Monday, August 31, 2009

Word Detectives

The story from our reader this week is a mystery. It's actually a really lame story that I sort of hate, but for whatever reason the kids are stoked about it. Perhaps I hide my disdain for it well.

Anyway, I also made a supplementary lesson on using context clues which used the story vocabulary. I used it as a pre-reading activity.

What I didn't anticipate was how perfectly the activity lent itself to mystery week. I didn't think about it when I was prepping, but during the lesson somehow the kids all became "word detectives." They used clues found in the sentences to guess the meaning of the words I covered up. It was fun, and at the very least, had them thinking really hard about their vocabulary words.

There are some fun things about the younger guys. I like their really active imaginations.

Now, if I can just get them to put these imaginations to work in Writing...

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Time: The Variable Element in Good Teaching

Like Einstein's universe, the fabric of the teaching universe is made up of two variables: space and time. For Einstein, the constant was the speed of light. For teaching, the constant is the speed of learning. Einstein discovered that space and time are variables in the universe; these days, I am discovering the same thing in the classroom. The minutes between 7:45 and 2:35 haven't changed and the space between the walls is the same, but as my perspective has changed, I've gained more space and I've gotten less time.

I was thinking about my perception of time in the classroom today because I was eating lunch with my cousin who is a first year teacher this year. She was talking about having too much time after getting through her lessons and curriculum. I've had that same problem in the past, but recently I have the opposite problem! I have to be aware of the clock and be choosy about what will be included in lessons. Lessons seem to fly by for me now and for my students, but I have certainly had times when every lesson seemed to drag on or I felt like I had too much time in the previous two years.

Space is the same way. Arrangement and organization of students and supplies makes my room feel so much bigger. The walls haven't moved. It's my perspective.

My students' rate of learning is a constant, though. I have to make the time and space given accomodate that.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

My Friend Is Learning to Read

My little ELL student is learning to read more rapidly than I could have imagined. I've never taught basic phonics and primary reading, but I know it doesn't go this fast unless the student is really really bright. I think she is gifted, but we don't even have a test that would assess that in her case.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Notoreity Continues

I was checking the local news website to see what the hold up on the freeway was this afternoon, and I came upon another story about a local principal resigning due to moral indiscretion. "Finally," I thought to myself, "a different district in the news. Maybe these things happen everywhere." Guess what: It wasn't a different district! The news has uncovered a third principal from my district who has been forced to resign due to moral indiscretion. That's right, this happened three times in my rather small district last year. I already knew about this--gossip spreads fast--but it is seriously embarassing to work here right now.

All of these things that go on do bother me. Honestly, it bothers me more that the district refuses to own up. They keep talking about how they took action in a timely manner. Hmmmm, does that nullify the fact that they hired three separate administrators who are facing criminal charges?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


This year I feel completely competent. My kids are almost always extremely well behaved. I've improved my Reading instruction so much that it is helping in every subject. I've done a much better job with organization.

This year I like my team--in some ways--even better than my team last year. We all have similar styles and philosophies. We laugh together a lot. We help each other.

This year I feel pretty good towards administration. They seem helpful and have left me alone--which I appreciate because I can only imagine what the former principal told them about me.

Yet, I have some serious self-confidence issues when it comes to teaching which is pretty strange for me because I am generally a confident (some might even say overly confident) person. I don't know what to do about it either. I have this label somewhere in my head that I am a bad teacher and as much as I try not to go there I am always looking for evidence to support that belief. Whenever I can't think of something from my present situation, I tend to try to draw on things from last year. I know this is not a healthy way to think and that it has no benefit for myself or my students but I can't seem to stop thinking this way.

In my dark moments in teaching, every time a transition doesn't go the way I want it to and every time a lesson isn't exactly as I intended it to be I feel like it is because there is something wrong with me as a teacher. It doesn't even matter that things are going as well as they are because I have this feeling that won't go away.

I hate that I am so sensitive that I am bearing major wounds from all the events of last year, but I may as well acknowledge them because I know they are there.

One of my old fifth grade teammates asked me if I would come back next year. I told her that I didn't know and honestly I am not thinking seriously about plans for next year until after Christmas, but I feel like going to fifth grade or going to Middle School might be the only way to address some of my demons. I was told in no uncertain terms that I was incapable of doing the things I wanted to (teaching in fifth grade or Middle School). I could easily do two years in third grade because it would be nice to not have to move everything again or to readjust again, but if I don't move I think I will always wonder if it really is true that I can't.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Big Success with Guided Reading

So far, *knock on wood* I like doing guided but silent reading with the third graders. People told me not to expect little ones to read silently, but I am finding that as long as I teach it and break it apart, they do really well.

