Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Things That Keep Me Awake at Night

On the first day of school, 23 eager, energetic, sweet, energetic (did I already say that) eight year olds poured into room 24. I had prepped for them all kinds of get to know you activities. I clearly wrote every direction on the board or smartboard in simple language. I didn't plan anything academic because I wanted to give the kids a chance to learn the classroom rules and get to know each other. Quickly I noticed that one little boy wasn't doing any of the activities. He wasn't defiant or drawing attention to himself. He was just a passive observer. I noticed it, but I let it be for the first day of school.

On the second day of school, I passed out supplies to my motley crew and began introducing subjects. During writing, I wanted the kids to start prepping their writing journals. I had them flip to the end of their journals and write each letter of the alphabet on a separate page of their journals (this will serve as their dictionaries). All the students had finished when I noticed that the passive observer was still on letter "B". He was looking at the cursive alphabet that ran above the whiteboard and copying down each letter in cursive (because he wasn't sure which letter each symbol was and he didn't know the order the letters went in). When I verbally fed him each letter he was able to write them, but he needed me to say each letter because he didn't know the order of the alphabet.

As time went on, he began to bring me papers and ask very quietly "what word is this," or "what does this mean?" I gave him a phonics screener and to my surprise he failed the first category (cvc words). I gave him a sight word screener and to my surprise he missed words as simple as "at." I gave him a fluency screener and he scored 28 wcpm with 40% accuracy.

This child went to a private school in another state prior to third grade and when I pulled his file, I was shocked to see that he passed second grade with middle marks. He had been shipped across the country over the summer to live with his mom, after having lived with his dad, and it seems that no one had realized that this little boy couldn't read, after three years in school.

I know what it means for him if he leaves third grade without being able to read. The statistics are grim. My eyes fill with tears every time that I think about him making it through three years of school without significant intervention. I pledge to myself that he will read by the end of the year. I know it can be done, but it keeps me up at night to think about how.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Differentiation for Us???

If I were going to describe being a new teacher to someone outside of education world, I would ask them to think about writing their first substantial paper (in college or high school or whatever). No matter how well you were prepped, no matter how talented of a writer you are, and no matter if you felt anxiety; chances are that you didn't know what the hell you were doing when you brought your pen to the paper or started clicking the keys on that keyboard. Your only option was to jump in. If you read your first composition now, you would probably be shocked at what you were willing to turn in.

So, being a new teacher is like writing your first composition. It's like writing your first composition with the requirement that the composition is 500 pages long. In the end, it would be kind of a miracle that you actually completed such a marathon of paper writing or teaching as it were, but ultimately the quality of your piece would likely be quite low.

To complete a paper like that would take guts and commitment and heart. If, in the middle of your paper-writing miracle of a marathon, someone were to tell you, "You're terrible at this and this paper is just awful. In fact, you should be sorry for any unsuspecting reader that might be subjected to the torture of this monstrosity," it would be devastating. After such discouragement, it would be difficult to grow into the teacher or the writer you might become.

I say this because now that I am not a new teacher my perspective has changed. I can see clearly the mistakes I made. Having learned a lot of lessons, I can see a lot of the lessons I needed to learn. I can also see just how monumental the task I was undertaking was. I can see how fragile and vulnerable that made me. I wish that the people in charge of me at that time would have looked for the potential to encourage instead of critiquing my performance.

We had a staff meeting today that reminded me of a staff meeting we had two years ago, during my second year of teaching. I had gotten in trouble earlier in the day because a little girl said jokingly to a little boy in my class, "I'll kill you," and I failed to report it. Well, the parent of the little boy called the police and filed charges against the little girl. I was already feeling terrible about this. The administration ended the staff meeting by making an example out of my situation about what not to do. It was what it was, but I remember the moment that it dawned on me where the example was going, and I remember everyone who hadn't heard trying to guess who this story was about.

Today at our staff meeting, the principal started relaying a story that moved him about a teacher differentiating to a special ed student in her class and the great impact this was having on the boy. At the moment that I realized the story was about me, I had a vivid memory of the negative story shared about me by the former principal in a staff meeting.

