an effort to fit in a few minutes a day.  I love it, the kids love it, and it's a great opportunity to expose the kids to grade level text and model fluency.  But I digress.

In my attempt to make my fifth graders fall as deeply in love with read alouds as I am, I decided to start the year with a silly read aloud.  I chose Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar, one that cracked me up as a 5th grader.  My kiddos DIED over it--they laughed constantly and would actually quiet down and listen intently when I started reading!  

We finished Sideways yesterday afternoon, and I immediately pulled out book two, Wayside School is Falling Down.  Anyways, yesterday afternoon I had a grade-level planning meeting to work on our interventions, so my kids were with a sub (side note: one of my library checked out calculators seems to have disappeared during that time...sweet...), and she read the first few pages of Falling Down aloud.  Today, I pulled out the book and asked how they were liking the beginning of it.  I was SHOCKED when the kids gave me a lukewarm response!  "Eh, it was okay." 
I gasped, "What, you're not liking it?!?"
Someone volunteered, "Well, the sub read it to us."
Half joking, I responded, "What, she wasn't as good at reading aloud as me??" 
"No!  She wasn't!!!"
And that's what made my morning: not only have I succeeded in my goal of getting my kiddos to LOVE listening to a read aloud, but they think Wayside School is funnier when I read it. :)
Not that I need constant reaffirmation, but it is nice every once in awhile... ;)  I teach for moments like this...

September 14, 2010

Photo Update: I AM A SCIENTIST!!!

I wrote the other day about the fun Science Careers interest activity I started with the kids last week.  With most of them finally having finished their detailed drawings, I wanted to share a few of the final products.

My absolute favorite:
Left side: "Who is a scientist?  Wahahahahahaha" (<-- evil laugh)
Right side: "I am a scientist!  I'm a engineer scientist"

Another favorite:
Left Side: "Who is a scientist?"
Right Side: "I am a scientist!  Ecologist, Botanist"

Amazing that kids who had never heard of these careers before are are actually interested in them now, and can SEE THEMSELVES doing them someday!  Next year, I'd love to extend this activity by having the kids research different science careers and present on them...or maybe I could have some science professionals visit the class...hmmmm something to keep in mind :)

Anyways, seeing those final products was a very happy part of my day.

September 13, 2010

"I SWEAR I'm not an idiot..."

One last quick post before bed, because I cannot rest until I recount this stupid idiot moment of my morning...

I was expecting a phone call from a parent about an incident that happened with her child Friday which resulted in him being sent to the principal's office.  So when the phone rang at 7:50, I wasn't surprised.  I picked up the phone, said good morning, and heard a fast "parent voice" say, "Hello Miss Teacher, this is Mrs. _______."  Let me clarify the ______.

Miss Teacher hears: "name of parent she expected would be calling"
What the parent actually said: "name of completely different parent that only sounds SLIGHTLY similar"

You can imagine what ensued...oh, you can't?  Let me elaborate:  Miss Teacher proceeds to talk to the parent as though she was the parent of the Friday incident child, describing what had happened and growing confused when the parent knows nothing about this.  Miss Teacher assumes the child simply didn't TELL the details, and is disappointed.  Miss Teacher quickly begins to realize that the parent is confused, and says, "Wait, who is this?...Oh dear, I must have misheard you when you said your name..."

Yikes.  Open mouth, insert foot.  ANNND how's that for professionalism?  :-/
Go ahead and laugh.  I know, only I would do something like that...

Christmas for Teachers :)

I have a secret.  Well, not so much a secret, but a confession.  I love books.
Let me say that again a little louder: I love ADORE WORSHIP books.  (Well, maybe that last one was a little dramatic, but you get the idea!)  Years ago, like any other nerdy bookworm elementary school student, I looked forward to getting those crinkly scholastic book order fliers in my mailbox as school.  I would pore over the pages and make my MANY selections, dreaming of ordering every book that peaked my interest (although of course my mother would always make me pare my order down significantly...).  Then, I would eagerly await the day my teacher would receive the big red and white box in her classroom--the books!!

