Tuesday, November 09, 2010


One of the special things about working in a low-income, high-transiency school is that you sometimes have little or no notice that a child is moving.

This morning a girl turned her homework in on my desk, and then told me that this afternoon she needed to pack up all her stuff because her mom was picking her up and tomorrow she was going to a new school. Occasionally a kid will claim to be moving for months (and it never happens), but this was immediate- and as a quick check with the secretary revealed, it was also true.

She came and found me while I was on recess duty. She left her friends to come over and tell me that she was really going to miss me and she wished she could stay here at our school. But she was moving- again- to at least her 4th school in 2 1/2 years. She said she asked her mom if they could just please stay in one spot.

And I want to ask her mom the same thing. This girl started the year reading under 10 words a minute and she is expected to be at 90 words a minute by the end of the year. This girl has just finally- after working on it for the last 10 weeks of school- learned to count by 2's, 5's, and 10's (... most of the time).

Sure, she's gregarious and adorable, so she'll make friends at a new school, but will she still have 60 minutes of targeted reading instruction at her level (even though it is probably a year behind)? Will she still get at least 30 minutes of focused, small-group time on math skills? Will she still have two teachers in her classroom to pull her out when she needs some extra help? Will she still be coming to school an extra hour every day and potentially an extra 6 weeks into the summer to help her catch up?

Most of those will definitely not be true at her new school, and the others aren't likely.

So I spent the end of my lunch writing her a note, hopefully at her reading level, that told her how much I was going to miss her and gave her the address of the school in hopes she'll write to me.

She probably won't, but I had to try. Because I will miss her. Despite how hard things are for her, she has a bright and cheery attitude and won't give up. I've asked her to erase a backwards number or letter countless times and she doesn't complain- she just fixes it and goes on trying. She's got this beautiful singing voice and loves to use rhythm or movement while she counts. She wants to do well and she's sweet, and when she finally does get something, she grins from ear to ear and you can't help but feel every bit as proud as she does. She's one of those kids I've just clicked with a little extra.

And I just have to hope that her new teacher doesn't groan and give up after seeing her test scores. I have to hope that her new teacher doesn't get frustrated with how talkative she can be, or how she sometimes spaces out and doesn't pay attention. And more than that, I have to hope that her new teacher can find the time and the help to get her what she really needs. (Because although most teachers would probably want to, it's sometimes impossible to get it all in.)

I may have only known her since August, but I hate having to let her go and trust that some teacher I don't know at some other school is going to take care of her, especially because I know my school has been given extra money for extra teachers and extra time and most schools don't have those kinds of opportunities for their students.

It's hard when a student leaves. It's harder when it's a student you worked with in small groups or individually a lot. It's tougher when you've seen firsthand how another teacher might not click with her so well. It's even worse when she once spent a day of recess telling you about fighting going on at home.


I hope it all works out. Who knows? Maybe she'll end up back here someday...

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

That's not fair! She was doing it, too!

In the teacher's lounge today, we got to talking about speeding tickets. One of the teachers had gotten one that very morning, and was none too happy about it.

"I even asked him- what about all those other cars in front of me? I was just keeping up with traffic, so I know they were speeding too! How come he didn't pull them over?"

It cracked me up.
Kids tell me the exact same thing all day.

"But I wasn't the only one talking!"

"What about the other people that ran?"

"He hit me first! Why isn't he in trouble?"

And I always explain that I don't have eyes in the back of my head and sometimes I don't see when people misbehave. Not every person will get caught every time. But if you don't want to be caught doing the wrong thing, you can't be doing the wrong thing in the first place.

It's always seemed hard for kids to understand the cause-and-effect in that kind of situation, but it wasn't until today that I realized they aren't the only ones!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Never Make Assumptions...

Being an assistant teacher for these two years has meant that I get to work firsthand with substitute teachers.

And there are wonderful substitute teachers. But unfortunately, those subs are in high demand and there aren't usually enough to go around.

I know that I'm in a unique situation. Most people leave some hopefully-foolproof sub plans, cross their fingers, hope for the best, and read between the lines of the notes and the students' comments to guess how the day actually went. It's a leap of faith, and sub plans are a pain, but at least you don't have to be there to see how awful it may go.

As it is now, our school is required to get a substitute for the classroom teacher, but usually, because I know how we do things, I do the majority of the teaching anyway. I have quickly discovered that some substitutes actually will walk around, help students, and help them pay attention while I teach. Others... well, I can easily see which subs come to our school knowing (and taking advantage of the fact) that they often have a much easier workload because there is an assistant teacher in the room who does almost everything.

I also have a chance to see those who mean well, but unfortunately just don't quite cut it.

Today there were only 10 minutes of the entire day during which my students were alone with the substitute teacher while I was at lunch. Less than that, actually, when you consider that we never get in from recess on time.

Written in the plans: Basically, take students for a restroom break, and then to a special.
Implied: Keep the class under control.

Apparently I need to be more specific, because the class was completely out of control to the point where another teacher stepped in to yell at loud kids and try to sort out some probable bullying. The other teacher explained that maybe she had overstepped her boundaries, but felt obligated to step in because the substitute was doing nothing more than "standing in one spot and talking loudly" to the kids and she was concerned for a student's safety.

Annnd not only did his happen, but when this colleague stopped in to talk to me about it after school, I had no idea what she was talking about. The substitute had allowed the class to get so out of control that another teacher intervened, and a student was possibly physically bullied in the bathroom, but the substitute didn't bother to tell me anything about it, even when I was in the classroom for the entire afternoon with her. This is a situation that my colleague shared with the principal- and the substitute didn't even share it with me.

In fact, her note to the teacher ended with, "We had a great day!"

I'll say it again. There are wonderful substitute teachers, but there are also some- even the sweetest old ladies- who make me worry for the days when I will have my own classroom and need a substitute. Because if I struggled to keep certain members of the class under control today- I don't even want to think about what the day would have been like if the substitute was their only teacher.

And I might not have even known.

It's a scary thought.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Recess Walk

Until the weather gets freezing, I'm actually enjoying recess duty. I usually take over Homework Detention, which means helping a lot of kids who don't do their homework at home (and often have a hard time completing it on their own). I don't mind it. Some of these kids are getting attention that they crave, or getting one-on-one reteaching that they might not get otherwise. Meanwhile, I miss out on lots of tattling and help out the grade level teachers. Win-win!

Unfortunately, I started Homework Monitoring just after promising one of the little ones that we'd go for a walk and talk one day. He kept asking me, "When are we going to go on our walk?" And when I said, "I don't know- I'll try today!" he'd respond, "You keep saying that." I felt awful, but I promised him that I'd find a day to make it work.

Today I was finally able to go on a walk with him, and I asked him about his weekend.

"Did you see the building that went down on TV?" he asked. I assumed he was talking about the local bar that burned to the ground a few days ago.

"Oh, the one with the fire?"

"No, the one the plane went into. I felt really sad for that lady," he told me somberly, with genuine sympathy on his face.

Apparently at some point this weekend, he saw a 9/11 memorial on television, heard a woman tell her story, and didn't realize that the whole event actually happened 9 years ago.

I was a little taken aback, but also touched. I don't think he realized that this had been such a huge national event, especially because we live far from the area in which it happened, and he wasn't even alive when the planes hit- and yet I could tell that he was really affected nonetheless by seeing it.

I wouldn't have expected a seven year old  to understand the gravity of 9/11, but he certainly seemed to. I'm glad I made time for that walk today.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"Listen, Mom! Someone thinks I'm organized!!!"

Today we were talking about responsibility, and giving some ideas for how to be responsible with homework.

I was mentioning how I make sure to take things out of my bag for school and then put them back as soon as I'm done so I know I won't forget them. I told them I have to do this because I'm a messy person and it's hard for me to be neat, even though I'm trying (especially the beginning of this year).

Later, my new lead teacher asked, "Really? Was that true? I don't see you as a messy person at all..."

And I was amazed. Yes, we're only a week and a half in, but this is shocking considering that at one point in my childhood, my room floor was so messy that my dad took everything and put it in trash bags and said unless it was homework, I couldn't get it back for 2 weeks. Clothes, shoes, whatever- I went 2 weeks without it.

My backpacks were always filled with randomness by the end of a year. More than a few papers were lost while I was in school. I have a pile literally a foot tall of papers from last year and the summer that still need filing.

But to start out the school year, I have managed to convince my co-teacher that I am at least somewhat organized and neat.

This may be the first time anyone has ever even kind of called me organized. I called my mom right after school to brag. Now I just hope it lasts!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Open House!

Every teacher blog I read seems to be focusing on how their classroom is set up for the new year, and I love it. I'm picking up so many wonderful ideas and so much inspiration for when I set up my own room! (See: linky on Babbling Abby's fantastic Teacher Week!) It makes me itch to get started and buy and make new things.

