Sunday, January 31, 2010

Close Encounters

Have you ever thought about what it would be like if things were like they were in the Gospels. What if you just ran into Jesus on the street like the woman at the well or like the people at the wedding party he encountered or even like the people in his everyday life. I have been thinking about what he would say to me. So, the close encounter I referenced isn't E.T.. This is my fictional story about what I think it would be like if I encountered God in my every day life.

The smell of coffee hung thick in the air. The city Starbucks was kind of like a townsquare or a gathering space. The thing that made Starbucks distinct from a townquare was there wasn't a lot of interaction among patrons. People in the city like to be together without actually interacting.

A young woman sat in the corner with her Cinnamon Dulce Latte, her laptop, and books stacked almost above her head. Post-it notes protruded from various points in the tower of books. The young woman was well kempt and had a relaxed but focused air about her. She seemed like the kind of person who was probably doing something important; she seemed like the sort of girl who didn't want to be bothered.

Her focus seemed to be growing exponentially as she flipped hurriedly through various books found in various places in the large stack. She tried to grab a book from the bottom, and the effort resembled a difficult game of Jenga. In the process, she knocked her coffee off of the small table and it got all over her trendy suede boots and important papers stacked on the floor.

"Oh no," she uttered as she ran to the stand holding napkins. She toweled off her boots first, but upon thinking about it, ran back to save what she could of her work. She was pleasantly surprised to find that an older gentleman was cleaning up her mess. "Thank you, but please you don't need to do that," she said to him.

"Oh, it's no trouble," he replied authoritatively enough that she couldn't argue.

After some time, the man and the girl had salvaged some papers and thrown away the ruins. "I am afraid that is the best you're going to to do," chuckled the older man.

"I think you are right. Please, let me buy you a cup of coffee. It's the least I can do," replied the young woman. "What can I get you?"

"I'll have whatever you were having," he answered.

"Okay," she smiled, "but it is very sugary--Cinnamin Dulce Latte."

"In that case, how about just a cup of black coffee."

The young woman went to the counter and retrieved two fresh coffees, black.

"Do you mind if I ask what you're working so diligently on?" the man asked.

"No, I'm a teacher and a graduate student. I was working on a research based project to impliment with my third graders."

"Your thirdgraders?"

The girl smiled, "Well, my students, I guess after a while it feels like my thirdgraders. You know, my twenty-one kids."

"That's a lot of responsibility for a young woman. It must be difficult. I see you are here working on Sunday night."

"Yes, it's what I do, though. For now at least."

"You're thinking of leaving?"

"No, I just-- Things are so bad politically. I have no idea if I'll have a job at all next year. This is my third year and things are different. Early on, I had to learn to manage the day to day realities in a classroom. Now, I am starting to look at the bigger picture and I just feel helpless to what will happen. I can do what I can do but I'm in the midst of a bigger situation."

The man was looking at her bag and as the young woman directed her eyes to what his gaze was fixed on she noticed he was looking at the Bible in her oversized bag. "You are a woman of faith?" he asked nodding at the bag.

"Oh, yes, yes I am."

"Does that give you some comfort in this situation?"

The girl was at a loss for words--though she was not the type of girl who was ever at a loss for words. "Well," she stammered, "I guess it should be, but I guess I just always think politics are too dirty for God. It's like we're on our own for that."

"It seems to me, that God is precisely in the business of cleaning up what is dirty. He sends people of faith to do his work and even when they can accomplish his purpose in some small way, they are armed with his power. Not much to fear in that."

Something about the twinkle in the man's eyes made her wonder if he was talking about his own work in cleaning up coffee or her work in the classroom or something else. Suddenly she was aware that they had both been sitting in silence for several minutes. It should have been socially akward, but it wasn't.

The coffee cups were empty. "It must be getting late," she said.

"You're very busy," the man observed, "your work is important to you, but there is so much more to life, child, than the books on top of this table."

She should have been insulted to be called child, but it felt oddly comforting.

"I know. I just want to get things done. I have so much responsibility, and it is like you said. I am a young woman and it is hard to balance."

"When first I came into this shop, you were having quite a time cleaning up that coffee, but you didn't ask for help and you told me not to help. Perhaps, you don't have too much to do. You just don't see the help you have."

"How can I? See it--I mean."

