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.