Now that I am the teacher, book order has not lost any of its appeal.  In fact, I may be even more excited about it now. :)  Why?  Two words: BONUS POINTS.  Who knew that teachers make out like absolute BANDITS when their students order from scholastic?!?  I sure didn't!  Last year I passed out book orders every month and usually scraped together a $20 order from my kiddos.  Just enough to get shipping costs waived and usually enough to allow me to pick out a few titles for myself with bonus points.  It was thrilling. :)

This year, I handed out a book order the first week of school and was SHOCKED and ELATED when the orders poured in!  Tallying up the money last weekend, I couldn't believe that I was placing a $160 order!!!  That happens all the time in my mom's classroom, but at my lower income school, it's pretty rare.  Not only did that kind of order give me a TON of bonus points (I even had some coupons that doubled my points!), but the September order catalogs had tons of free book awards for orders over $20!  Amazing.  I was like a kid in a candy shop selecting my free books.  And seriously, I was even more excited than the kids waiting for them to arrive.  And arrive they did, in the biggest scholastic box I have ever seen.  After I sorted out the kiddos' orders, it was time to take in my bounty:

A beautiful thing...
(Almost as beautiful as how good it felt passing them out to students during Daily 3 and telling them I just bought them and KNEW they would love them)

September 10, 2010

Helping Kids Fall in LOVE with Science :) (or that's my goal at least!!)

I'm not exactly a fact, I barely scraped a B- in high school biology, and that was only because I went in constantly for help from the teacher.  But, that aside, I really do love teaching science--in fact, while I may not be good at learning science myself, it's probably my favorite subject to teach.  There's just something magical about seeing kids ask questions about nature, conduct hands-on experiments, and grasp for the first time the science behind how things work in the world around them.

During my student teaching experience two years ago, my students loved science.  Almost all of them were interested in learning more about the sciences and looked forward to our activities.  It was exciting to learn and discover along with them, and so special to watch them become excited about the sciences. You can imagine my disappointment when, last year (my first year teaching), I read a shared reading story about the space program to my kiddos and asked, "Who thinks it would be exciting to be an astronaut?" and NO ONE raised their hands.  I was completely taken aback!  What, NONE of you thinks that would be cool??? Come on, I could barely make it through basic high school physics and would never seriously consider the career, but you have to admit it'd be pretty awesome!  But nope, no interest.  Nada.

This year, I am determined to "capture" my students' interests in science right off the bat.  I had them do a fun activity called, "Who is a scientist?" that I dreampt up this summer based on bits and pieces of other sciency activities I stumbled upon this summer.  I had the students draw a picture of a "scientist" including where they are working and what they're wearing.  Not surprisingly, almost every drawing pictured a person wearing a white coat mixing chemicals in a laboratory.  Many were "mad scientists," characterized by their fantastic hair styles.

Quote from a student while drawing "mad scientist": "How do you spell, 'Wahahahaha!'" :) amazing.  (PICTURES TO COME!!)

Anyways, we talked about the pictures and what they had in common.  Then, I showed them a picture of my brother and told them that he's a scientist (he's an aerospace engineer).  Obviously he looks nothing like their drawings.  I told him that he wears jeans to work, loves xbox and wii, plays hockey, and works mostly at a computer.  But he's still a scientist!  Then, the students took a science careers "interest survey" that described different career interests in  some of the different fields of science.  After they had selected the most interesting descriptions, the kiddos got to see which science career matched their interests.

I have to say, it was wonderful to see my students realize that they could be scientists too.  It is heartbreaking to me when minority students or female students see certain careers as being completely out of their element.  I wanted to drive home the idea that anyone can be a scientist, and that scientists do many, many jobs.  Do I think they're all going to start doing science projects on the weekends?  No.  But just like the first step to classroom management is getting them to fall in love with me, the first step to teaching any subject is to get them to fall in love with it. :)

Sweet relaxing..