Unfortunately, I'm not at the stage of having my own room, but I am working on setting up a classroom! Our open house was this past week, and school is starting soon!

I've been helping my new partner-in-rhyme (eh... not sure about that one). We've been working on moving her into a new school while she also moves at home. I don't know how she's doing it, and I know she has got to be so stressed. She seems like she has a million different wonderful teaching ideas, and I can't wait to learn from her, but she's been so busy that I spent some time getting ready alone in the room this week.

It was odd; at times, I could think of so many things that I would do if it were my room. Some of these were things I didn't know if she wanted to do herself (or at all), and some of them were things that I would simply want to check with her about before I started working. It was a little odd to know what to do but not feel I could do it, but it also felt like a trial run.

I can tell already that one of the ways my assistant position has helped me is simply in showing me what a room needs to be ready. Between student teaching and where I was last year, I've seen two very different classrooms. Because I student taught in the Spring, though, I didn't get to see everything the teacher did at the beginning of the year (both before students came, and on that all-important first day).

Here were some of the things I did as we got ready for Open House:

- Make a bulletin board outside the room with student names so they can find their room.
(I put each name on a balloon and then tied a string from each one. Then I gathered the strings so they were in one big bunch!)

- Put away student supplies.
(Our school is purchasing or getting donated the necessary supplies, so I separated them all from their bulk boxes and put them in individual boxes for each kid or into a class supply area.)

- Label art boxes. They all look alike and I know we'll have arguments of whose are whose! 

- Distribute books to each desk.

- Label any place the kids will use specifically in the room, such as cubbies.

- Make a name label for each desk- but class lists change a lot, so don't attach them far in advance!

And those were just the things I actually did! If it were my room, I would want to do even more before open house.

I'd make sure we had a large name label for each teacher's desk, a welcome message up on the SmartBoard, a sign-in sheet and parent volunteer sheet, a note with a picture of me and treat for each student inside their desk at open house, and a page or activity for parents and/or students to do while at open house! I might even let students sign in on the SmartBoard (but make sure that no other writing utensils but the SmartBoard pens are in sight!), or I might have a slideshow of pictures from the year before on the board to show students some of the activities they will be doing.

At our school, open house happens before school starts and families mill around the school at any time in the hour to see their students' classrooms. There is no time where all parents are in your room to hear a talk or presentation, but luckily we still had time to greet each student and family that came in. About half of our students came, which is actually much better attendance than last year! The kids really like seeing their name outside the door and then coming in to see their special spots and things in the room. And, of course, meeting even half of the kids has me so excited to start school this week!

All the preparation also got me thinking about the things I would like to do to set up my own classroom next year- not just for open house, but for the whole year. This week I hope to type out my list for each step along the way so that next year, I'll have each small step written out and ready to be crossed off when it's done!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Another Way to Make a Cent

Picture borrowed from Rrrrred.

New pennies? Come on! They look nice, but do you people realize how difficult you make teaching money every time you add an updated style?

The new nickels have been confusing, and don't even get me started on state quarters. (What coin has a tree? Well, kids, if it has an eagle or ANYTHING ELSE YOU DON'T RECOGNIZE, go ahead and assume it's a quarter.)

It may seem simple for adults to figure out, but for little kids, you're just adding more and more that they have to be able to recognize and distinguish, and learning to count money is already hard for most of our kids!

Come on, U.S. Mint, I know you're trying to honor stuff, but help us out here!

Thursday, August 05, 2010


Most jobs have vacation time that's a bit more spread out through the year. Teachers get it mostly at once, and after this summer, I've realized I have to be careful to use it as vacation!

(By the way, for any non-teachers who think I'm complaining or think it's unfair, just stop. Teachers don't get paid for the summer- our paychecks for the 180 school days we work are just spread out over the whole year.)

This year I taught summer school. Unlike a lot of summer school programs, ours lasted the entire school day for 6 weeks. Then, I helped teach a summer camp for a couple of weeks. After that, I went back to my hometown and dove headfirst into wedding planning for a week.

Today, I slept in. I've done nothing productive at all yet. I'm still in my pajamas, and I've got reality TV on. I do need to get a few things done this afternoon, but it shouldn't be much. Tonight, I'm leaving for a mini-vacation with my fiance and family. I do need to clean up around home and get myself organized for the new school year after vacation, but I finally have the time to do it, and at least I shouldn't have a lot to do to set up a classroom!

It feels like I've finally gotten to SUMMER and it's fantastic!

School's going to start before I know it, and I'm hoping I have enough time left to enjoy that summer feeling, and get bored with that summer feeling juuuust before school starts! How about you? Has it felt like summer, and are you ready to go back to school?

Saturday, July 24, 2010


Whew. I worked through the regular school year, summer school, and then a week and a half of science camp. After that, I've gone in twice for a few hours to help finish up the grading and paperwork of the camp.

It's truly summer 'break'- and luckily for me, they've pushed back our school's start date so that I have about a month until teacher workdays.

But the stores already have Back to School materials out. Ugh. Does that make anyone else feel like summer is basically over?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Red Pen

I try to look for the bright side of things, and this past year has been no exception. Starting out my teaching career as an assistant to another teacher had its perks.

I didn't have that notorious Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad First Year. I was given plenty of opportunities to teach, and plan, and grade- I just didn't have to do ALL of it. I could share those responsibilities and not feel overwhelmed, while still getting a teacher pay and compensation.

Honestly, even just getting a job as a teacher of any kind was wonderful.

I wasn't the only teacher in this kind of position in our school, and a lot of us became friends. We were together in just starting out and wishing for our own room.

And for a few of the teachers, that happened. By Spring Break, they knew they had their own room for the following year. They were thrilled, but of course, didn't want to brag. I made my best effort to bring it up and congratulate them so that my friends wouldn't feel awkward, but it's hard to see other people getting what you want.

When I was evaluated, I was cut down hard for my classroom management. I know it's something a lot of new teachers hear, so it probably shouldn't have bothered me as much as it did, but it was unexpected. We were having some discipline issues in our classroom and I knew that, but never before in ANY evaluation (even all through student teaching) had I been criticized for my ability to keep the class under control. I had my weaknesses but that was not one I knew.

I was told that even as an assistant, the kids had to know that when I was in front of them, teaching, certain things were and were not acceptable- regardless of the classroom climate when the other teacher was up in front of them. If they could get up and get a drink mid-lesson with the other teacher, they had to know they couldn't with ME. I wasn't sure what else I could do- many times I already felt like I was tougher with discipline than the other teacher, but the system in place didn't have much in the way of consequences. I would have loved to change it, but couldn't do more than suggest a change. I also wasn't sure I even wanted to force inconsistency of the rules on the kids- I felt it would be confusing and probably not work well without consequences to back it up.

It was hard for me because I felt that it wasn't necessarily a weakness of my teaching, and I wasn't sure how to show improvement. I was told the principal saw improvement on the next evaluation, but I could tell  much more was expected. In none of my evaluations did I get better than a "Satisfactory" in any category, so I was left feeling like I was bad at this, and not especially good at anything. Despite the words that came out on the evaluation, the tone and suggestions still said, "You aren't good at this."

It was interesting to me, too, and I wondered if the principal noticed- the lead teachers who were struggling with classroom management had assistants who also struggled, and the lead teachers who did well with classroom management had assistants who also did well. Coincidence? Well, to me, this speaks of classroom climate having a very strong impact, and it being hard to evaluate each individual independent of it, especially assistants who have little control over the climate. But I'm not sure the principal saw it the same way.

When time came to get my assignment for the next year, I knew better than to hold out much hope that I would join my friends in having my own classroom. I could tell the principal didn't trust me to have my own room yet.

Honestly, from the principal perspective, I know they only want to put people in a classroom that they have seen demonstrate really doing it. It makes sense. But the principal has to know it is hard on us to see our colleagues- the people who are just as new as us, and who were on the same level as us before- moving up, when we don't get to.

It's hard, and I'm jealous. If there just wasn't room, that would be one thing. But there are rooms with no 'head teacher'- including the one I'm assigned to for next year. I don't know who I'll work with, and may not know until the last minute. I don't know if this is someone that will let me do much actual teaching. I don't know if this is someone who is strong where I'm not and will teach me a lot and make me a better teacher. I don't know if this is someone I'll even get along with at all.

The hardest part for me is that except for my evaluations and this whole issue, I feel this year has made me a better teacher. The teacher I worked with was great and let me be a partner. I know my first year will be easier because of this year. But overall, my confidence in myself running a classroom has diminished.

I was scared before, but knowing that the principal doesn't have faith in my abilities makes me terrified. What if those opinions are right? What if I CAN'T control the kids? What if I'm NOT cut out for this?