"Well, perhaps you have the wrong book in the bag and the wrong books on the table for a Sunday afternoon. You'll find some answers in your books, but to find help you have to look up. Get your nose out of the book I mean."

The barrista was mopping the floor and turning the open sign over. The shop was closing up and it was time to go home.

"Well, young lady, it has been so good talking with you tonight. I feel certain that you will do what you need to. You're doing good work and I thank you for it. Just remember, you don't have to do it all on your own."

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Leave Your Worries on the Doorstep

We've been talking about Christopher Columbus during Social Studies and Writing. Christopher Columbus was by no means perfect, but he did have passion for what he did and he had the guts to do a lot. "People thought that Christopher Columbus had his thinking all backwards. 'Why,' they wanted to know, 'would you think sailing West is the quickest route to the East?' His thinking, though, led to the discovery of North America," I told the kids. It is a good lesson about continuing to try when things look bad, when your goal is worth it. It's a good lesson for the kids and for me.

So much is going right in my classroom this year. I have all of my students back in my room again. We work hard together every day. I really will miss these kids.

I find myself being really dragged down by the obstacles, though. I've got financial uncertainties in my head. What will happen if I don't have a job for next year? I've got politics in my brain.

The reality is that doing a good job isn't enough to save my job. The goal, of course, is to have these kids learn. When I am focused on that everything seems right.

Being a teacher is kind of like being the captain of a ship. Like Columbus, I want my crew to reach shore and complete their mission. I feel like my ship will make it safely to shore, but will it ever see the sea again?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

All Day Kindergarten Gets the Axe

I've been quite bad.

I've been watching that "talk box" the District warned about. My state's latest idea to "solve the budget crisis" is to eliminate all day kindergarten. This is not the first time this idea has been tossed around, but the governor is calling for a special session (as soon as tomorrow) to continue hacking at the budget. So, it is very possible that tomorrow will eliminate the all day kindergarten program in this state.

Now, I am the first to admit that I am no expert in early childhood education. One big part of the reason I cried my eyes out when Principal Sadie forced me to move to third grade is that I don't know a lot about early childhood. That being said, I am going to talk as an educator now. I've always contended that education and politics are married to each other for better or worse. I am starting to feel like we, in education, are married to an abusive spouse! If only we could leave him!

Our state ranks 48th in education right now. Guess where our state ranks in funding of education: 48th! My district is the most successful elementary district (in terms of test scores in the state), yet due to No Child Left Behind, we are currently facing penalties for failing to make district AYP (although every single school made AYP individually). We also have all schools ranked as excelling or highly performing. It's not good enough, though, because we are not on target to reach the 100% goal. Never mind that a significant percentage of kids are tested in a language they don't understand. Never mind that this includes students with diagnosed learning disabilities. We need to be 100% successful. Who made this goal? Politicians.

We are under extreme pressure to meet our goals, but we continue to face increasing obstacles and decreasing support. Reductions in certified staff, increase in class size, reductions in supplies, and now possibly reductions in the amount of time we are given to instruct kids in these early years. We are dealing with greater poverty in this area which is the number one enemy of elementary education. When a stable environment doesn't exist at home, our job gets harder. Period. Call it the achievement gap, call it bias in schooling, call it whatever you want, but poverty has always and will always make effective education a more difficult goal.

These are tough times and I understand that, but I know how all this plays out. We lose resources, funding, and time; but it is demanded that we increase our effectiveness exponentially. No one will say, "Okay, you will not face penalties this year if student achievement falls." Politicians will rant and rave when our performance flounders about what can be done to save public education. I'll tell you what they can do: pay up.

I just saw on the news that this city (a huge city FYI) laid of 12% of the police force. Scary. Anyway, the chief said it best, "we cannot guarantee the same level of service when we face these cuts." Neither can we, and I don't want to hear anymore political educators proclaiming that we can. The public needs to know the truth: quality of education will suffer. The End. That is all I can say tonight.

Monday, January 25, 2010

What Would You Think If You Found This E-mail in your Inbox?

Dear District Teachers,

Many of you have been worrying your pretty little heads by watching that silly program called the news. Please ignore whatever the talking box is saying. "The News" has reported that our state has no money and will continue to cut at the education budget. Many of you are starting to talk about what this will mean for our district. Please do not talk about this because that kind of talk is evil. Besides, only the people upstairs can decide who loses their job and that is a secret right now. You can talk about it when we decide to tell you, but until then don't worry about it, don't talk about, pretend that everything is going well and we are expanding! This unsolicited advice is for your own good.