Sometimes, no matter what happened during the school day, it is absolutely NECESSARY to leave by 3:30 on Friday to grab drinks with teachers.  NECESSARY.  Such a good idea for one of the last summery days of the year... :)

September 9, 2010

Touching Musings from a Tough Child

One of my little darlings is quite the handful.  (Well, MANY are handfuls, but one in particular keeps me up at night)  This child has frequent "temper tantrums" throughout the day, triggered sometimes by the tiniest thing, and other times by nothing at all.  He will throw his papers off his desk, slump down, and "grumble" to himself for about 5 minutes.  I typically ignore, or ignore as best as I can...Anyways, this child can barely read.  He has been at 8 schools by 5th grade and obviously has an unstructured home life to put it mildly.  He is disorganized and easily frustrated.  He does not have an IEP, although he would probably qualify for one, because he has never been in one place long enough to be truly evaluated.  So you can imagine that, even when he drives me freakin' crazy, I have a soft spot in my heart for him.  Deep, DEEP down.

Today he refused to start his writing.  I gave him some time to start on his own, but then decided to try stepping in.  With most "grumbly" kids, I would hesitate before offering them help mid-pouting, as it may inadvertently reinforce an idea that pouting will get them what they want.  But I had a pretty good idea that this child had given school everything he had to give that day, and that writing was just too tough for him at that point.  I offered to write the words for him if he would dictate, and he jumped at the chance.  For some kids, the ones with serious decoding gaps, that is really what they need.  Anyways, this child then proceeded to dictate paragraphs about how wonderful his mom is.  He "wrote" that she is a single mom with three kids, and works so hard to support them.  He wrote about how she gets them everything they need, feeds them, and supports them.  He wrote about how much he loves her for all she does for him and his two siblings.

I was in awe of this child.  Sometimes, in situations like this especially, it's easy to get caught up in how much there is to teach a child that's as behind as this one.  We get so caught up in the daunting task ahead of us that we forget how much there is to learn as a teacher.  There is so much we can learn from the children in our classrooms if we are open to it.  Today I was in awe of a child who can barely read, who wants for so much, but who, at age 10, appreciates his mother in ways many adults never do.  I am honored that this child trusted me enough to let me put his words to paper for him, and am humbled by the maturity he showed through them.  He has experienced things that I will never know or understand.  He has been let down by many, many people.  Yet he still has faith in his mother, and realizes what a tough job she has.  Even though the rest of our day together was anything but easy, it was all worth it to share this special moment.  I teach for moments like this.

Writing Workshop Fun: Looping Stories

Last spring I attended a fantastic workshop called 101 Writing Mini-Lessons that changed my entire concept of teaching writing.  After I left, I vowed that this year I was going to teaching writing through a true Writing Workshop, using the Mini-Lesson, Writing Time, Sharing format.  So far this year it has been going great.
Last year, my mentor, Mrs. H, stressed the importance of using the first month of school to lay the foundation with procedural lessons as well as "ideas" lessons.  She said that before I worry about taking any pieces through the writing process all the way to publishing, I should get the kids started on a TON of pieces so they have an arsenal of ideas to pick up at any time.  So, I've been doing a bunch of fun ideas lessons, and loving every minute of it.
My awesome Writing Workshop accountability chart, custom made by the wonderful Amanda :)

Today's was one of my favorites, and one I took back with me from that workshop.  It's called "Looping Stories," and is basically quick-writing with a twist.  The students start with a 1 word topic and take 1 minute to write about that topic without stopping to think.  (I tell them PENCILS MOVING, EYES ON PAPER!!!!)  Then, when the minute is up, they need to stop writing and draw a line across the page sectioning that writing off from the rest of the page.  They then look over their writing, select a word that they included in that writing, circle it, and write it at the top of the next section of the page, below the line.  They take another minute to write about this new word/topic.  Repeat about 4 times.  After this they have 4 or 5 beginnings of stories/writing pieces.  They should then reread them and choose 1 to write more about.  Last year I had the kids cut that section out and tape it to the top of a blank page, but this year they just started it over on a new page.  Both work.  The kids like it though, and it's a great exercise in quick writing.  It's also a lot of fun to see how your topics evolve from 1 to the next!

Today I modeled it by starting with the topic food:

My favorite food is pancakes.  I especially like the blueberry pancakes that my dad makes.  He used to make them every Sunday when I was growing up.  I love to eat them/
STOP!!!  Even in mid-sentence.  I went back and chose the word "Dad" to write about next.

My dad is one of the best people I know.  He would do anything for me and my family.  He always helps my mom around the house, and helps me with whatever I need.  He is really good at/
STOP!!!  I chose the word "Family" to write about.