If I ended up getting one of the open positions for the fall, it would be at the last minute. And while this whole thing speaks to me wanting my own room, I'm not sure I want one this year. Not a week before school with little time to set up and plan. Not knowing that the administration doesn't trust me and sees it as a risk. Not with my self-confidence so low.

I don't know what would have made them better, but I know for sure that evaluations shouldn't leave me feeling like this.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

(High School) Kids Say the Darndest Things

When I'm teaching elementary kids, I expect them to be completely and totally random. I expect them, especially in science, to ask me all kinds of crazy questions about why the world is the way it is. And I love it!

Now that summer school is over, I'm helping out at the summer camp I've worked for 4 summers. It's a high school biology camp, with heavy loads of chemistry and math. It's kind of unique- I'm a 2nd grade teacher who can teach logarithms, pH, and the Henderson-Hasselbalch equation like they're the back of my hand. I really enjoy it because I love biology (and nearly became a biologist instead of a teacher.)

It's really different teaching high school students. There are reasons why I chose to become an elementary teacher (and not a biology teacher) even though I love biology. There are so many kids already turned off about learning, and way too much attitude that I don't want to deal with. Even though most of these kids come to camp voluntarily, I can see it in some of them, too. For a few weeks, it's fine- but it's not something I want to deal with every day. Plus, in elementary, I get the chance to teach everything. I love biology, but I am passionate about reading and writing too. I hated math when I was in elementary school, so I love the opportunity to make math seem easier and more fun to kids who hate it!

Simply put, elementary's a better fit for me, but I still love science and this camp is a great way for me to get a chance to do things like gel electrophoresis and bacterial transformation. And I get to teach high school kids. The kids who aren't turned off are a lot of fun to be around. You can joke with these kids, or be sarcastic, and they get it. I get to help introduce them to a university, and what it's like to be in college. They can challenge me on an intellectual level the way most of my 7 year olds can't. I get to watch hilariously obvious flirting when often, they are oblivious. Best of all, I don't have to deal with them asking to go to the nurse, needing help to tie their shoes, or having "accidents" in the middle of the day.

It's a nice change, but I miss some of the things about elementary kids, too- like their propensity to say the funniest, most random things. And then one of the high schoolers surprised me.

We were making macromolecule models and I mentioned that -ose at the end of a word means 'sugar' because glucose (like in blood sugar) and sucrose (table sugar) are two examples- as is deoxyribose, the sugar that helps to form the backbone of our DNA. One of the kids asked about -ase as a suffix. Generally, -ase means an enzyme. From there, we talked about what it means to be lactose-intolerant, and what that means about your body's lactase (the enzyme that processes the sugar lactose, which is most commonly found in milk).

Stay with me :) Almost there.

Now that we're talking about digestion, one of the kids, laughing because she's a little embarrassed to say it, asks me why her pee smells like tuna after she eats tuna. I wasn't sure, honestly, but I explained that since urine is waste, the way it ends up is affected by what you eat first. She counters, saying, "But when I eat hamburgers, my pee doesn't smell like hamburgers." The best I had was, whatever causes the 'tuna smell' must not be broken down through the digestion process, but the 'hamburger smell' must get broken down somehow- and that seemed to satisfy her.

But she has one more question. "How come when I drink a lot of water, my pee gets almost clear?"

And this one, I can answer. In fact, it's a perfect reinforcement of something we've learned. I respond that this is just like our dilutions of dye solutions. When you add more water, the color gets lighter and the solution gets more clear. She made an "ahhhhh," and I had to laugh. I did not go into the day expecting to answer random questions about things like tuna-smelling pee.

Maybe teaching high school kids isn't quite as different as I thought!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

The Finish Line.

That's it! I'm done!

Today was definitely a little frantic, but overall- it was wonderful.

I gave them each a pair of "reading glasses" (shiny sunglasses!) to celebrate finishing summer school. The class store had a 50% off sale. I gave them each a special send-off message, and got a few sweet hugs. We had a great time hanging out at the pizza party, and they were so grateful and polite.

As for the serious stuff- we had a ton of assessments to still finish up today- and they did amazingly. Overall, they made a lot of progress and they worked so hard, even on the last day. After yesterday's computer test was frustrating for a lot of them, today's wasn't so bad (even though it covered a ton of things we never did!).

Our attendance has slowly dwindled, so what started as a class of 7 was down to 4 kids today- but those 4 kids had a great day. When I asked their favorite thing we did in summer school, the first response was "working as a team." (Whaaat? Unexpected!) And when I gave them their reading glasses, they looked so darn cute that I couldn't help but snap a couple of pictures with them.

It's funny. I am incredibly glad to be on summer break, but it feels weird not to be typing up morning work or grading papers. I'm not going to know what to do with myself tomorrow.

I am so glad I taught summer school. Having my own room for the first time, and having such a small class, was fantastic. Only six weeks with these kids- but I am going to miss them like crazy.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Almost summer break at last!

NOW I realize why teachers do so much "fluff" the last days of school.

We made the mistake of choosing 3 review standards to cover and assess for our last week, which is 3 days long. After a long weekend, and before going home for a glorious few weeks of freedom.

Besides these 3 standards and assessments, we need to end summer school taking mClass Math (5 assessments to practice and take), DIBELS ORF (3 one-minute readings and retells per child), a computerized standardized test in reading and math (the first took my kids well over an hour today), and a general math post-test.

I definitely should have done more of these last week. There's just so much to do! Tomorrow by the time we've had morning work, our morning recess, science, and a computer test, we have 20 minutes before lunch. IF they finish the test on time. Lunch is a pizza party for those that met their reading goal (everyone). Everything else, including packing up, cleaning the room and desks, and finishing up assessments will have to happen in the afternoon. Somehow, in amongst all of that, I am required to get the grades in the gradebook so that right after school, the principal can print grade cards.

Plus, I'm trying to pack up my things because I'm currently taking residence in another teacher's room and I want to get my stuff out of her way. I am allowed to leave it at school, but I don't even know for sure where to leave it (because my assignment may well change, said the principal). The loot I've collected over the summer is piling up and most of it needs to go home until I have my own classroom.

I'm a messy person by nature, but the state of this room (not to mention my to-do lists for tonight and tomorrow) are driving me crazy. If I stay until I get it all done, I could be here all night.

And yeah, I know. I'm blogging instead of working, but... I needed a break. I needed to vent!

The good news is that my kids are doing really well on their assessments so far. Most of them are showing a lot of growth in at least 1 area, and I think coming to school for an extra six weeks has been good for them. Better yet- a couple of them said they wish tomorrow wasn't the last day, and kids were asking me if they could please take their reading logs home.

Even though I can't wait for tomorrow to be over, it makes me feel good to know I've got to be doing something right!

Tuesday, July 06, 2010


Over the weekend, I watched fireworks to celebrate the Fourth of July (American Independence Day!). We went downtown and sat on a pedestrian bridge, waiting until the fireworks started and just chatting with friends until they started.

There were people who had waited patiently in order to snag a good seat sitting all along the sidewalks. Many were there even before we arrived. But when the show started, just about everyone walking along the bridge seemed to stop in the middle of the bridge and stand.

So- two rows of people sitting, with people standing in front of us. Faaantastic. Luckily, we were far enough back to still see okay, and we made sure to scoot back in case the people in front of us needed to move back. There was a lady, though, who couldn't see well from her staked out spot and was furious.

She spent most of the fireworks show yelling at people to sit down or move out of the way, with such polite requests as "There's a BABY back here! MOVE it!" Anytime someone stopped in front of her, she told them to move down (and stand in front of other people) because "her baby can't see!!!" When someone she was with took the baby and held him in a different area, where he could see, she whined (loudly) that the reason she came was to see the baby's reaction and she couldn't see it when he wasn't even near her. The man handed her the baby and vented that, "Fine, you should just do what you want then. I'm done trying." As more people moved and stopped in front of her, she'd yell, "My baby's crying because he can't see! Get outta the WAY!" (Apparently not realizing that fireworks, being loud and bright, could probably also scare a baby enough to make him cry. Or, you know, this woman yelling in his ears.)

As if that wasn't enough, some salesmen walked by with glowsticks. "HEY! Light man! Hey- HEY! Guy with the LIGHTS!" she hollered. He has a hard time hearing because he's not very close, he's in a crowd of people, and there are fireworks being shot off. Finally, the guy turns around and she tells him, "You know, maybe you should LISTEN if you want business." And she proceeds to take her sweet time paying this man for a glowing lightsaber thing while he stands directly in front of a couple and our group. So, heaven forbid someone stand in front of her and her baby- but no big deal if she causes them to stand right in front of other people.