I am open to using the tape first if I find this doesn't work, but so far I like reading with the tape second for fluency and reading silently for comprehension first.

Friday, August 21, 2009

My Own Little Fan Club

One of the interesting things about moving to a younger grade is that the students act like I am some sort of movie star. Fifth graders want to talk to you and they would ask me about my clothes--or tell me I was hot (but that deserves a blog of its own). Third graders stare at you and write about you during Writing time and come back to tell you goodbye and miss you all weekend. It's cute and nicer than the attitudes I saw last year for sure. It can be too much though. They all want me to read every word as they write it and they all have a million things to tell me. I realize these are things I shouldn't say, but it kind of gets old. I am setting clear boundaries about what they should do independently and when they should approach me, but they just need attention. It really is kind of like dealing with a lot of adoring fans all day long. There's a certain element of it that is flattering and nice but it makes you really tired. I feel like the third graders are self-motivated, but generally (and I will admit that last year was the exception) I find it less draining to motivate than to constantly reassure.

In other news, I heard one of my "Angels" from last year is already famous at his new school. Apparently, one of his Middle School teachers came to find out who had him last year. It seems he is already up to his antics...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Rules Rules Rules

I am working on rules and procedures day in and day out. We have to learn how to answer questions. We have to learn how to share our ideas. We have to learn how to sit correctly in our seats. We have to learn how to find the top of a piece of notebook paper. We have to learn how to copy something from the board. We have to learn how to solve problems.

We are getting there, but I think I will like this younger grade much better when we are used to the routines.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Light of Communication

I always wondered what kind of amazing inspiration Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller's teacher must have had, but I am learning her inspiration must have been her student. As a teacher, you have to be inspired by your students where they are now and you have to reach out to them. I still think Annie Sullivan had a stroke of genius, but I am learning to find ways to reach my student who speaks no English.

SEI (Structured English Immersion) is the philosophy used in education for ELLs (English Language Learners) in my state. In SEI (at least the model used here), the general classroom teacher is also the English language teacher. There is no work done with these students out of the classroom. I guess this is supposed to be "immersion."

This year, I have a third grade student who speaks only Mandarin. She learned to read and write using characters. She does not know one word of English--not even yes and no. She doesn't know letters. She is such a bright girl, but she is completely in the dark about what I and everyone else in the school is saying.

I am also responsible for teaching this child third grade content. That's almost funny considering the circumstances, but I am. So, I am having to find ways to communicate.

I am using a Chinese to English dictionary to help translate key words, but it doesn't translate exactly because the languages are so vastly different. Today, I borrowed letter cards with animals from kindergarten and I had her write the characters on post-its for each animal and stick them to the cards. I am first going to teach her the words for the animal and then we'll start on phonemes and letter sounds. This went very well today, and I had the idea to make my own letter cards using more practical items. I printed out photos of pencils, buses, water bottles, and a variety of other things. I am going to use one for each letter, then I will have her write the translations tomorrow. We'll do letters and basic communication at the same time. It was like my own little Annie Sullivan moment of inspiration.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Still Perfectly On Track

Today was the first full day of academics. Things still went really well.

It kind of messes with my head that things are sooo easy right now. It is hard for me to realize if this is because I really am a better fit in a younger grade. Already, by this time last year, I knew it was going to be a hard hard year. Things are much easier this year, but there are a lot of factors contributing to that.

  • I went from teaching a class of 30 to teaching a class of 21. That is nine less bodies to deal with.
  • I had 15 behavior concerns coming into my room last year and this year I have 1.
  • I have experience dealing with behavior issues, academic issues, and family issues.
  • I feel like I am working in a more supportive environment now that the former principal has moved on. I am still skeptical, but I have far less logical reason for that than I had even two years ago with the former administration.

I don't know. In my gut, I think I need to be with an older grade. I can't reason inductively. I need a better reason to think I should stay with younger kids than I had a hard time with one group of older kids and an easier time with one group of younger kids.

I don't really need to think about this now. It's just that I thought I would hate teaching a younger grade and I don't. At times, I really hated my job last year, but I know what I know. It wasn't the age group.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Pinching Pennies

So far, I haven't felt the sting of living on a teacher's salary. There are several reasons for this:

  1. I am single and don't have any children. I don't have to support a family.
  2. My Grandparents paid for my college. I don't have loans or debt.
  3. I don't own a home. I don't have to pay a mortgage yet.

For the first time since I started teaching, money is really tight this month. There are several reasons for this.