Today was a good moment, and maybe things like this do something to heal the confidence issues I still have from things I experienced as a new teacher. The thing is that both of the stories about me were objectively true. I really screwed up in the first instance, and I did a good job in the second one. I just don't think a new teacher always needs an objective evaluation. Maybe teachers just need a little differentiation too.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Playing Well

Most kids "play hookie" every once in a while. They can enjoy a day of rest at home. For my whole life, I have not been able to enjoy a day of rest on a school day because I feel like I am missing something.

When I was eight years old, I remember distinctly catching a terrible sore throat (it actually turned out to be strep throat). I hated staying at home so much that I did everything I could to hide my sickness. I had goosebumps sitting in my third grade classroom, but tried to hide it. After school, I went over to my friend's house, but I was too sick to play. I fell asleep in my friend's play tent. I still wouldn't have confessed that I was sick, but my friend's mom told my mom.

In college, I would sometimes walk to class in the snow with a terrible cold. I couldn't stand missing my class due to sickness (ironically, I was okay with missing it for other reasons).

Now, at twenty-five, I still haven't outgrown my "playing well". I've been going to work with no voice. I've been waking up at night feeling bad and going to work on barely any sleep.

Today, though, I quit fighting it. When I woke up at 2:30am, unable to sleep due to my painful sore throat and cough, I wrote up sub plans. I must confess, though, I had my work laptop open to my e-mail and right by my side the whole day!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Have You Seen My Voice?

Don't ask me why I am on such a Disney kick, but if my classroom was a mythological ocean and coast, then I would be Ariel. That's right folks I had a bout of laryngitis on Friday. By the end of the day, I had no voice at all.

I got a lot of suggestions from my tribe. The kids were just sure that if I cleared my throat, my voice would be restored. Some of them told me that "boogers can get stuck in your throat." I have to say, though, they were very compassionate. They were quiet and attentive all day long. Apparently, they were still up to their usual tricks in Music. One thing I know, though, they can do it.

If I do find my voice after the magic three day mark (mu laryngitis usually lasts three days), I may just fake it on Monday...

Friday, August 20, 2010

Wendy and the Lost Boys

When I think of my class this year, I can only think of two words: rowdy boys. I've got those ADD, fightin' on then playground, writin' so hard with their pencils that they break, loud-voiced boys. I think if my classroom were Neverland (not the Michael Jackson one people) then they would be the lost boys and I would be Wendy. I actually rather like all of my students, but they are a tough crowd to teach. They're not like the group I had two years ago because a lot of those kids enjoyed hurting others. This group is full of nice kids, but I think riddilin should start coming out of my drinking fountain.

Right now, my desks are still in groups, but based on the number of kids I have with concentration issues, I am thinking we are going to rows. I have to get a set routine down for every subject and follow it every day!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Good Things Ain't Free

I am so full right now. I had to sign a 2,045 dollar check for graduate school--last one praise the Lord, and I have not been paid for this school year yet. Therefore, I am worth approximately 100$ right now. Anyway, because I am so poor, I literally cannot buy more groceries until Thursday when I finally get paid again! So, when our professor provided free dinner tonight, it seemed like a good idea to eat as much as possible. I've been skipping breakfast and I bought these disgusting Ramen Noodle American food packs for lunch. Today's was supposed to be chicken alfredo. I don't know how to describe what it tasted like, but certainly not chicken alfredo!

Anyway, I will be counting down the hours to my next pay check.

In other news, I passed Career Ladder and placed at the level I wanted. This will mean bringing home more money annually (a little), which is sounding pretty good right about now, but it will also mean an even bigger more needlessly complicated more ridiculous career ladder project. I guess all good things come at a cost.

Hint: Skip the first minute of this video BUT do listen. This song is awesome, but maybe I just think that because it is relevant to me!!!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Teachers Worse than Kidnappers!!!