I love my family.  I have two brothers, Kevin and David....

You get the idea :)  I definitely recommend trying this activity to spice up writing instruction with something different!

Curriculum Night: Check!

Today was a looong 13-hour day at good ol' school.  Thankfully, I no longer take days like that on a regular basis like I did last year, spending HOURS after school every day grading, planning, copying, and just processing everything that was going on in my room.  Last year pretty much felt like one long marathon in which I was the dead-last runner, just trying to hold it together to make it to the finish.  This year I am way more together as I've written a few times, although it is by NO means easy.  In any case, I am doing a way better job of peacing out of school by 5 or 6 every night which is a HUGE achievement for me and a testament to how much more prepared I feel.

Of course every now and then in the teaching world there are those late night school events--thankfully not as many in elementary school as secondary!  Tonight was one such event: Curriculum Night.  A word on how that works at my school:  Typically, a curric night involves the teacher presenting to a classroom of parents on classroom procedures, topics to be studied during the year, and the different curriculums being followed.  Informative and important, but super intimidating.  As my school tends to have problems getting parents to show up to evening events for a variety of reasons, we have switched to more relaxed approaches to things like curric and back to school nights.  Tonight's event was a "scavenger hunt" through the school and classroom; kids led their parents around as "tour guides" and checked in with the classroom teacher, PTA reps, and specials teachers to get necessary information.  I love that the kids are running the show, and it takes a ton of pressure off the teachers.  I still had only about half of the families show up, but all in all the night was a success.

For me there were definitely a few highlights.  Overall, the parents at my school are great.  While many are uninvolved, most really respect the teachers at the school.  It is always wonderful to meet parents who are kind and appreciative of the hard work we do!!!

Another highlight was talking to the "difficult" parent I wrote about at the very beginning of the year.  It seems she has decided I am not all bad, young or not!  We actually had a nice, albeit brief, conversation.  I was incredibly relieved, as I was imaging being approached with another laundry list of complaints...

Last, the absolute best part of the night was watching one particular students show his mom around our room for upwards of 30 minutes!  He literally walked her through an entire school day, shared the text books in detail, told her all about what he was reading and what we were learning, and was just so happy to share our classroom with her.  This is so heartwarming and refreshing.  5th grade is sometimes the start of school apathy for kids--it's not "new" anymore, and many have decided they are "so over" school.  (That's one thing I love about primary--most kids are just pumped to be there!  Still don't want to teach a grade where I have to tie shoe laces and blow noses tho... ;)  Anyways, this kiddo's pride in our classroom radiated from every pore as he paraded his mom around.  I was overjoyed that I had the privilege of watching.

Anyways, I wanted to post a few pictures of the room all spic and span and ready to go for our special guests:

"Gathering Place" in our classroom library (aka my favorite spot in the room)

Alternate view of our badass library--can you tell I <3 books?!

Teacher Corner/Oasis :)

An entire classroom view is still to come...

September 7, 2010

Love & Logic Beyond the Classroom

True Life: Love & Logic even works when babysitting :)

My little sweetie: "Do I HAVE to eat brocoli?!?"
Me: (smiling sweetly) "Only if you want dessert!"

That's right.  Love & Logic 1, picky child 0. ;)

Book Review: The Hunger Games Trilogy

My summer goals were very simple: sleep as much as possible, start running again, and read as much as possible. I am delighted to report that I accomplished all three. (Well, at least until my stress fracture last month...but that's a different story...). I read close to 15 books this summer, and hands down the absolute best were the three books in Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games Trilogy: The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and most recently Mockingjay. Since reading these three books, I have become something resembling a newly-converted religious fanatic, telling everyone I know that they just HAVE to read The Hunger Games. When I told my mom that I haven't been this emotionally invested in a book series since Harry Potter, she finally understood just how amazing the books are and just how deep is my attachment to the characters.