Sincerely, The District Bigwig

Yes, I may have paraphrased the e-mail slightly (for effect). The message is the same, though.

I seem to remember getting an e-mail like this from The District Bigwig last year right before they announced the RIF of all first year teachers. See my posts below.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

It Like Figures...

Teaching students to write more descriptively is a huge challenge (at least for me). I have had some success with using five senses graphic organizers, but practically speaking a lot of descriptive writing needs to be primarily visual what things feel like, smell like, and taste like are only important in limited contexts. I really believe that the key to helping kids write descriptively is the mastery of of using figurative language. Below is a lesson I've developed over the last three years to help kids experiment with the use of figurative language. It's really more of an exercise and I recommend doing it several times to make a lasting impact.

I introduce the lesson by showing the kids some detailed pictures from a picture book. (I use the book The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant because I use that story to teach personal narratives as well and my kids are familiar with it.) I show them pictures and each student writes similes or metaphors based on the pictures. For the first few, I give them the first half of a simile and let them fill in the blank (ie The realtives were as crowded as ______________________). For the final picture, I give them five minutes to write as many similes and metaphors as they can think of describing the picture.

Then I either give the students a topic sentence for a descriptive paragraph or I have the students write their own topic sentence (my instruction to them is "write a sentence that describes the whole picture"). Then I have the kids use at least three of the similes/metaphors they wrote and add a concluding sentence. I and the kids have been amazed at the level of writing this produces. After doing this activity a couple of times, I start to require the kids to put one simile or metaphor in assignments that I know that would be appropriate for.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Don't Leave the Lights on and Your Door Open on the Way Out

When I was a little girl I had some bad habits that my mother tried to break me of. I was always leaving the light on, the radio going, the cereal box out, or the door open. I don't have the same drive to finish things well that I have to start them. I have a lot of half-read books. I have even more half written pieces. All these things are minor, but my tendency to switch courses runs deeper. For example, this is the first year that I haven't moved in six years (although part of that is due to college). I switch churches all the time. I am trying to stick with things more, but I also know that when you've turned off all the lights and the radio and closed the door that it is okay to change rooms.

I say all of this because I have that bug again recently. I just want to have a new adventure.

I started to feel that way last year, but I recognized that I just had a difficult task before me and did not run away. Now, it is different, though. I like what I am doing. I don't feel stressed out and I have a very pleasant life.

It is not that I want to abandon teaching altogether. Honestly, I've spent the last seven years of my life learning how to teach. It's just that I am in the same city, same district even, I went to elementary school in. I am grateful to them because they have taught me a lot, but I think it is time for something new. For the first time in my teaching career, I know that I have something to give as a teacher. I still have a lot to learn, but I know can do well enough to be an effective teacher. I have a desire to try this skill out somewhere else.

This idea has been growing in my head for a couple of months now, but I kind of want to teach overseas. I started thinking about teaching in China, Japan, or S. Korea when I was looking at the possibility of another rif. I am realizing, though, that I was kind of hoping all this would occur so that I could go teach overseas.

As a Christian, it is hard for me to know when my flawed nature is prompting me to always be wanting something different and when God is prompting me to go. I went to college hundreds of miles from home (in spite of my local scholarships) because I wanted a change. Yet, I know God worked in my life through that. How do I know now if I am just being fickle or if God really wants me to change courses?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

It's Raining It's Pouring!

It doesn't rain very often out here at all. When it does rain, kids are excited, everyone forgets how to drive their cars and crashes into eachother, and we have many minor floods because a substantial amount of rain is rare and no one really knows about leaks until it happens. In spite of all that, in the desert, a rainy day is a good day. We soak it up because we all know we have two months tops until it gets hot.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Young Teacher Goes Old School on Students

Prologue: Is it narcissistic that I titled this post like it is a headline about myself? Don't worry, I assure you that no one is interested enough in what goes on in my classroom to write a headline on it (much less an article). I just wanted a title with the word "old school" in it. That word is funny to me.