  1. The tuition on my graduate school went up. I just had to pay a 2,000 dollar bill for my Fall classes.
  2. We had a week that we weren't paid at all this year because of calendar changes. This makes my summer budget even tighter.
  3. I bought to much random stuff for my own classroom this year. It seemed like a good idea because I am in a new grade, but in retrospect maybe it wasn't such a good idea.

My point is:

  1. It is really hard to live on a limited budget. Because of state budget issues, I am still making the exact same salary I was when they hired me three years ago (as a first year teacher).
  2. It is kind of hard to be motivated to pay for graduate school when my degree will amount to approximately 1,000 more dollars a year. With graduate school costing 6,000 dollars per year, it will take twelve years for this degree to pay for itself. I guess I'm not doing that for the money either.

I also get really annoyed when people tell me, "Well, you're not in it for the money."

Of course I'm not in it for the money.

That doesn't mean I don't have financial needs.

That doesn't mean financial compensation wouldn't be nice sometimes.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A List of Things More Interesting Than My Homework Right Now

1.) School of Rock is playing on tv
2.) Facebook
3.) Blogger
4.) Lost reruns on the computer
5.) Anything in the kitchen
6.) Changing my hairstyle--even though I have no plans to go out tonight
7.) My school e-mail account
8.) Listening to music on Grooveshark
9.) Other books
10.) Textmessaging

and the list goes on.

Graduate School Is Hard Now...

I have been reading and reading and reading. The class is Educational Research, and although most people are groaning about it, I do find it interesting. I just have a lot of other things to get done, but I suppose it will work out. I just need to read one more chapter of that stupid book tonight.

Dear Zealous Motivation,

I have missed you since I finished undergraduate school.
But the real world made you play the fool.
No one cared about straight "A's."
I think that's why we parted ways.
But now I have sooo much to do.
I need you just to make it through.
Come back to me.
Set me free.
From Apathy.
I beg.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

Last year. It is it's own sentence.

Last year I learned about every possible thing that can go wrong. It was like extreme testing on all of my procedures. I found every possible loop hole or rather my cherubs did. This year I was ready for a BIG challenge like last year.

So far, though, my students are really good. I have to step back and realize that they are not looking for the loop hole. I have started out everything with such tight procedures and specific rules, but I am going to have to adapt for *gasp* well-behaved children.

I think I will have a lot more freedom to do different things with this group. I don't care what anyone says, it makes a huge difference having teachable kids. It just does.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

We're Famous... Not in a Good Way.

I can't give the details of the situation that has pushed my school district into the spotlight in this city because it would break my anonymity. That is too bad too because it is a hell of a story. I'll just say that the news is having a field day with the actions of some former administrators that have recentely come to light. They should be too because I can't believe the district hired two separate people doing these things. (Don't worry the superintendent has already provided me and all other employees with talking points to defend and protect the district.)

It brings up some interesting questions, though, about the line between an educator's personal life and an educator's professional image. Traditionally, I think people want teachers to be the sort of people we hope children will grow to be, but is that expectation an unfair burden? Who of us is exactly who we should be or who we hope a child would turn out to be? Yet, there are clearly things that could be so unbecoming in a teacher's personal life as to render them inadequate as a professional.

I think deciding what is appropriate for a teacher outside their job is about common sense, but sometimes the line is blurred. Consider the following possible scenarios:

  • An unmarried teacher becomes pregnant. She will have to explain the situation, and is there a risk that this will teach her students something that we as a community don't want for them?
  • A young teacher bar hops and drinks excessively on the weekends. Will he run into parents? Will it become known in the community?
  • A teacher uses a social networking site to post inappropriate material. Will students find it? Parents?
  • A married teacher has an affair with another staff member. If it became known, what would this teach the kids?

Food for thought... I don't even know what my opinion is on all of this.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Educational Research

My latest graduate class is Educational Research. I have soooo much reading to do this week which is also the first week of school. Believe it or not right now I am reading about the difference between basic and applied research. I am conducting some basic or (theory driven) research as we speak. My research topic is as follows: How do various distractors (blogging, tv, facebook, and music) affect comprehension of dry reading material in young adult teachers? Bet ya' can't guess who the subject is!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Say What?

Thinking about my classroom through the eyes of my non-English speaker makes a pretty funny portrait. I, and the other students in my class, have taken to acting things out to help her understand. This on-going game of charades is really more of an art than a science, but sometimes the results are pretty funny.