Collins's writing transports the reader hundreds if not thousands of years into the future to the country of Panem, the nation that has risen up from the ashes of what was once the United States. Panem is divided into 12 districts by industry, all ruled by The Capitol, a ruthless government whose primary goal is to keep its districts in submission and to prevent any possibility of democratization on behalf of its citizens. In order to remind citizens that they are permanently under the Capitol's control, the Hunger Games are held each year. 2 "tributes" between ages 12 and 18 are selected from each district to fight to the death in a televised, gladiator-like pursuit in which only one victor will be crowned. As if it's not horrifying enough to have children seized from their homes to compete in this blood bath, their families are forced to watch their children either die helplessly at the hands of other merciless tributes, or, quite possibly worse, be transformed into heartless killers and manipulated by the games themselves.

Not only are all three books incredibly gripping action stories with twists and turns around every corner, but the intense plot is also intertwined with an equally as gripping love story that grows more and more complex in each book. Collins achieves that near impossible author task of getting her readers to fall completely in love with her characters, to a point that not only did I cry when they suffered or died, but I genuinely missed them when one of the books ended. What I think might be even more impressive than that, tough, is that Collins also manages to create a character as complex as Katniss for her protagonist. Too often young adult fiction falls flat with shallow character, or characters that are too perfect. As much as I love Harry Potter, at times Harry is just a little too much of a super hero for me. I think deep down every reader, especially the YA reader, wants to see a bit of themselves in characters. Katniss is truly a human heroine. She makes selfish choices at times (although she also risks her life to save her beloved sister), she can be unforgiving and holds grudges when deeply hurt, and she struggles with making decisions just as most teens do. Who couldn't identify with the broken shell of Katniss in Mockingjay who, after losing those things closest to her in the world, lies on the couch without so much as changing clothes (much less showering)? Collins captures genuine emotions in the 3 books with a rawness that we all can relate to.

By far the best books I've read all summer, the Hunger Games books will certainly be added to my favorite books of all time. While a bit violent for my fifth graders (although the language is tame and the relationship details conveyed tastefully), I would recommend these books to grades 7-12 (and of course adults too!!). Hands down 5 stars.

What they remember

There is a saying, "People will forget what you say, but they will never forget how you made them feel." I believe this is unbelievably true when it comes to students. I don't know why it still surprises me, but I am always partially shocked when my students don't retain information I gave them just days (or in some cases seconds) earlier. That's partly why teachers spend so much time and energy making lessons memorable and relatable. That's us saying, "PLEASE still remember this by the time ISAT tests roll around, I beg you!!!"

Anyways, I was thinking today about a couple memories I still have from elementary school. Honestly, my whole family makes fun of me for having the memory of an elephant--i remember trivial, inconsequential things from as young as age 3. I have lots of school related memories, but it's interesting when I think about why some little moments stand out in my mind years later. For example, I vividly remember how, when I lost a tooth at school in first grade, my teacher let me stand on a chair at her closet so I could see my new toothless smile in the mirror that was mounted inside her closet door. I felt so special. Also, I remember my second grade teacher who, when I told her I liked to save the stickers she put on my worksheets to put in my sticker book at home, would save me the backings off of sticker sheets so I could safely transport my stickers home. Sometimes, she would even leave a couple little stickers on the sheet for me to keep. :) what a special treat.

These are two incredibly tiny acts, but here I am, 23 years old, and I still remember. I remember how my first grade teacher understood how important it is for 7 year olds to be able to see how their smile looks minus 1 tooth RIGHT AWAY. I remember how my second grade teacher knew that a little thing like saving little sheets of coated paper could make an eight year old's whole day. And thinking about these special teacher moments, I realize more than ever that it's the little every day acts that sometimes have the biggest effects on students. Every teacher secretly hopes that she'll be the one to "save" the troubled child, or "turn around" the child with behavior problems. But really, sometimes it's those little things we do to show we care that kids remember.

Keeping this in mind, I'm going to make a special effort this week to connect on a personal level with each of my students and make them feel special, even if just in some little way.

September 6, 2010

A little too much information, thanks...

I can't believe I forgot to write about this last week, but am so glad I remembered it now. As a teacher and a talkative person in general, I am rarely speechless. But every now and then, my little kiddos say something just unexpected and bizarre enough that I need a moment to scoop my job off of the floor. This was one of them last week:

"Hey Miss Teacher, did you know I consider myself part Canadian?"
"Oh really? Why is that?"
"Oh, because my mom started being pregnant with me while she was on vacation in Canada."