I would describe the district I work in as extremely modern. The district would scoff at that label--not because they want to be traditionalists or conservative in practice, but because the term "modern" can be used to denote a movement in education that they have progressed beyond. I could call them progressivists, but that too is an educational movement of yesteryear. To be a progressivist is so not progressive anymore. My district would want me to say that they are "on the cutting edge". My point is that in my district we are always asked what is new in the field of education. I have never heard a question in a formal meeting or traing about what is tried and true in education.

That is why, if we were at school, I would only say in a hushed voice that I have been using a lot of old school teacher techniques that have been really successful. I thought I would describe some of these, and why I like them, but I do admit that I find myself watching to see if anyone will come in and "catch" me using outdated, washed up methods. I, of course, prefer to call them classics.

1.) Reciting Times Tables We've been told by the Math coach that we need to carefully consider if developing fluency in Math facts is the best use of our time, so I know that no one would be happy if they knew I have taken to reciting all the problems on our timed test with my class at least twice a week.

The kids love this, though. We follow such a nice rythm it sounds almost musical and I figure that we have to check all one hundred problems anyway, so I may as well do this to aurally reinforce the information.

2.) Choral Response This year my class has to answer questions from every area of the curriculum in unison. Below are some examples.

Me: Class.
Students: Yes
Me: What is the predicate of a sentence?
Students: The predicate is the 'what' of the sentence, Ms. Understood.

Me: Class
Students: Yes
Me: What are the narrative elements?
Students: Characters, plot, and settings are the narrative elements, Ms. Understood.

Me: Class
Students: Yes
Me: When did Colombus sail the ocean blue?
Students: In 1492, Ms. Understood.

Could my students answer these questions in their sleep after a while? Yes, but they know these definitions so well they can answer them in their sleep!

3.) Reading to the Wall One thing I have had to work on is building fluent readers. So, I give the kids all one passage. They echo me and read it correctly, and then we have a drill. They all sit with both feet on the floor. When the bell rings, I start the timer and each student gets up and finds a spot facing the wall. They read the entire passage, return to their chair, count to three, and go back to the wall to read the same passage. They have to do it three times to complete the relay. They write down the time on the timer and try to beat their own time when we repeat the drill. Contrary to what you might be expecting, the kids love this drill.

4.) Red Pen Editing and Student Rewrites I have been told that a teacher should never go through a students piece of writing and correct all errors with a red pen (apparently something about red is bad for self-esteem), but this is the most successful thing I do in Writing. Every week I correct errors in their rough drafts and I make them write their final copy correctly. Yes, most of them would prefer that I did not make them rewrite things, but all of them are better writers now. I have never had a parent complaint about this either, but I have had many parents thank me for this.

Epilogue: To use an old expression, let's not throw the baby out with the bath water! I embrace technology. I embrace new methods that have come about over the years, but old does not mean bad.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Where Did the Day Go?

Do you ever have one of those days that seem to fly by before anything of substance happens? It's like the ribbon of a balloon slipping through your fingers and flying beyond your line of vision before you have a chance to watch it fly away.

It is raining here in the desert and I am still feeling like it is a break. I didn't work on the weekend at all and I just wasn't ready for today. Consequently, I spent most of my day prepping the Read Naturally program we are running for twenty-four third graders starting today. I was so absorbed in that I feel like I didn't even give my own class the time of day.

Here's the thing, though: they were soooo good. They were perfect angels. I gave them work to do during Math, (an hour's worth) and at some point I realized that they were all working so diligently and quietly that I had forgotten they were in the room.

I just didn't actively teach or work with students all day. I feel really bad for wasting a day. I have this class that really is a gift (if I spent one minute doing this last year, I shudder to think what would have happened), and I spent the whole day being too busy to work with them. I never even realized a whole day had slipped through my fingers until I had the thought that this felt like a teacher work day.

Well, tomorrow is a new day. I won't be so absorbed in tasks that I forget the kids--I promise!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Text Haiti to 90999

It is hard to turn off the news on this day off, but it is also hard to watch. The situation in Haiti is unimaginable to all of us sitting in our homes. The mass graves, the injuries, and the lack of supplies are heartbreaking. Thank God for the Red Cross that goes into situations like this and provides whatever relief they can.

Hopefully you've heard about the donation agreement set up with mobile carriers and the Red Cross. By texting "Haiti" to 90999 you can have a ten dollar charge added to your cell phone account that goes to the relief efforts in Haiti. I sent my text, but I am also passing the word on to anyone who might not know.