This woman is driving me crazy. Her bitching has been constant and annoying throughout what should have been an extremely pleasant fireworks display. Honestly, if I were the guy selling glowsticks, I would have loved to tell her to be nice if she wants service and walked away. Money's good, but sticking it to her by not letting her get what she wanted would have felt even better.

I'm quickly losing my faith in humanity, but then, a few minutes later, I hear a kind voice from behind her. Someone politely asked if she wanted to come back there. The nice woman explained that they had a great view, and she and the baby should be able to see just fine without anyone in their way.

And, my faith in humanity was quickly restored. Even though this lady was being an incredible annoyance, someone still offered her a better spot when they didn't have to offer anything. Kindness means a lot, but kindness to someone who's berating others and doing nothing to earn it means even more.

If you celebrate it, hope you had a happy 4th of July!

Monday, July 05, 2010


I'm still teaching summer school, but summer school is only for grades K-3. Our 5th grade is moving to a middle school next year, and we will likely be adding sections in the primary grades, so a lot of people are moving classrooms. I have discovered that a LOT of people are going through their closets and throwing out things they don't need, and it is glorious.

GLORIOUS, I tell you.

My old co-teacher has been extremely generous- while she's at school for summer school, she's been slowly working through her cabinets and she found lots of things she never uses, like number lines and morning meeting posters and laminated charts- some not even opened- and gave them to me. She also found a huge box of books from an old reading series, and gave them to me. I found an old science series (we don't even use science series in primary grades anymore!) and a desktop file holder in the teachers' supply room. I found some thick cardboard mailboxes out in the hallway, about to be thrown away. I found binders and a few old board games outside a room where someone is moving.

I am so lucky to be in the school for the first part of the summer to see when people throw things out like this! I likely won't have my own room this year, so my "for a classroom" collection is collecting dust in the closet- but when the time comes, I'll have a lot more to start with.

Make sure if you have work to do at school over the summer that you walk around the building looking for free boxes! Plus, if your grade-level teachers know you're looking to build up your classroom, they will hopefully offer you first dibs. I've been VERY lucky and it's exciting! :) And better yet- FREE!

Thursday, July 01, 2010

One of the things that makes teaching relatively unique...

One of my kids was itching today, but not his head particularly, so I didn't think much of it. Plus, it's the summer and I have multiple kids with mosquito bites all over their arms and legs from being outside in the evenings.

Later in the day, I was walking around to see how they were doing on a paper, and this kid looks up to me, pointing at the side of his neck. "Do I have a flea on my neck?" he asks, clear as day.

And... yes, yes he did. A few minutes later he itched his head and said, "I hope I'm not getting lice again."

I have been itching ALL day.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Power of a Theme

Even though I'm excited to have a break in a few weeks, I am loving summer school.

I have a class of 7 kids. I can work individually on something with every kid, every day. I can call on them each probably at least 10 times a day. They each get a worthwhile classroom job every week. Our line in the hallway and our time spent going on bathroom breaks are wonderfully short. When I walk around the room, I can check every paper every time. When students turn in a quiz, it is easy for me to meet with each one to go over the answers. Every student does fluency practice every day. We can do hands-on, materials-intensive projects. I can assess students while they play games much easier, so we do less worksheets. I feel like we can do so much! In some ways, I wish school was like this year-round.

The opportunities for differentiation are fantastic, too, but I think my very favorite thing about summer school is that we have a theme in the curriculum for each week.

Besides our reading choices being focused on the same theme, we also have a designated time (30 minutes per day) for thematic science or social studies instruction. When possible, we connect math and writing to that theme, too. There is a focus, and I love it!

Having that theme gives me somewhere to start, especially for science and social studies. It gives me ideas for better lessons. Last week, we learned about giants. Our standards were measurement of length in centimeters and inches; writing a brief description of a familiar person, place, or thing; and identifying synonyms and antonyms. Here were some of our activities:
  • Reading aloud a rhyming fiction story about a giant
  • Reading non-fiction about giant animals, a legend about a giant, and two poems about giants
  • Giants readers' theater (a fairy tale)
  • Reading about redwoods and experimenting to see how stems move water up a plant
  • Discussing perspective and drawing from the perspective of a giant

  • Creating a "giant" out of straws and measuring its body parts
  • Writing a description of the straws giant
  • Brainstorming synonyms and antonyms for the word giant
  • Created giant ants with antonyms on them
  • Folding an icosahedron model of the Earth
  • Using our models and flashlights to simulate the movement of Earth around the sun

Obviously, we did other activities that weren't tied into the theme, too. This was actually one of the harder themes to integrate, I felt, but we still did all of these things related to Giants in five days.

I can't wait to try more of this during the regular school year, because it makes the planning and teaching more fun for me, and- most importantly- the kids are SO EXCITED to learn! And I'll post more about this later, but I think that's half the battle.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Looooong day.

Most of the teachers who read this are probably on summer vacation, or darn close at this point.

Well, I am in the 'summer,' but I'm not on vacation yet. Those of you who are- this will be one of those posts that makes you go, "Ahhhhh," and cherish the fact that you're reading this from a beach chair out in the sun or whatever.

I have a blessedly small class of 7 children for summer school, and 1 was absent today. Six kids- easy day, right?

Not when one of your students forgets to take her medicine. I understand that it happens, especially when the responsibility for taking it lies completely in the hands of an 8-year-old, but this is not a child for whom medicine just kind of helps.

Most days, the early morning is rough until about 9:30, when suddenly she is much more relaxed and her demeanor softens. Some days, it feels like a different student is in the classroom at 10:00. She is extremely bright and pleasant. She works hard and generally listens to direction. Her work is neat and precise, because she wants to do well and loves to please her teachers.

I take special care to give her extra attention and responsibilites in the morning, and while it's not always easy, we usually make it to 9:30 and then the day improves drastically. It is believed that this is when her medicine kicks in, and I think it truly makes it easier for her to behave.

Well, today 9:30 never seemed to come. Her erratic behavior continued, then escalated. By the afternoon, she was singing in the hallway, flipping her body over her desk to do a headstand, buzzing her lips like she was playing a brass instrument, and throwing her belongings around the room. At one point, I called her mom and she claimed she was leaving. Walked right out the door. I let her spend a few minutes working in the back of another classroom, but as soon as she came back in ours, she was off the walls again and threw a ball of paper at another student. After whining and crying on the floor (her, not me, though I considered it), I escorted her to the office. On the way, she tried to run away. By the end of the day, we'd tried positive motivation and praise, a private teacher-student talk, time-out, discipline writing, calling home, removal from the room, a write-up, and going to the office. I'm not even sure what else was left.

Late in the day, I found out the probable culprit- no medicine today.

I don't advocate medicine in most cases. A lot of the time, it's better for students to be taught skills that help them learn to use a disorder like ADHD as an advantage (and handle when it's not). There are a few students, though, who are truly missing out on vital learning because of a disorder that is out of control. These students need some sort of treatment, whether it be medicine or diet or therapy of some kind.

This is a student who refuses to do work, consistently makes noise to purposely distract everyone else, climbs or crawls on anything in the room, and sticks things in her mouth like a toddler. But given treatment, she is a model student who always volunteers an answer because she loves learning.

Yes, her medicine makes my job a billion times easier. Yes, her medicine makes the classroom a much better learning environment for the other students. But that's not why I believe it is good for her right now.

I believe that the medicine is good for her because it allows HER to do her job at all. Without it, she would hardly spend time in a classroom, much less learn anything while she was there. She might be a social outcast. She might hate math, because it is so hard for her. She might never get a chance to feel smart. She might never learn the social behaviors expected of her in the real world. She would get behind in school, for sure.

There are downsides to medicating, too. I think some of the effect of this girl's medicine is placebo. She has her medicine, so she believes she can behave and she does. When she doesn't have her medicine, it's harder to behave and she doesn't believe she can do it, so she doesn't. It's sad that she believes the medicine is what makes her good.

I don't know if she'll need this medicine forever, but I do know that if I only saw her on days like the first day of school and today, it would be a pity. She is not an exhausting or frustrating child- she is sweet and lovable- and I'm glad that her medicine allows that personality to come out, and allows her to learn so much.

Anyway... time to go home, relax, and pretend I'm on summer vacation for a few hours. It was a loooong day.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


The relationship between education and politics is like the blind leading those with excellent vision.
I have seen no one sum it up better than in this quote by "Ms. Understood," although the rants of so many teachers on my bloglist, especially the epic ones of Mrs. Mimi, make me want to start a slow clap sometimes. It's amazing to me that so many teachers across the entire country have the same opinions and complaints and worries- and yet, somehow, no one asks the teachers what to do.

People want to believe that teachers are the problem. People want to believe that teaching methodologies must be wrong. People want to believe that teachers don't know what needs to be done.