When I am a mother, I vow never to share any information with my children about when, where, or under what circumstances they were conceived. I feel very strongly about this.
As disturbing as that was, it made me smile. :)
You can't make this stuff up, I swear!

September 5, 2010

Mmmmm Weekends :)

Things I Love:

  • Not setting the alarm 
  • Laying in bed as long as possible blogging and browsing the internet
  • Lesson plans & grading at Caribou--nothing like a latte and some good music to make planning a little more enjoyable
  • Afternoon naps
  • And most of all...3 day weekends :)
Just enjoying some relaxing with old friends this weekend...a necessary thing after 2 weeks of school down! :)

Big ouch and Big disappointment...

Ouch.  That's what I'm thinking pretty much anytime I walk these days, or am even on my feet.  Here's why...

This past summer, I rekindled a long absent relationship with running, and fell in love in a big way.  My new BFF running and I got along great for a couple months, then after a VERY painful August run, we suddenly weren't on speaking terms again.  Oh, I tried calling, writing, standing outside the window holding a radio...but running just wouldn't have it.  

Let me explain...actually, it was my right tibia that would have none of this.  And I just found out that things are a LITTLE more complicated than I had first thought...Let's recap:
  • August 4th: Went for an evening run and felt a dull pain in my right inner calf almost immediately.  I chalked it up to tight muscles, and kept going.  The pain quickly worsened until at about 1 1/2 miles it was too excruiciating to continue.  In fact, I wasn't even sure if I could hobble home the quarter mile to my house...After some googling, I diagnosed myself with shin splints, threw on an ice pack, and decided to take a few days off of running.
  • August 5th: Woke up with a stiff leg, and could barely get out of bed.  I honestly could barely put weight on my leg to walk, and iced it almost constantly, limping around when I had to.
  • August 10th: Calf had begun to feel marginally better.  I tried doing lots of extra stretches per recommendation from friends who'd had shin splints.  I decided I was ready to try a run, but the pain came back as intensely as before, and continued throughout the day leaving me with a pitiful limp.  Looks like running was absolutely the wrong choice, and the pain did not go away.
  • August 14th: Visited primary care physician, who didn't agree with my shin splints diagnosis based on location of the pain.  X-rayed leg to check for stress fracture; no fracture found.  Diagnosis: tibial muscle injury.  Treatment: ice, rest, advil.
  • August 16th-20th: Pain grew less severe, but was almost constant.  I was unable to put full weight on my right leg, and continued limping.  Having started the school year by this time, the whole "rest" portion of treatment wasn't really going well, as I am on my feet running around school all day.
  • August 30th:  Went back to primary care physician to beg for a referral to a physical therapist or the like.  He examined my leg (my tibia bone has a big bump all down it BTW), and said he would like to see an MRI of the leg to help identify the muscle injury.  Posible future treatment of physical therapy, depending on the MRI results. Scheduled my MRI.
  • September 3rd: MRI of right tibia. (Side note: I was super nervous to have an MRI, partially because I was worried my whole body would have to be in what I dubbed the "coffin" and partly because I'm a fidgeter and worried about keeping still.  It actually turned out to be the most relaxing part of my week, no matter how pathetic that soudns!  There is nothing like laying still surrounded by pillows listening to The Beatles on headphones for an hour+...)
  • September 4th: Got a call from my doctor with the results of the MRI.  Turns out they did not find a muscle injury.  They found a bone injury...bummer.  Basically it was a tibial stress fracture with no distinct line, diagnosed as a stress "injury."  On the MRI you can see an 11cm injury to the inner tibial bone, which shows up as fluid on the bone as at heals.  No running allowed for at least 5-6 weeks (on top of the 4 I had already been healing), and see the orthopedist for more conclusive answers...
You can probably imagine how I am feeling right about now...As I have a history of over-training (for that matter, over-studying, over-preparing, you get the idea...), I started this summer of running vowing not to make that mistake again.  I read books about training, selected a plan after research, and STUCK TO IT.  I took rest days and did not run 2 days in a row.  I took it easy and increased my distance SLOWLY.  In short, I did everything I was supposed to do.

Yet here I am with a sore, swollen shin, already going crazy after 5 weeks of not running, with 5 more staring me in the face.  I am not a happy girl.