Today, I had the kids writing in their "first week of school journals." Obviously, my friend couldn't write, but I was trying to explain the assignment to her so she could draw her entry for right now. I was just trying to give her the message that she should draw something she likes about school. So, I and the other students at her table were trying to give her the word school. I had my hands over my head trying to show her school house. The kids were all following suit. Then, I tried pointing to myself and saying, "teacher" and the kids and saying, "students." I tried to show her me teaching. It seemed like she got the message, so I tried to draw a smiley face and pointed to her. She looked a little hesitant, but she started drawing.

She wound up drawing several accurate rendering of t-shirts with smiley faces and frownie faces in the center. Whatever she thought I was asking her to do must have seemed pretty strange to her.

Monday, August 10, 2009

One Day Down

I think that the way that I feel about teaching in third grade is the way that I feel about drinking hot tea. Once in a while tea is a nice break from coffee, but usually I want a drink with substance. I am really going to miss the substance we teach in fifth grade. I could tell that after about an hour.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

First Day of School Tomorrow

I worked a lot this weekend and I have everything about how I want it, BUT I am stressed about bus riders and end of the day stuff. I've never had kids so young at the end of the day. I am worried about what will happen if they don't know how they are supposed to go home. I have some information from Meet the Teacher, but hopefully more will come back in folders tomorrow... Otherwise, tomorrow is all about procedures and expectations. Fun. Fun. Fun. I have a feeling I won't sleep that well tonight. I wish I wasn't like that.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

How Do Things Change So Much?

My first day of school two years ago was my first day as a teacher. I was teaching fifth grade and my student teaching had been in Middle School, so it was my first time with the kids all day in one room. I had no idea how to make a day run smoothly with them all day. I had no idea how to plan enough stuff to last six hours. This year, I was writing plans for day one and I can't see how I can possibly fit everything I want to get done into one day. Sometimes I don't know how things can change so much in such a short time...

Friday, August 7, 2009

Ahhhh I am Starting to Get Stressed...

Somehow this year I have more prep to get done than I ever have. I think it is a combination of factors. Part of the reason I had more prep is because I am teaching a different grade. I can't just plan on doing what I did last year. Part of the reason I have more prep is because I actually know what I am doing now. I can remember being a first year teacher and thinking that I didn't know how to prep anything else, but I knew that I should. I also have more prep because I am working hard to make rock solid routines and procedures--based on the lessons I learned from the difficult bunch last year.

In other news, I have a student who speaks absolutely no English this year. She is sooooo cute, but I really want to be careful that she doesn't feel traumatized. She is such a little one (remember I'm now with kids two years younger than I ever have been) and it must be so scary for her to be thrown into a world where she doesn't understand a thing. Her Uncle told me that she won't even recognize her own name in English. Honestly, it brings a tear to my eye to think about how difficult it must be. It is such a big responsibility for me too. The first year she came to America and her first English class will be something she remembers for the rest of her life. I want to make it a good memory.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

I Am Starting to Like It in Third Grade

It makes me feel guilty, because my old team is not liking the situation as much. I feel like it is partly my fault because when I got so upset over the change, I think it made them even more dissatisfied with it. Consequently, they never wanted to like their new teammate and they never wanted to like their team without me.

Yet, logically it is not my fault. I didn't choose to move. I didn't choose to get upset (despite what the lovely principal accused me of). Believe me, if I could have avoided the embarrassment of crying my eyes out on the last day of school, I would have. I didn't choose to put someone on my old team that wasn't a great fit. This was an administrative decision.

I just feel bad because I had a really good time at Meet the Teacher and setting up some stuff with my new team, but they don't seem to be having the same good time. It is tough to see them having team problems, and see myself fitting in pretty well with a new team.

It is kind of nice though to see a good quality in myself as a teacher for a change. I spend a lot of time wondering if I am just awful at this recently, but I do see now that I bring an atmosphere of cohesion to a team. I didn't just get put on a perfect team; I helped make it that way.

Wouldn't it have been nice if the principal had just acknowledged that when she moved me? Instead of making it out to be pure punishment for me, she could have told me that I would be a positive addition to their team. She made it seem like I would just be less of a hindrance than I was on the fifth grade team. Aye yay yay! I will never understand all that.

For now, I am trying to think about how I can help my former teammates. They've helped me a lot through this and now I need to help them.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

I've Got to Admit It's Getting Better

Day two felt a lot better than day one. I still might get a lump in my throat if I go over to the fifth grade pod, but I am liking where I am. I've always been pretty resilient and that quality seems to be administering its placating effect to my sore heart.

I actually am in a better place than I was last year. The dark cloud on the horizon of my teaching is gone. I feel a lot freer to believe in myself with the principal gone. I feel a lot freer to reflect on both the positive and negative of last year's experience and to bring the lessons that I learned to another class.