As teachers, we hope to raise kids who will be productive citizens. We hope that the world we bring to our classroom every day will be a little better when we send our kids out into it. I really believe that it has to start with us. I believe that when we are confronted with people who need help we have to reach out without hesitation. We all really have to do our part. Now is the time!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Good News--Finally!

The little girl in my class who recently had brain surgery has been released from the hospital and is at home with her family where she should be. I heard the news that she would possibly be released from the hospital on Friday, and it was hard for me to decide how discreet to be with that information. I was excited to tell the rest of my class because they ask me about her every day, but I was worried that I would tell them that and if it didn't happen I would have to deliver another blow of bad news on Tuesday. I did make the decision to tell them that she would most likely be released this weekend and to deal with the events as they unfolded. Praise God, she was released and news is good!

This whole thing has been a tough balancing act for me between being discreet with information, being honest about circumstances, and protecting children from this as much as possible.

The wonderful news is that the surgery appears to have been successful and I can now report on this child's healing instead of her sickness. We still don't know when she'll be back in school or able to have children visit her, but I am just glad things are on the track of healing.

Now, will come the part where I will have to make some difficult calls. I'll be trying to send work home and eventually trying to catch this child up, but because this involves brain trauma I cannot put stress on her. How does that look? It is too soon to tell, but to be honest I am wondering if I ought to start looking into retention now in case that is the best path in the end. My district makes it really hard to retain and really easy to cancel it. I don't know how it will end up, but I really need to start looking at the options. All of that is small potatoes, though, after a child wins the battle for her life.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Questions to Not Ask Your Single Friend at a Wedding

I had to go to a wedding tonight. The wedding ceremony was during a PLAYOFF GAME for the local football team. They got annihilated anyway, but I have never seen so many well dressed people stringing headphones through their dress clothes. So, I will say that my mood during the reception (after my team lost) was a little unpleasant anyway, but I would have been annoyed by the way people talk to me at weddings even without that. Why is it that everyone at a wedding feels the need to give me backhanded compliments about being too (pretty; beautiful; stunning; you fill in the blank) to not have a date? That is not really a compliment! It's more like saying, "Even ugly people get dates--what's wrong with you?!!" Anyway, in honor of the wedding I was at, here is a list of typical wedding questions I get. I am also including the real answers that I give and the answers that I should give.

1.) What are boys thinking by not dating you?
Real Answer: I don't know; if I knew what boys were thinking, I would probably get more dates.
Answer I Should Give: Usually guys my age are thinking that they would like to have sex with someone without a committment or they are thinking that they want to find a wife to take care of them. I don't believe in casual sex and I am not exactly the type to exude domesticity, so here we are.

2.) If someone as young and pretty as you can't get a date; is there any hope for the rest of us?
Real Answer: I am just looking for the right person--like everyone else--and it takes time.
Answer I Should Give: I assume I have some other major problems I am currently unaware of.

3.) Have you ever considered E-Harmony? (I really have been asked this at weddings.)
Real Answer: I wouldn't feel comfortable with that.
Answer I Should Give: Thanks for the totally intrusive and inappropriate question!

I just wish that people could accept me for what I am right now. I am single, and maybe I will always be single or maybe I will meet the right guy, but either way I want to be accepted as complete on my own. If you see me alone at a wedding, just ask me if I've met the cute single groomsman or if you are him ask me to dance. Really, just skip the backhanded compliments.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Too Light; Too Heavy

Every week we give a Math assessment over the Math skills for the quarter. Currently, we are in the third quarter and I gave the kids assessment two of the third quarter Math assessments. The kids had done poorly on the first one, but I expected that because I hadn't taught many of the skills. I gave the kids a speech and told them to think of it as a kind of pre-test.

Well, this morning when I graded their second assessment I was dismayed. There were skipped problems, problems with no work shown, and just general laziness. So, first I fined (using our classroom money system) any student who turned in unacceptable work or missed work. Next, I gave a speech about the perils of not being a careful test taker. Finally, I warned that parents would not be happy to find poor test grades because they were not careful test takers.

The results of my little speech: three kids in tears. Sometimes third grade is really different than fifth grade folks. I did take it down a notch and point out that we still have six more assessments this quarter and that now is the time to learn what mistakes they made and improve.

