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.