I think it will be a long road to ever trusting another administrator again, but I have a good feeling about the v.p. for some reason. She strikes me as humble and sincere which is a rare quality in administrators. We'll see, but at least there is no relationship with the administration right now which is one hundred times better than the dysfunctional one of last year.

For now, I am taking one day at a time. I'll write about this year's journey as it plays itself out. I pray it will be a smoother path than last year, but already I am starting to see that last year might make me better at teaching and better at life because it happened.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Portraits of My Life...As a Teacher

So, my first day back was hard. I thought it would be fine because it has been a long time since the events of May and I thought I was okay with things now. It was hard though, I felt all the insecurities I have now weighing on me. I think I am used to the fact that I have to move grade levels now. It is all the things the principal said to me more than what she did that is like a slap in the face as I try to go on doing this. I didn't understand after my first year of teaching why a lot of new teachers quit, but now I do.

Part of the reason I started writing this blog is because there is not so much out there about the human side of teaching. As public servants, we suffer a lot of times behind closed doors. We don't talk about the struggles that come with the territory because, well, sometimes that comes with the territory too. Our job isn't all academic and neither are our failures. Sometimes doing this job hurts in a very real way. Today I felt some of that. Yet, it's funny who is paying attention to behind the scenes at a school and who helps. Here are a couple of stories from today.

The school secretary picked up on the fact that I was feeling a little overwhelmed about being back and said, "Now, don't you go and make me cry. These things take time." She went and got me kleenex and in walked the building manager. "Don't be upset," she said, "you have a lot of moms here." I guess I do.

My old team baked me some kind of breakfast sandwich and left it in my mailbox. "Where have you been?!" They said as soon as I walked in, "and go check your mailbox right now."

Maybe all this is out of my system now, but I don't thinks so. The former principal is that voice inside my head telling me that I can't. She's left our school now, but her actions and comments are sticking with me.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Summer Bummer

Back on contract tomorrow...

I saw my roster today and I have twenty-two students. That is it. After the thirty students I had last year, that sounds soooo nice. Here are some advantages:

  • only twenty-two papers to grade
  • only twenty-two parent conferences (well probably a little more because of divorce but twenty-two kids worth)
  • only twenty-two kids in line (maybe I can actually see the end of the line)
  • only three-four kids per table with six tables
  • with four reading groups they can each be five-six kids
  • only twenty-two report cards

I am still mad about what happened, but it might not be so bad having such a small class.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Does Anyone Else Just Want to Get Work Done at the Beginning of the Year?

Every year, before school starts, we go back a week early. People who are not educators always tell me, "Oh, that must be so great to have a week to prep things before the kids start." People who are educators usually realize that we spend a lot of time in meetings and have only a little time to prep. Honestly, I wouldn't object to meetings if they were productive, but at my school we always end up doing something that is really stupid.

Last year we had to build "self esteem towers" out of building blocks, and the special area teachers were knocking them down for some reason. We had to dance to Achey Breaky Heart--mind you the dancing was not optional. The year before we had to look at all these pictures and compare our school and ourselves to the picture. I guess there must be some people who enjoy all of this stuff or they wouldn't keep doing it, but I don't know any of them. The principal gives a really painfully long speech. Last year it was about compassion and how she had lunch with some homeless guy. I would conservatively estimate that we waste at least two of our four work days total doing this kind of nonsense.

I just got our staff letter and this year's "theme" for teacher week is "catch an attitude of success." I can only imagine the kind of activities and lectures in store for us. Below is a list of phrases I expect to be ground into my head that week. I will let you know how many I am right about.
  1. Remember, you didn't get into teaching for the money. It is time to get back to the heart of things. (this is what will be the stock answer when legitimate budget issues come up)
  2. The attitude you choose everyday will be the atmosphere of your classroom. (there definately is some truth to this, but this will be the stupid answer given when people raise a concern about issues that might arise from whatever thing they're promoting; it becomes like a Peter Pan philosophy: think positive thoughts and nothing bad can happen)
  3. Your experience will be what you make it. (they will say this one all the time because there is a lot of bad news like bigger classes, no supply budget, possible pay cuts, reduction in support, and extra duty)
  4. Our neighboring districts are worse off. (they won't say this so directly, but they will frequently remind us that other districts are in a worse financial boat)

It's not that I don't think any of these things are true. They are. It is just that playing stupid games or listening to lectures about it doesn't change anything. I don't need to be told how to think about the problems we'll face this year. I would rather have time to prep. I think right now preparation might be the best medicine for us all.