The whole experience reminded me of a commercial I saw recently. See below.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

O Captain My Captain

I have to brag about our new principal a little bit. Bragging words from me about a principal are really high praise right now. After my experience last year, I have been slow (snail paced) to put any trust into administration. I haven't gotten over that yet. The other day when someone from BFF teams said something about packing up rooms, I replied "Maybe I'll be told on the last day of school to pack up my room and move to kindergarten."

"I think that would just send you over the edge," she said.

"No," I answered, "I'll never be surprised by anything like that again now. I expect that kind of nonsense." I didn't realize that I still felt that way until I heard it coming out of my mouth. I do, though.

BUT I digress. I wanted to say why I am inspired to write about how much I like my new principal even though I don't trust him--although that is not his fault.

I like him because he is really a team player and because he is open and supportive of teacher ideas. I am new at this, but I think that has got to be pretty rare. BFF team is implementing a big group read naturally program, and wanted my good friend Mrs. Bear from fifth grade to come and work with us since she has successfully implemented such a program in fifth grade. We wanted her for two days and each day for forty minutes. Not only was the new principal supportive of this plan, he volunteered to cover Mrs. Bear's class for the whole eighty minutes. He has also been teaching one of the focused skill groups third grade runs every week and has not given us trouble about any supplies or copies. He really supports teachers and I have never gotten to experience this before.

Another member of BFF team and I were talking today about how the whole environment of our school is less stressed out. It's true!

I can't say that my faith is blindly in administration now, but I will say as far as principals go this is the sort of principal that I want to work for. My old principal had the pseudonym on this blog, Principal Sadie. Today, I am making a pseudonym for my new principal. I am naming him Captain. I chose this name off of the famous poem O Captain My Captain because he has been a leader who is helping our school work as a team. I hope that next year I don't get riffed or shuffled around because I would like to work for Captain again. I have been able to grow a lot this year and it is because I have had enough space and enough support to reach more of my potential.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Math Lab

Yes, I know that the term "Math Lab" sounds too close to the word "Meth Lab" to be useful in describing an instructional technique--or maybe I have just been watching too many reruns of cops. Bear with me, though, because setting up work stations in Math for the second half hour of Math everyday since Christmas Break is working really well for me.

We have been covering elapsed time story problems, telling time to the minute, and time related vocabulary over the past two weeks and one of the members of BFF team set up 7 time stations for each third grade classroom. It has been awesome! I have been able to turn the mass of kids over to station time (to do stations that were made for me and are really well done) while all the little ones who "don't get it." Have been able to be taught in very small groups.

Monday, January 11, 2010

So Long, Have Fun at Harry Potter School

One of my students moved to another school today. This student has only been in my class for nine weeks because he wasn't enrolled in class. He has been a bit of a challenge. He told crazy, fantasy-filled stories when he first came. He told my class that he came from Harry Potter School and that he is really twelve. He talks very loudly and very slowly.

He talks so slowly and loudly that it leads to some funny situations. One day, I had the kids doing a fluency activity where half of the class was reading a passage and then the other half was trying to read the passage with greater unity. Finally, the side of the class this kid was on said to me, "Can he just be our leader because we can't hear past his voice!" They won.

Anyway, this kid drove me crazy sometimes, but I am going to miss him a lot.

I have really loved teaching this group of kids. I am going to miss every one of them when they move on. They have made a huge impact on me, more than any group I've taught so far.

The little girl from China who has been learning English really reminded me what makes teaching so worth it even when it is hard. My little friend from Harry Potter School taught me a lot about seeing beauty in hard situations. The little girl battling cancer is a picture of courage and tenacity that will be with me always.

The hearts of all of my students have impacted me. Watching how they have befriended someone who cannot speak the same language, when one of my students just wanted to give his teddy bear to the little girl with cancer, when they've made big mistakes and still owned them, all of these things stay with me.

I am really trying to soak in all the great times I have had teaching this year. I really want to remember them, and when I might feel discouraged again, I'll remember that sometimes things go right and I am nothing but lucky and privileged to have the job I do.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

This Song Made Me Think

One of my students stopped me as they were entering the classroom on Friday and told me that she needed to talk to me. After everyone else went in she says, "Something happened last night."

"What happened?" I asked.

"My stepdad got arrested and now I'm just paranoid."

"What do you mean you're paranoid?"

"I don't know, I just am."