I have some suspicions about what might have caused the tibia disaster of 2010, since I wasn't overtraining, the usual culprit behind this type of stress injury.   My prime suspect is the fact that I switched to motion control shoes after years of running in neutral shoes at the recommendation of my local running specialty store.  The worst part about this is that, as a new runner, I went there SPECIFICALLY because I wanted an expert opinion on which shoes work best for my feet and gait.  Maybe changing to such a dramatically different shoe wasn't the best choice...

Well, this injury obviously rules out any prospect of the 5 and 10Ks I'd been looking forward to this fall, but I am not giving up hope on Disney Princess yet.  (Partly because I already paid a ridiculous $140 registration fee...)  My half training plan is 12 weeks.  So theoretically, I could be prepared for the race without running before late November.  That's not the BEST case scenario, because it's not such a good idea to come back from an injury and jump right into a training plan, but...we'll see.

And now, it's time for more ice...

September 4, 2010

My Rotten Brother

This year I have a lot of goals for myself, but one of the biggest ones is to implement Writing Workshop instead of the more traditional writing instruction I engaged in last year.  I wrote last week about the sweet lesson I taught on the first day of school, and I am still loving it as much as I did that day.
It's been a little challenging to just change my perceptions of what a writing block SHOULD be, because during these first weeks I'm not even reading the kids' work or conducting writing conferences yet.  What I'm doing is teaching Ideas lesson after Ideas lesson, getting the kids to start a bunch of different pieces so that they will be able to go back to the ones they like later.

Anyways, my penchant for picture books is no secret.  They are one of the few reasons I ever wonder if I'm teaching the right grade...but then I remember that picture books are not just for 6 year olds.  In fact, I enjoy reading them to older kids even more because there are so many messages in the good ones that are way over the little ones' heads.  One of my absolute favorite picture book authors is Patricia Polacco.  I was first captivated by her when my sixth grader teacher read us Pink and Say, then revisited her again in college when my methods ed teacher introduced us to Thank You, Mr. Falker, a book that chokes my up every time I read it.  In fact, many of Polacco's books get me all choked up.  Part of what touches me most is that her stories are all (or almost all) inspired by memories from her childhood.  In any case, I love sharing them with children.

This week I read aloud a favorite of mine: My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother.  Anyone who knows me knows that my brothers are very special people in my life.  The three of us rarely get to spend time altogether, as not only are we all busy people, but one brother lives in Florida.  However, that doesn't change the fact that when we are together, it's nothing but fun (with some teasing thrown in of course).  They are my heroes and role models. Anyways, Redheaded Brother is a special book to me.  In the story, 'Tricia and her bother Richie do nothing but fight.  He always wants to be better from her, constantly teases her, and she feels like she will never have anything that's all her own.  Typical younger sister complex. :)  In the end of the story, Tricia has an accident at the carnival and hits her head when she falls off a carousel.  Richie ends up carrying her all the way home, then runs all the way to the doctor to bring him to her.  It's a beautiful story.

I paused half-way through the story (when Richie still seemed like a big jerk) and asked my students to raise their hand if they have a "rotten sibling" at home, or if THEY are sometimes the "rotten sibling."  I told them a story about my Rotten Older Brother from childhood.  My oldest brother used to torment me when he was left "in charge" as the babysitter when our parents went out.  I have one vivid memory of a time when I was crying from missing mom & dad, and his plan to stop me from crying was to take my precious teddy bear Fred and put him on top of the ceiling fan.  He threatened to, if I didn't stop crying, turn on the fan and chop my bear to pieces.  Obviously an effective way to stop me from crying...

Anyways, my students giggled and grinned as I dramatically told that story.  Then, during "Writing Time" I sat and wrote the rest of it.  The next day, I shared it with them and they helped me restructure it.  While certainly most of a teacher's time during Writing Workshop should be spent in conferences and helping struggling writers, don't underestimate the value of writing along with your students.  Not only does it help form those precious relationships, but it sets a wonderful example for them, and it's just plain fun.  I promised I will tell them more stories about my "Rotten Brother" (who's not rotten at all anymore!) soon.