Here's what I see: teachers who want the best for kids but often can't provide it because of a lack of resources, strict sanctions on how we spend our time, and a litany of responsibilities besides teaching. While I certainly agree there are some bad teachers, the overwhelming majority contributes significant amounts of their time, energy, and money to a classroom. But, although it breaks our hearts, we can't do it all for every child.

So people assume that teachers don't know what students need, even though we generally spend at least 30 hours a week with our students. Instead, let's ask politicians or economists or businesspeople or other "experts" who are no doubt incredible in their field but may not have set foot in an elementary school since they were 10. And they've never even met my students!

Before people get upset, I recognize that statisticians and CEO's can have some great ideas for education. I don't have a problem with involving those people in our brainstorming sessions and think-tanks. My problem is that, often, teachers aren't invited.

Just include us too! That's all I ask.

To all you who want to make sweeping prophecies about school solutions:
  • Go to schools that are working, and figure out why by asking the teachers what makes them able to be better teachers and what they see making the biggest difference for students. 
  • Talk directly to teachers, not just unions, to discuss reforms. Not all of us agree with the unions completely. I know quite a few teachers in the major union here who are in it for the support and liability just in case- but don't agree with all of their actions.
  • Spend a day or two with a highly qualified teacher in a generally low-performing school to see what the challenges are even when someone is succeeding, and brainstorm with those teachers for solutions. 
  • Substitute teach, and try it yourself. And not just in the suburbs or charter schools.
  • Spend days in classrooms of highly effective teachers in all kinds of schools with all sorts of styles, considering your plan. Would your plan strip these teachers of the very strategies and personality that make their lessons successful?
  • If you think that a common curriculum and required lesson plans are the answer, give at least 5 teachers the same lesson plan and observe the success of that lesson.
  • Visit charter schools and public schools and private schools, but not just the famous and infamous. There are great and poor examples of each type.
  • Try your plan in a small sample, such as a single school or corporation, before suggesting it to states and the country as a surefire solution to education.
 I am in agreement with some of the things in education right now. I do believe that ineffective teachers should be fired with more ease than is currently possible. I agree that many schools are not working and need significant change of some kind. I think it is unfair for states to have unequal standards. I believe that social promotion can go overboard. I agree that data can be used in a way to drive success for a school and also to discover when a student needs extra intervention.

I do not agree, though, with the current pattern of everyone but those who spend each day in a school deciding how to go about those issues and then drafting policy that we will have to follow. This doesn't happen in any other business.

As Mrs. Mimi put here,

Hess says that so many other organizations have accepted cut backs and laid off people due to our current economic distress.  And he's right, a lot of people have lost their jobs...people in my family and probably in yours too.  BUT (and there's always a but with me, isn't there), those people weren't blamed for the downfall of their business, portrayed as lazy by the media and villainized by the general public.  They were just quietly let go.  Why is this guy acting like what is happening to teachers is the same thing?

Teachers are not perfect, but we are being almost universally blamed for failing schools by people who don't spend 7 hours a day in them. It's like me trying to tell BP how to fix the oil spill. The fact that I have used gasoline before doesn't make me an oil expert, just as attending schools doesn't make someone an education expert.

Ask the people that have spent 4 years in school studying to become a teacher, required hours of professional development to remain a teacher, and countless hours of experience becoming a better teacher. Those are the experts.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Using Computers for Differentiation

I have worked with Renaissance Learning's Accelerated Math program before, and I have to say I like it much better than its reading counterpart.

Accelerated Reading is meant to differentiate reading by giving students points for reading books "at their level" and then taking quizzes on them. Time and time again, I see students frustrated by the lack of choice in their books, or motivated only by the prospect of points. Sometimes, these students seem to discover more things they enjoy reading- but usually, they just want to Silly String the principal at the end of the year. The program seems, to me, to actively kill a love for reading and make quiz scores the reason for reading. I can appreciate that it levels students and promotes choosing books at instructional level, but I firmly believe that a student who learns to enjoy reading for intrinsic rewards will become a better reader than one who is in it "for the points."

Accelerated Math, though, is a little different. It would not work as your entire math program, at least not without constant small group lessons, but I think it works as a nice supplement, and here's why:

Annie's class has just finished learning about fractions, but she hasn't quite gotten it yet. Unfortunately, the class mostly got it and is moving on to learning about telling time. Annie's math learning and math practice will focus mostly on telling time, and she won't really spend time on fractions anymore, meaning that she probably won't learn the skills she needs.

With Accelerated Math as a supplement, Annie's teacher could assign her the objectives she needs to still work on, such as fractions. Accelerated Math will then print an individualized practice page for Annie based on what she needs to work on. Her answers are scored on a ScanTron style sheet and scored through a little scanner right here in our room so that the computer program can determine if Annie has done well enough to take a test, or if she needs more practice. The teacher also gets a report of how all students are doing, so that any students who need extra help can be worked with in small groups for re-teaching while everyone else works on practicing skills.

I find it works very well for reviewing through the year, too, so that a student doesn't forget information by the end of the year. You can also include standards above grade level for benchmark students' enrichment.

The options for differentiated math practice are great, and my students last year found the scanning process extremely motivating. There are challenges, though; for 2nd graders, transferring your answer to a score sheet without any mistakes takes a lot of practice. Students also need one scanning sheet for Practice pages and one scanning sheet for Tests, which can get confusing. Some students will rush through the pages to get to the scanning part. Finally, it takes a ton of paper (and time) to constantly print out the practice pages needed for each individual.

This is the first time I will be running Accelerated Math 'on my own,' so I'll try to let you know how it goes this summer. It's a bit of a complicated process, but I'm hoping I'll be able to match each student with what they truly need to practice the most!

P.S.- Accelerated Math's reviews have been mixed, and I think success probably depends on how it is used.
P.P.S.- If you have Accelerated Math but have trouble figuring out how to use it, this may be a helpful resource.

Monday, June 07, 2010

"Something smells funny..."

Today the kids in my class were making a model of groundwater. They actually sparked the idea- I wasn't planning to do it- but they asked why there was clay in the ground. To them, clay is something you play with- not something you'd dig up underground.

I realized I had some clay leftover from our sink/float exercise, so I pressed it into the middle of a clear plastic cup, and then poured water on the top so they could see what happened. They kept asking questions, and- well, I realized that we had almost all of the materials to make a model of the underground layers and aquifers. So the students read the book an extra time and used the pictures to make a plan of their model. After they built it, I tried to "pollute" it with some water and food coloring, but the aquifers stayed pretty clean.

While we were building, one of the kids commented that something smelled funny. I explained that it was probably the soil I'd picked up from the store. "No," they told me, "I think it's the clay." One boy sniffed it and told me, "It smells like something... not school" and I didn't know what he meant until the next boy said, "It smells like," (in a whisper) "weed."

Wonderful. Glad to know our 8 year old kids recognize the smell of marijuana.

Anyway, I seem to have more teaching followers lately. I'm not great at every aspect of teaching, but I ROCKED the science lessons for the Water unit this summer. It's about a week's worth of awesome, thanks in large part to a Project WET workshop I attended, and if anyone's interested, I'll share. All of the lessons were pretty easy to implement, very hands-on, lasted 30 minutes or less, and while they might have cost a little at first- most of the materials could be used again from year to year.

A highlight I'm definitely interested in sharing is an experiment in mixing oil and water, and then tying it to the recent oil disaster in the Gulf. Let me know if you'd like me to post it!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

My Own Class... Yay? part 2

On the second day of school, this girl was the first one there. I greeted her enthusiastically at the door and encouraged her to put her things away and get started on her morning work.

She sat down, and was a little talkative, but otherwise fine. When it was time to go over morning work, I made sure to call her up early and often. Keeping her involved seemed to really help, but she also came over to me a few minutes later.

"Did you notice? I'm trying really hard to be good." And I gushed about how much I had noticed her effort, and she smiled.

About an hour later, the secretary called down. She had to go to a doctors' appointment. She was gone the rest of the day.

But on the third day of classes, she came back. The morning started out rough, and I nearly called her mom again (as this seems to be the only consequence that really motivates her). She finally let me talk with her, though, and she told me she had a rough morning. I told her I didn't want to make it even rougher by calling home or sending her to the office, but I needed her help for that to happen. I told her I wanted to call her mom or send a note at the end of the day telling her mom what a wonderful job she had done today. She liked that. After we talked for a few minutes, she went back to her seat a little subdued.

Her former teacher had told me that she usually has more trouble before her medicine kicks in, about an hour into the morning. And that may be true, because it did seem like after a point, she wasn't struggling so much to behave, and honestly, just to be in a good mood. I don't know how much of that is the medicine, and how much of that was distancing herself from a rough morning at home, but it did seem like the day improved.

I think she still misses her teacher from the school year, and it's hard because we are in the same classroom. But by the third afternoon, she wrote "I love Miss _______" (me) on the back of one of her papers, and handed it to me proudly.