We talked for a couple of minutes and then went in. She had a fine day, but I have a soft spot for kids having a hard time with their families. I experienced that.

It is times like when I wish I could talk about God in school. I used to pray before I was sure anyone was listening. I wish I could say, "Someone is always there." I have had so many situations where watered down, politically correct words don't seem like enough.

Friday, January 8, 2010


As a teacher, there is a side of me that is very maternal. I get called mom at least ten times a day, and from seven forty-five until two thirty five I am like a mom. It is a job, but when you are working with kids--especially young kids--it's like a family. They look at you and they trust you. When they are sad, they feel better just to be near you. Not being a parent, I can't imagine how much more it must be with your own kids.

It was really really hard today when I went to see my little student in the Children's Hospital. She is still in the pediatric icu, and they don't know for how long yet. It is really hard to know she is constantly hurting and to know that no one knows how long this is going to last.

I was just so happy to see her when I was there because she has been on my mind so much, but tonight it is just really sad thinking of her still being there--indefinitely.

She really lit up when we came in. Her grandparents said that was the first time she smiled in a long time, and I felt really good being there, but there is a very real pain with having the kind of relationship a teacher has with a child and watching that child in pain like that. In my teaching career, I have never had and I never anticipated a situation like that, but I am really sad right now. I really don't know how people work at the Children's Hospital all the time because I think I would cry everyday. It is just so sad to see little ones that sick.

Please pray for a speedy and full recovery for this girl. Please pray for her parents too; I can't imagine what they must be going through.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Bad Habits

The past four days I have gone home from work before four o'clock, taken a four hour nap, and eaten a huge meal. I am having a really hard time adjusting to my work schedule again after two weeks off. I feel so hungry and so tired throughout the day. At first, I thought maybe I am getting sick, but then it occurred to me that I don't usually take two weeks off the way I did. I ate whenever I was hungry and slept as late as I wanted to. I don't usually think of my work schedule and habits as grueling, but now I am feeling it.

The thing is that work has gone really smoothly. The day seems to fly by, but at the end of it I am exhausted and starving.

"Well," I thought today, "I have developed some bad habits that I need to break!"

I have developed some bad habits, but not over break. I developed bad habits of hardly eating anything during a nine or ten hour work day. I developed bad habits of never sitting down during my so called breaks. I developed bad habits of ignoring hunger, illness, and exhaustion whenever I am focused on something (which at work is most of the time).

I am not saying that I think my life should be like one long break filled with naps and grazing. I think I need to find a more balanced way to teach, though.

Some people do it. They bring snacks, they find a way to relax, they don't get to school ridiculously early. I think that my problem is that at times I can be extremely focused. Sometimes this is good because it helps me solve problems and get things accomplished, but sometimes I forget to eat anything until I start feeling really sick. Sometimes I stay up really late and wake up really early until I finish a task or solve a problem. I also tend to be unaware of what is going on around me when I get really focused. I don't remember where I set my keys down etc, etc.

It is hard for me to teach--especially with a difficult class (which I don't have this year, but did last year)--without going to that really focused place. I need to think about teaching while putting less stress on me. I lost so much weight last year and I was so tired. This year has been better, but obviously I am still keeping some bad habits.

So, I am adding one New Years resolution for myself. I have got to be more organized about eating throughout the day, getting enough sleep, and dividing my focus instead of tunneling in on one thing.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Fountain of Youth?

I've been reading Teacher Man by Frank McCourt, and it is funny because it sometimes seems like an eloquent rendering of my blog. (Not so much the impoverished Irish upbringing part, but more the young teacher without a clue part.) I can't believe that beginning teaching in the early sixties could be so much like beginning teaching now. He writes the following:

In any classroom, something is always happening. They keep you on your toes. They keep you fresh. You'll never grow old, but the danger is you might have the mind of an adolescent forever, That's a real problem, Mac. You get used to talking to those kids on their level. Then when you go to a bar for a beer you forget how to talk to your friends and they look at you. They look at you like you just arrived from another planet and they're right. Day after day in the classroom means you're in another world, Mac. (32-33)

I think the first two years of teaching aged me twenty or so years and now it is reeling me back in and reminding me of the wonder of childhood. I was so young when I started teaching, and I know you're probably thinking that I'm young now, but I was twenty-two then (barely). Suddenly I found my self in the midst of pressure, responsibility and work.