When a conversation really does help:

After my last post, I spent the entire evening frustrated about what that student had said about me and our class. I know I promised myself I wouldn't do that anymore--allow a ten year old to get to me, and bring my emotions home to ruminate on like that--but I couldn't help it.  It wasn't the behavior that was bugging me, it was that one comment about the seating arrangement.  I had kind of a, "How dare he?" complex about it...

Anyways, I pulled him into the classroom a little early in the morning and we had a long, calm talk.  And it was actually really positive.  I told him, in true Love & Logic form, "This is your chance to let me know what you're having a problem with and what you don't like in the classroom.  I can't promise I can change everything, but I can explain some things, and hopefully we can come up with a solution to others."  And we actually did come up with a few ideas.  I explained to him that I placed him with the kids at his team because I value his leadership skills.  Sure enough, the rest of the day he was stepping up and helping the kids at his team, even going above and beyond in math to help the boy at his table who constantly struggles.  It was beautiful.

I was SHOCKED though at one piece of information he shared with me during our conversation.  I sensed that he had a complex that I was a "mean teacher" before the year even started, and now I found out why.  It turned out that one of the quiet, just slides by with bare minimum but doesn't cause any trouble, kids from last year told him that I was "really mean to [student] last year," referring to my behavior problem student who constantly had melt downs and needed to be escorted to the office on a daily basis.  My jaw DROPPED.  I cannot believe it that that student is STILL following me around causing me problems, unintentional or not!

I explained some of the things that that student had done in class on a regular basis (throwing things, bullying kids, yelling and screaming, laying on the floor and not working, and talking back), and calmly explained that while I liked him and cared about him, there are consequences for any student who chooses to behave that way.  My goodness.  I never thought I would have to explain why there are consequences for incredibly disruptive, defiant behavior!!!

Anyways, it was a good day with this student after that talk.  Which goes to show you, while it might feel silly to talk to a ten year old like they're an adult, sometimes it really works.  Some kids just need to be shown that you value their opinions and see them as a real person with real things to say.  I'm sure our differences are not settled, but at least we are off to a better start to the year!

September 1, 2010

That's a new one...

Today was not my happiest of days at school.  While things are still going far better than last year, today I was pretty frustrated all day.  A couple of my boys are causing some problems, some routines are in need of reteaching, and I'm just feeling a little uneasy about my teaching in general (which tends to happen when something goes wrong--I unravel a bit...).  One of my "tough" boys was talking to his neighbors and shouting out answers ALL day long.  When he received a warning or consequence, he completely shut down.  This morning, it was lying belly down on his chair and refusing to do any work/participate.  Fine, I ignored it.  This afternoon, when I pulled him out in the hall to discuss his behavior from the morning and the consequences he would be receiving for it, it was laying on the floor outside of the room and refusing to come in for a good 20 minutes.  Then, at the end of the day when I pulled him aside to let him know I'd be calling his mom about the previous behavior, it was storming off before I could actually have a reteaching conversation.

Well, I called mom to fill her in, and when her son got home, she talked to him a bit before calling me back.  When we spoke the second time, she told me that her son had told her he's upset with me because the African American students in the class are seated "1 at each table group" (which isn't true for all of the groups, but is true at his group and a few of the others).

Yep.  Exactly what I was going for, buddy.  So that's why you're constantly disrupting class and acting defiantly by lying belly down on your chair?

Anyways, my reaction to the mother was a big old, "Ummmmm.....can't say I noticed..."  Honestly, there are so many things I think about when arranging seats.  2 boys and 2 girls per table.  2 lower kids and 2 higher kids.  Try to surround my chatter boxes and flaming tempers with mild mannered, mellow kids.  That is exactly what I had done at his table.  I explained this to mom, and she was not at all accusatory.  I apologized for any misunderstandings, and said I would touch base with him in the morning to share this information with him and problem-solve.

I have been dwelling on this all night though, because I am honestly pissed off.  The truth is that this child is probably mad at me both for giving him a consequence, calling his mom, and probably partly because he's not seated by one of his best friends.  Which he will continue to not be because of the previously mentioned problems.  Anyways, he's mad, making excuses for his behavior, and trying to get me back.

Sigh.  I'm just glad this exhausting, long day is over.  Tomorrow is another day.  I will not let a ten year old get the best of me or unnerve me.  I will keep trying tomorrow.
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