From making me miserable to saying she loves me in less than three days... well, I think we're making progress! :)

Friday, May 28, 2010

My Own Class... Yay? part 1

I started summer school a few days ago. It was my first time having "my" class, even though it's only the most at-risk kids and my class is only 7 kids.

The first day was awful. One girl missed the teacher she'd had all year, and was hell-bent on making me miserable.

She spent the entire day running around the room. She climbed on chairs. She ate Kleenex and paper towels. She drooled all over the floor and her test. She picked things up off of my desk. She opened the drawer of another teacher's desk. She sang loudly from time-out. She ran around the room when I tried to come towards her. She refused to go to the office. She ran out of the room to "stop" a boy who was taking a note to the principal about her. She crawled inside a cabinet. She drove her desk around the room like a car. She crawled on the floor and took off her shoes. She claimed her ear hurt, but after the nurse saw no sign of redness or infection it hurt so bad that she bawled for 45 minutes and wailed, "I want my mommy" for 15. I took her to the office once and called her mom twice.

On the first day.

It's tough, because you want the kids to like you, and yet- you can't let someone walk all over you on the first day. I tried my best to be kind, and talk to her quietly and individually. I tried to raise my voice. I tried to reinforce positive behavior. I tried to enforce consequences. And yet... the whole first day, I chased her around.

I was exhausted. I felt like we didn't get anything done. I wasn't sure what I could've done differently, but her mom had told me that she gets very attached to her teachers and I clung to hope that this was mostly symptoms of a rough transition from one teacher to another (on the very next day, no less).

To Be Continued...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Not Toyota

Well, I found out about next year.

(As a reminder, my school has used stimulus funding to add an assistant to each classroom. In some cases, these assistants are certified teachers as well- and that's the position I was in this year.)

When I talked with the principal, he sounded like he definitely wanted to move me to a different room for a different experience. I think, based on my evaluations this year, he wants to see if my discipline is better with a different lead teacher. That's fair; I know it wasn't a strength this year even though I didn't have much control over the system.

There are 4 regular classroom openings yet to be filled, but despite that- I'm in an assistant position again for next year. I'll be in first grade with a teacher that is TBA.

It's tough. The openings are there, but my principal just doesn't trust me enough to give me my own classroom yet. My preference was 2nd or 3rd grade, but I'm in 1st. I have to stay in the assistant position but not stay with my current lead teacher, who I work with well and who I know will let me teach.

I understand that he wants me to have a different learning opportunity, but I can't even tell myself, "He specifically put me with this teacher to make me better." Right now, he hasn't put me with any teacher.

I have a job, and I know that in the world of education right now (and especially our state), that alone is an incredible blessing. But although I try to be optimistic, it's frustrating at times to be stuck as a half-teacher. I am certified. I am licensed. And I think, given the chance, I can do this.

But I think I've lost more confidence this year than I've gained. I thought my discipline was fine during student teaching, but this class and group were entirely different. Honestly, after talking with the principal, I expected to be an assistant again- but it still makes me feel like I'm starting over and, after an entire year, I'm not moving forward.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


It's almost the end of my first year as a real teacher.

I can't believe it. Two more days and I'm officially done with my first year. It's had ups and downs for sure, but it's almost over. I still feel like it's hard to call this my real "first year," because it's not my first year with my own classroom. Teachers' first years are supposed to be crazy stressful, right?

Sometime in the upcoming two days, I should find out where I'll be placed for next year. I'm honestly a little pessimistic, but I am looking forward to knowing, one way or another.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Thinking in Pictures

When I was still in college, I had the pleasure of having Temple Grandin come talk to one of my classes (in BRNG 2280, for those of you at Purdue; it was a relatively small class, too!). Throughout the semester, we had discussed special needs but my professor had put a special focus on autism by having us read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (which I highly recommend).

Temple Grandin has Asperger's Syndrome, or high-performing autism. Her descriptions of how she thinks differently are so valuable, especially to teachers, because they make you think about how you will adapt to the kids who think in these different ways. They're also just plain interesting for anyone, I think. This kind of 'syndrome' is really the way a lot of people are wired, at least somewhat (as it is considered a 'spectrum'). I know a lot of the traits described here are things that my mom would simply call "being an engineer." :)

Hope you enjoy, and manage not to get sucked into TEDtalks too much. They are almost too great- they make it hard to do anything else once I get started watching!

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Mother's Day as a Teacher

This week my class made coffee filter flowers and a book of "Ten Reasons I Love My Mom."

Most kids wrote, of course, for their mom, but we made it clear that Mother's Day can celebrate any important woman in your life. It could be your grandma, your aunt, your babysitter, your stepmom... anyone who helped you and you wanted to appreciate.

One boy in my class couldn't think of anyone. He never met his mom, and he rarely spends time with his grandma. Finally, he decided who he would write about and got to work, writing his neatest and coloring carefully.

And that's how I ended up with a book of reasons he loves me.

It's amazing to think that I am the closest person in his life to a "mom."

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Teacher Gifts and Talents

There's a meme going around about "super teacher talents." They're not usually the kinds of things you'd put on a resume, but they are the kinds of day-to-day things you learn. After seeing at least 3 of the blogs I read do it, I couldn't help but try it out.

Some teacher talents I have:

- When I try- neat handwriting, even when digitized on the SmartBoard (probably has something to do with being Zaner-Bloser certified)
- Going at least 8 hours without using the restroom (yes, it's probably unhealthy, but it does come in handy)
- Ability to come up with terrifically awesome lessons that are worth the extensive planning they require, but usually only the night before when it's already late
- Predicting when a student is trying to do something in their desk without me noticing
- Speaking in bad accents when necessary to get the class's attention
- Great at surreptisiously checking to see if that thing-in-her-hair is lice while making her think I'm listening to what she has to say
- Resisting the urge to cringe when that student leans over for a huge hug
- Not being afraid to wear goofy things to school like 'footie' pajamas for a kids' reward
- Knowing just enough about Pokemon to impress them
- Making science sound exciting without making it seem like 'magic'
- Explaining some very basic stoichiometry to high schoolers in a way that helps any of them understand it (as I hate chemistry and found it very difficult, I'm pretty proud of this one)
- Patience to repeat the same phrases and instructions over and over again
- Making any phrase musical or rhythmic, especially for the kindergartners
- Easily filling an extra 5-10 minutes at any given moment
- Can give a kid a fluency test while keeping an eye out for drawing at one station, checking that kids aren't playing games that aren't allowed at the computer station, and listening in on a conversation that's about to become an argument in another group
- Can work a basic copier in record time
- Able to translate primary kids' writing into real words with vowels and everything!
- Telling whether a student actually 'needs' to go to the bathroom or just wants me to think so
- Telling whether a student really feels like s/he needs to throw up or just wants me to think so
- Can use a ridiculous amount of Post-Its
- Ability to avoid the older boys' straight-on hugs where their heads "coincidentally" hit chest height
- Simplifying the science terminology of a crazy-smart Ph.D so that high school students and sometimes even elementary students can understand the basic concepts he talks about
- Distinguishing the handwriting of each individual student when there's a no-name paper
- Good accuracy of pricing 'store' items based on estimated demand
- Noticing new haircuts, clothes, jewelry, and school supplies
- Ability to ride unexpected waves of learning and end up somewhere we never expected
- Acting like every thing a child tells me is the most interesting thing I have heard in my life

There are plenty of teacher talents I am still working on, but I think I'm picking up a lot already.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Back to Normal's Bittersweet

My week was interesting. I normally teach with a 'lead teacher,' so we trade off between planning/ grading, teaching the whole class, and teaching small groups. I very rarely teach the full class all day except when she's absent.

This week she went on a trip with family and was gone for 3 days. Originally, we were booked to have the school's 'permanent sub' all 3 days, and she is so excellent about wanting to do everything she can to help all day. She is bored without enough to do. Melanie left a list for her- kids to pull out for fluency every day, a new bulletin board to do, and sorting through some books from the library. I saved some grading from over the weekend for her.

And on Monday morning, our school was hit with a crazy number of absences. The permanent sub was needed in a kindergarten classroom where both 'regular' teachers were going to be gone, and instead I ended up with an older man who basically sat back and watched me teach all day. At one point when I was lecturing them, he spoke up for a couple of sentences. Other than that, he sat in a chair and didn't even go with me to pick up the kids or take them on restroom breaks. When I did have a rare bit of prep time in our busy no-special day, he wanted to chat. He never once asked if there was anything he could do to help.

Tuesday, the (amazing, couldn't-live-without-her) secretary called down a few minutes before the school day started, saying "Please don't kill me!" Turns out, I was not only without the expected sub- but without one at all.