I think before you enter the classroom as a teacher you believe what we, the teachers, wanted you to believe. You believe that schools are safe and happy and removed from the hardest things in life. As a teacher, you find that the school isn't removed from any of that, but you learn to do your best to protect the students. I was so naive when I started teaching, and I had to grow up, but now I am starting to appreciate what the students bring everyday.

I realized today how much I am enjoying teaching my class this year. Every day the things I teach are new to them. It is fun to see how exciting a map can be. It is great to hear excitement over division or writing or whatever.

This year, more than ever, the hard things have found their way into the walls of my classroom, but God has been reminding me how to look at the world with a little more awe. I am looking at the same issues I have been (politics and work and stress), but the glass looks half full.

I was teaching my kids about explorers and I mentioned that Cortes was searching for the fountain of youth. They wanted to know if he ever found it. He didn't, but I think if he did, he would have discovered that it's like Frank McCourt said. It is a blessing and a curse. You never grow old, but you get very used to relating to children on their level. As I told them, though, exploring is probably worth it-- if only for the adventure.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Soooo Worth It

In the interest of updates, my student is out of surgery and in the pediatric ICU. Mom says they are in the danger zone for the next 4-5 days due to the risk of hemmoraging or stroke, but very grateful the surgery is done now.

I told you about my organizing frenzy over the weekend. Well, it continued well through the day today. I skipped Math and Writing in favor of organizing and reviewing rules and procedures.

I felt a twinge of guilt at the thought of throwing about 120 instructional minutes away, but I know the future time and frustration all this saves. We have to start on the right foot. Despite my guilt, I feel like I probably accomplished more today than I would have by sticking to curricular targets religiously. It was sooooo worth it.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Still and Quiet

I can't sleep at all and maybe rightly so. I can't stop thinking about the little girl from my class having surgery tomorrow. I've been checking her website obsessively because I want to find some sign that she'll be fine. I did find an e-mail from her mom saying that she missed me and her classmates and can't wait to come back. Not whatever I was hoping to find to ease my fears, though. We just can't know that yet. Maybe I am just awake because I am supposed to pray.

Tomorrow twenty one kids and one teacher will sleepily get out of bed and return to their third grade classroom. Snowflakes are still hanging on the wall. New projects will be started. New supplies are out. I can't help but wish all twenty-two would be there.

Energy will be high because the kids are eight and nine. The ignorant bliss of childhood will hide the tragedy from them tomorrow. It doesn't feel right, though. It seems like the classroom, even the world, should be still and quiet until we know that everything will be alright.

I Have Issues

Everytime that I think I am organized, I decide to reorganize and find piles of papers I never passed out and remember spreadsheets I swore to make that I never finished. I did what I shouldn't have done on Saturday and went into the school to get something. I decided to make a new seating arrangement and looked in the supply bins at each table.

Looking into the abyss of the student supply bins led me to thinking about how I could help them keep organized. So, I dumped the boxes the markers and crayons came in and put the drawing supplies in separate cups.

The cups idea made me remember that I meant to change our pencil plan to a more shared policy, so collected all the individual pencils and moved them to a community cup.

Seeing a spare pencil in the textbook cubbies bin reminded me that I wanted to get rid of the trays their textbooks were in because the textbooks were too heavy and many trays were cracking. So, I moved the textbooks out of the trays.

Getting the spare trays reminded me that I wanted to add a couple of bins for specific classwork. Those bins reminded me that I wanted to change the grading bins on my desk. That reminded me that I wanted to change the classroom jobs again. That reminded me that I needed to make excel spreadsheets so the kids could check things off according to my new jobs.

You probably get the idea. I should never enter the building during a break or the break is over.

That being said, it is kind of nice that everything is in order. For now!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Sleeping In/In 2010

Well, I did what I do every year over Christmas Break. I turned off my alarm clock and got used to staying up late and sleeping late. Yesterday, I got up at eleven thinking it was about seven. Today, my goal was to get up at seven. I couldn't drag myself out of bed until nine-thirty. Five AM is going to hurt on Monday.

It seems that my first goal of the new year (easing back in to getting up early) is not going well, but that isn't stopping me from making some resolutions.

Do not let papers pile up.

Do better with teaching handwriting.

Do more Reading interventions with low kids.

Don't sweat the small stuff.