My school district is in an interesting and ongoing pickle with the local media. I will tell you that I don't live in a sparsely populated area (the metropolitan area has a population of over 4 million). I tell you the population because my school district seems to be making the local news quite frequently for being such a small fish in a big pond. My school district is also the top performing public school district in the area. In spite of our stellar academic record, we've been recieving negative press due to the very public firing of three criminal administrators last year. All I could do was blush when people associate my school district with all that because it is a terrible record to hire that many CRIMINAL administrators.

This weekend, however, my school specifically was in the news due to a near kidnapping incident that occured with a student on his way to school. The ironic thing is that the way this story was reported (on video and written up); it should have been titled the following: Nine Year Old Almost Kidnapped on the Way to School, but the Real Villain Is the Child's Teacher. The story alleges that this boy told his fourth grade teacher that a man tried to grab him on his way to school, and the teacher failed to report it to the police. I don't know the details of the story, and if I did I couldn't give them here. What I do know is that the school was not called for their side of the story before this story was reported. The reporters failed to give any information about the alleged kidnapper. I also know that the online newspaper is full of nasty nasty (and some inappropriate comments) about the teacher and teachers in general. I understand that it is hugely irresponsible to fail to report something like this (if that is indeed what happened, but I suspect that it is not). I don't understand why the mass hysteria and outrage is all directed at the teacher! Did she try to kidnap a little boy??

This time the media has gone too far. This teacher is being subjected to public humiliation without any chance to answer the accusations or explaining what is going on. The incident has been sensationalized just to sell paper, and the reporting is irresponsible.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

I Am So Mature!

I know what you are thinking. You're probably thinking, "Ms. Understood, mature people don't have to say that they are in fact mature. By announcing that, you are, in fact, proclaiming the opposite."

That's probably true, but even so, I have been making a lot of mature decisions recently and I want to brag about them. I handled two crises in mature fashion this week.

1.) I went to bed the other night and laid down to see a lizard--on the ceiling--ready to fall on me at any moment. In the past, I might have reacted by completely freaking out and calling someone to save me. I might have reacted by fumigating my house to the point that I couldn't stay here. Instead, I got a piece of Tupperware, knocked the lizard into the Tupperware, and released him outside. Bravo to me on that one.

2.) Tonight, I had a date with law student tonight. I went to my date open to getting to know more about him, but he wanted to kiss and even though I started to kiss him, I realized that I wasn't feeling anything. So, I stopped him, and told him we had to talk. I actually did the mature thing and explained to him how I was feeling. I have been terrible at dealing with situations like this in the past, but tonight I just realized that these conversations are a part of dating and I need to do it. Law student and I had a good talk and actually continued to hang out for two hours without it being awkward. We are going to keep in touch. Amazing, I really don't know why I have sometimes been so immature about these things.

Paying My Dues

Overall I had an easy class last year. This year it might be time to pay the piper.

This week was pretty hard. I have a kid in my class this year who is severely disabled. He is very sweet, but he has not yet mastered all of his letters (as in of the alphabet). He loses track of what I or anyone else is saying after about eight words. His reading and writing and math are at a late kindergarten or early first grade level. I had no idea how severe he was until the first day of school.

Starting next week, he'll be pulled for resource about four hours a day. I think this will help because he, alone, was taking so much of my time and energy.

Aside from that, I noticed on the health histories that about six of my kids qualify as ADD or ADHD and one qualifies as Bipolar. So, about a third of my class is going to be high maintenance.

Oh yeah, I also have a crazy parent who came to complain about me before the first day of school BECAUSE she has never heard of me--apparently I should be famous. This same parent failed to show up for Meet-the-Teacher. I guess she feels she should be able to learn about me on the news or something.

Okay, deep breaths... All that being said, I do have some really sweet kids and this group does seem to be responding to what I am doing to manage them. I do have to constantly manage them, but at least it is working, for now.

Anyway, looking at the bright side, this promises to be an interesting year for blogging. I have a feeling a lot of entertaining things are going to happen!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

It's Not You; It's Me

I realized something this week. I think what is missing with PreLawGuy is an emotional connection.