Not a big deal, except for our two small groups. Oh, and the time when normally I teach a small group in another grade but can't leave the second graders alone. But the other small group teachers were fantastic about adjusting or covering for me, so it worked.

I didn't have a sub on the next day, either, which by that point I kind of expected. And honestly, it's kind of pointless to have a sub. One guy who came to sub at our school this week seriously brought a book and, when handed the plans, was surprised and said, "Oh! Normally when I come here there's another teacher who does most of the teaching." (Annnd now we know why he takes jobs at our school.)

Anyway- in my three-day stint as a teacher solely leading the classroom, the days were varied. Monday was such a bad day that my description to my fiance was "shitfest." The class was just awful overall, and I ended up writing 3 parent notifications as well as handing out 7 "Think Sheets" (in a class of 17).

Tuesday was better, though, and by Wednesday I kind of got in a groove. I felt like the teaching was solid- we got things done, we tried a new seating chart, we followed some teachable moments, the behavior was much better, we did some higher-level thinking, we talked about some life skills like working in teams, and I managed to engineer a good fractions idea that took me all of 5 minutes to plan for. Even better- I didn't have to get to school crazy early or run around frantically to make it happen.

It was a temporary thing, of course. Thursday I went back to sitting at my own desk, using a student computer, checking ideas with someone else, sharing the load. It was back to normal. I get my normal lunch, I don't have to scramble to get coverage for small groups, and I left for home before 5:00... but I also feel like I was just starting to get in the swing of things and feel like maybe I could really run a classroom on my own.

I'll be leading my own classroom for 6 weeks of the summer. I'm only a few weeks away at this point, and I'm still nervous- but I think I'm a little more excited now.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

2, 4, 6, 8...

Wednesday was my first Teacher Appreciation Day as a real teacher.

The principal mentioned it on the announcements, and right after them one girl said "Hey teacher! I appreciate you!"

The PTA was nice enough to get us delicious pizza and salad from a local eatery, and the union put a 100 Grand candy bar in our mailboxes to show "how much we are worth."

They were nice gestures, if not grand. The best moment came from my kids, though.

Lately we have had a lot of behavior problems. I thought I'd give the students some ownership of a solution. I asked the students to each write out 3 people they wanted to sit next to and thought they could work next to. With little exception, they actually seemed to take it to heart and not just put their very best friends down.

One student, though, had an idea (completely on her own). She wanted to sit by me. And when she asked if she could put down my name, three other kids decided to put down my name, too.

I was pretty amazed. They get to choose only three people they want to sit by- and instead of choosing three friends, these kids chose to sit right by their teacher.

Yeah, I felt appreciated.  :)

Monday, May 03, 2010

Here Comes the Whine

For those of you who don't know me in real life, you may not know I'm engaged.

I'm excited to get married! And I want that to be clear.

Wedding planning, however- terrifying.

Weddings are expensive. Even though I want something simple, I'm a little scared to see how much it's all going to come out to. It doesn't help that job security in education isn't super fantastic right now for a new teacher.

Plus, weddings are complicated. It's supposed to be about you, but yet there are all these expectations. Things you are supposed to because they're tradition. People you're supposed to invite. What you should and should not say to be polite. Religious bits that I'm sure some of my family would consider required but I'm not sure I do anymore. Things my brother will not be happy with because nothing or no one is ever good enough to not be criticized.

I feel like I know a lot of girls who have been waiting for this all their lives. They have dreamed of the ball gown and tiara, the fancy hotel, and the horse and carriage. (These are mostly the same girls with similar dreams for prom.) Some have known their wedding colors for years, or had a 'wedding binder' before they were anywhere close to engaged.  I've been engaged well over a year and I know next to nothing about my wedding. I'm just not that girl.For one, I'm indecisive, and for another, I know a wedding isn't the big deal to me.

I haven't been waiting for a wedding. I haven't been wishing for my princess day. A wedding will be nice, but more than that, I'm excited to get married to my fiance. And that's what matters, right?

The planning is still scary, because organization (a very necessary thing in all this) is definitely not my strength. Also, because we're actually getting somewhat close at this point. But hopefully I can enlist some help, like this teacher, to lighten the load. :)

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Apple, Cherry, or Student

One of the teacher blogs I read posted recently about a student who was leaving, and it hit home.

My school has a lot of transiency. Only 75% of the kids who were here at the beginning of the year are still here.

It's rough. We're considered a failing school, and we're giving the kids so much this year. The corporation has spent tons of Title I money and stimulus funding to get these kids extra help. We have a student-teacher ratio of something like 8:1 in a high-poverty school. We have an RTI specialist, a reading coach, a math coach, and a specialist to come in and help us with a restructuring process, including a curriculum and assessment calendar. We have a certified teacher or a full-time aide as an assistant in each classroom. We have added an hour of instructional time each day and an extra summer session for struggling students.

And not only have we lost 25% of the kids already, but I have 4 or 5 kids telling me they're moving over the summer. Last year almost half of our student population changed from August 2008 to August 2009.

I know that could change, but it's still somewhat disheartening. I hate seeing these kids leave. I miss them, of course- miss seeing how they're doing, miss being able to teach them, miss talking to them each day- but there's more.

I am sad that they won't be at our school anymore, because some of the kids leaving are the students who can really benefit from the extra attention and extra learning opportunities we have here. One of my students who started out reading almost two grade levels behind has made a ton of growth this year, but will be moving to a new school next year where I doubt she'll be able to get the same amount of individual and small-group time that she needs to catch up. Another student acts out, but as you get to know him you realize that there's something deeper. When asked what he did over Spring Break, he looked away and wouldn't respond. He rarely came to school clean and well-taken-care-of. I hope that a teacher with a bigger class and less resources is able to see the need behind his misbehavior.

It's also frustrating to me because I see our efforts going out the door. We have poured so much into these kids. I'm happy to help the kids, and I would do it even if I knew they'd be moving soon, but we are a school with a reputation of "failing." Our test scores are low. AYP has not been met. And there are kids that we have worked, and worked, and worked with, and they have grown incredibly.

And they're gone. While we took the test this year, many of those students weren't here anymore. Their test scores weren't here to show how much we have taught them. I'm happy they have learned, regardless, but it would be nice to see our school get credit in the public eye for the amazing strides we have made.

I'll post more about this later, but it's so disheartening to see the teachers at my school labeled as "bad" when the turnover of students is so consistent and so high.

If a sports team had to lose half of their team each year and put in players who may or may not be ready for pro level and hadn't been chosen by the team, they would never be expected to win.

But I'm not in sports. And as frustrating as transiency can be, I'm glad for the education we have given the kids in our class this year. Especially the 5 kids who have moved (out of 16 in our class). I hope they are doing okay.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

cue the tears

I've been making an effort to write more about teaching, mostly because I read a lot of teacher blogs and I end up inspired to write my own posts. Also, teaching is basically my entire life right now. (Yes, I know I need to fix that.)

Anyway, time for just a 'me' post, inspired by a friend here. Miss Kat's blog is pretty new, but she posts about life as a cool mom that I'm sure MiniKat's friends are jealous of, and about nail polish so pretty I actually want to paint my nails (and that's saying something!).

She posted about parents, and the transition from "Mommy and Daddy" to "Mom and Dad" or "Mother and Father." It made me think of my 5th grade year.

I had just started to try out "Mom" and "Dad." I think the switch was a matter of independence. I was almost in middle school, and apparently too 'grown up' to still be calling my parents by babyish names like Mommy and Daddy. I didn't want to sound like a little kid, dependent on my parents. "Dad" wasn't consistent yet, but it had definitely started.

Most of you probably know that my dad died at the end of that school year. I can't quite describe it, but it makes me sad and a little guilty that I didn't always call him "Daddy."

I knew I hadn't done anything wrong, but I guess I realized that little kids aren't just 'dependent.' Especially now that I'm a teacher, I see that little kids love so strongly. Terms of endearment and hugs are frequent, but they are usually genuine. Their affection is just unabashed because they don't care about what other people think, or how it might appear.

Honestly, by fifth grade, I thought that kind of little kid love was kind of embarrassing. I was sure that I was too old for that kind of thing. (Like most 11-year-olds, I think.)

But now that he's gone, I regret not taking advantage of every single opportunity to say "Daddy." I don't care if it was natural and normal to distance myself from my parents; I regret ever wanting any distance between us. I know I would have liked having a different relationship with him when I was older, too, but I never got to. All I ever got to have was the "Daddy's Little Girl" stage, and it kills me that even any little part of me wanted to give that up.

A name may be a little thing, but it feels like it represents a lot more. It's hard to explain, but I wish I would have always used "Daddy," and never given up the chance to love him with the reckless abandon of a little girl.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

My Turn to Tattle

I have recently gotten really into reading other teacher blogs. It's amazing to me to see how similar things are in so many areas of the country right now. Teachers are struggling with the same things.

I recently read in The Elementary Educator:

As No Child Left Behind’s magical year of 2014 draws near, where an impossible 100% of students must be proficient in math and reading in every school throughout the United States, states continue to redefine “proficiency,” reducing the cut scores needed to pass the state tests to astoundingly low levels.

In Michigan, for example, third graders who answered 19 out of 45 questions correctly on the math section of the MEAP (our state standardized test) were labeled “proficient.” 19 out of 45 is approximately 42%, which already sounds pathetic, but it gets worse: this test was multiple choice. Not only that, but there were only three answer choices per question!

Let’s analyze that for a moment: third grade students in Michigan who knew the right answers to 6 of the 45 math questions, then guessed with average success on the remaining 39 questions (getting 13/39 correct), are labeled proficient. Not only that, but third graders are tested in the fall of third grade, and the test only covers material from the previous grade. So third graders who understood a mere 13.3% of what was taught in second grade and had average luck when guessing on the other 86.7% of the questions are considered proficient by the State of Michigan.

Isn't it astounding?

I knew this kind of thing was happening, but someone putting it all out like that, into numbers, makes me cringe. This is what the national government is encouraging. THIS is the impact of No Child Left Behind.

NCLB is good in some ways. It encourages accountability, and forces schools to look not only at the big picture, but also at important subgroups to make sure that there aren't gaps in the education they provide.

I get frustrated, though, sitting in a "failing" school. It is not fair for the national government's policy to treat us differently than other schools with our levels of success just because our state has refused to drop standards.

Our standards are considered some of the most rigorous in the country, and our standardized test is certainly not passed by 97-100% of students, like the Michigan test.

Let me be clear: I am glad the state of Indiana is holding itself to high standards even though No Child Left Behind in its current state doesn't mandate it. It is frustrating to me, however, that we are facing sanctions that other schools don't face, even if their students are at the same levels as ours.

I strongly support President Obama and Arne Duncan when they say that every state should have standards and tests with similar rigor. I don't believe that National Standards or a National Test are necessarily the way to do that, but I do believe that someone at the national level needs to be looking at each state's standards and tests to determine if they are truly measuring proficiency.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Classroom Bench

I'm a huge football fan, and I have apparently been reading way too many education blogs this morning.

I read an article describing how much better quarterbacks were in the NFL when they sat on the bench for a year or more before starting. Basically, even if a quarterback had a higher draft pick, and therefore a higher perceived potential, they had significantly better results if they had some time to learn the ways of the NFL behind an experienced quarterback.

And some of the first-round picks who also waited, like Aaron Rodgers and Carson Palmer, have been downright exceptional.

"Since 2000, nine first-round picks started within their teams' first three games. Only Matt Ryan and Ben Roethelisberger have a positive TD/INT ratio in their career."

My conclusion from all this? In what is arguably the most important and influential of positions on an NFL team, only very few can succeed without additional training- even amongst those considered to be the most talented.

I think teaching is similar.

My college of education had a major focus on spending time in schools. From the first semester of education courses (which was generally taken spring of freshman year or fall of sophomore year), future teachers spend at least a short amount of time in a school.

Student teaching (15 weeks in the same classroom, for teaching independently for at least a few weeks) was obviously the biggest learning opportunity, but we had a semester where we spent two days a week in a school, learning from our professors and then visiting the same classroom. We also spent a semester tutoring two students in reading each week.

By the time I graduated, I had spent time in at least 4 different classrooms through the required program alone.

I found a stimulus-funded job in a school with low test scores. As an effort to give students an extra boost, the school was adding a second person in each classroom. For six classrooms, that person is also a certified teacher.

I am considered an assistant teacher. I'm certified, and treated as such, but my lead teacher is overall in charge. I'm lucky that Mrs. M is so great to work with. She treats me as an equal co-teacher whenever possible, and works with me to plan and teach. The situation feels, honestly, kind of like an apprenticeship- and it allows both of us to work in more small groups, keep the students paying attention, and share some of the load of a classroom.

I am lucky to start this way. I am thankful that my first year of teaching does not involve me staying at school until 8:00 at night. I am thankful that I'm getting a chance to sort of ease into the profession, while still learning and collecting materials and ideas from another teacher.

Yes, it sucks sometimes to be "sitting the bench." I didn't get to set up my own classroom, I don't get to change the classroom management system the way I want, and I am sometimes excluded from meetings I'd like to be a part of, but I can see how much easier it will be when I have my own room. I am learning so much.

Student teaching is meant to be like this, and it does help immensely. But I wish more schools had the money to hire teachers in this kind of position even after their student teaching. Not only have the students thrived with so much individual attention, but I think I will be a better teacher in my true "first year" because of my time on the sidelines.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

*Tire Screech*

So, Chris and I connected! Things were happy! All was well!

The next day we had a field trip. It was only a couple of blocks away, so we decided to walk rather than use our dwindling bus hours. Many of our students walk to school anyway.

We walked down with no issue. On the way back, though, we were within sight of the school when Chris suddenly ran out into the road for no reason. With cars coming.

I was in front of him and didn't see it happen, but my co-teacher let out a yell and he jumped out of the road. Thankfully, the cars were able to stop (and not hit each other either), but it was much too close for comfort.

Mrs. M latched onto his arm for the rest of the walk (only a couple of minutes) and took him straight into the office. He never was able to offer an explanation for why he did it. He did admit that, as an eight-year-old who walks to and from school every day, he knows he shouldn't have done it.

So, note to self: baby steps.

Also, props to Mrs. M- who may have freaked out, but still managed to not curse in front of her students. Even though it was close. :)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Happy Day

Little Chris and I have struggled to form a bond, but earlier this week, things were different.

After a professional development meeting on "dealing with difficult behavior issues"- ironically enough- I went back to the room to find Chris not doing his work.

This is common, but I gently encouraged him a couple of times, and then finally squatted down next to his desk to help him get started. I tried to get him to "race" me and see who could find a certain word first on his desk, or let him say the answer verbally while I moved the pieces into place. I joked with him, I put the pieces in front of his face and made goofy faces. He laughed a little, and eventually even got working on his own. After much intensive, one-on-one encouragement, he finished the cut-and-paste project independently.

After that, he refused to get started on the next paper (which he should have started probably an hour prior). I was a little frustrated, because I felt that I'd worked hard for probably at least thirty minutes just to convince him to do one of the things he should have been doing anyway, and then someone said something that made him upset. I talked to him for a couple of minutes, but he seemed to still be a little on edge when we split into our small reading groups.

He came back after the reading group with a principal escort. Apparently he had to be written up in his small group. I was disappointed; I had felt accomplished that I'd put this off for as long as I had. Chris rarely does his work and frequently gets upset when we confront him about it. This morning of us working together, me convincing him to work without him breaking down- it was a victory! It was a step toward our goal, and it seemed partly canceled out by his discipline referral.

In the afternoon, we started again. I was determined to build on the good parts of the morning. We took a spelling pre-test, and he decided to lay on the floor, refusing to get up and try the words. Both teachers talked to him gently, and encouraged him to get up and do his best. My co-teacher eventually asked if we needed to call his mother, which usually helps motivate him, and he got into his seat. The students know our policy is not to repeat words during the test, and when no one would repeat the first two words for Chris at that moment, he threw his pencil across the room. I picked up another pencil and came up behind him. I offered the pencil and told him to try the third word. He was bewildered (because he thought I had gotten the same pencil he threw so quickly), but took the pencil and got started.

After the test, we were sitting down for some standardized testing. I knew there was no way that Chris- although he seemed calmer- was in a state to do his best on the test. While my co-teacher got the students ready to start, I asked Chris to go in the hallway with me.

He thought he was in trouble at first, but I told him I just wanted to talk. I asked him about the test, and as it turns out, he didn't realize it was the pre-test. He was frustrated that he hadn't studied enough and didn't know how to spell the words right. Once I told him it was just the practice test, he seemed so relieved. He started to smile.

I told him that I was so proud of how hard he'd worked that morning on the contraction cut-and-paste, and asked him if we could make a deal. If he worked really hard to follow directions and do his work the rest of the afternoon, I'd give him two pieces of candy.

He went back in and did great on the test, even when I asked him to make his handwriting a little neater. In my math small group, he started to play around until I reminded him of our deal. He said, "Oh! I forgot!" and instantly sat up to get started. I praised him probably ten times that afternoon when he did things well. At the end of the day, he came up to me excitedly. "Did I do it?"

He did. And I could tell he was proud, especially because he didn't have his medicine that day. I gave him the candy, and he happily bounced into line.

It was one day, but it was progress! An otherwise rough day felt positive- and all because, for the first time, I really felt like I connected with this kid.