I am very good at playing the strong leader. I do it for my job. That is who I was in my family (who needed that) for as long as I can remember. Part of that is good, and I find that I am always the kind of person people confide in, but I am not always the kind of person who confides in other people. It has also made me quite adept at hiding fear or anxiety or even sadness when I feel it. I have my limits, but in general I don't like talking about my feelings or admitting my feelings.

Ultimately, though, in a relationship, I have to learn to sometimes lean on someone else. I have to learn to let someone see my weaknesses.

I am not saying that PreLawGuy is who will be that person in the long run. I am just realizing that I need to have a more open heart. This is a new revelation to me. The funny thing is that now it seems really obvious that I have always been like this. People have even told me things like this before, but I didn't really believe it.

I know I cannot change this about myself overnight. I will never be the person that is extremely comfortable talking about my feelings. What I am going to do, to hold myself accountable, is catch myself when I am deliberately hiding my feelings from someone I am thinking about a relationship with or when I am deliberately avoiding subjects that are emotionally charged to me.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

My Favorite First Week Stuff--Use or Lose!

I thought I would share some stuff I like to do during the first week to set things up. Most of it, as with most things I do in my classroom, I learned/stole/took from other teachers. Above is a list of most of the books I used to talk about first week stuff.

*Who Has Inventory This is also sometimes called the autograph game. In this game, students get a grid with approximately the same number of squares as there are students in the class. The squares say things like "has traveled to another state" or "has a June birthday." Students must collect signatures of other students. Every student must sign the sheet at least once.

I like this activity for the very first day because it is a great Get-to-Know-You activity that gives an excuse for moving around. The first day back is a lot of sitting after a whole summer of moving! I've used this in fifth grade and third grade and both groups loved it.

*Two Truths and a Lie I like my kids to write in journals first thing in the morning while I take attendance, collect lunch money etc etc. I use this as my first morning activity. I put a prompt stating that students must write a four sentence paragraph stating their name, two facts about them, and one fact about them that is not true. After students have had some time to write, they share with their tables and try to guess which fact is the lie for the other students at their tables.

I like this activity because it introduces journal writing and is a great opportunity to introduce group work.

*Name Game We have a lot of class meetings the first week. I use this game to help kids learn each other's names in a fun way. All the kids sit in a circle on the floor. Each student thinks of a hand motion to say with his or her name. For example, I might hand jive and say (miss-un-der-stood). After I do that, all the students repeat exactly what I said and did. We go all around the circle that way practicing names. I have also done this with dance moves and the kids standing in a circle. I prefer to have them sitting for the game during the first week because I like to keep the tone calm.

*I Can Train We read The Little Engine That Could and each student writes three personal I can statements for the year (ie I can be kind to others; I can learn my math facts). The kids write these statements on little trains they cut out. We put all the trains in a line in the hall outside and it is an "I Can Train."

We do tons of procedures practice and initial testing (fluency, phonics, math pre-assessment). We tour the classroom. We tour the school. We make assessment binders and writing journals.

We cut out hand prints and make a wreath around our school character pledge. We all sign the school character pledge and agree to follow it.

Monday, August 9, 2010

First Day

I am writing this post as I drift in and out of consciousness, so you'll have to excuse me if it doesn't make a lot of sense. My first day went pretty smoothly, but I am tired. Last year, I had my class running exactly the way I wanted it. It is hard to start from scratch! Plus, I saw so many of my old students. I really felt like rounding them up and taking them to my room. I will bond with my new class and I am confident I will get them trained to act the way I expect. It is just hard at the beginning.

In other news, I got desks this year (as opposed to the tables I had last year). So far, I love having desks. It has really cut down on the movement in the room during work time. Some teachers are so organized they never have problems with kids roaming and forgetting supplies. I always had that problem with tables, but with desks they can store important supplies at their seats.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

13 Hours and Counting

Disclaimer: Just quit reading now if you are someone who doesn't like sarcasm. I don't mean this post to be taken literally. It is a tongue-in-cheek way of communicating a teacher's perspective on prepping for a new year.

There are two truths that I have to accept as I plan for a new school year:
1.) I have a very large staff that works for me.
2.) Everyone on my staff is an idiot.

I know these are two shocking statements for a teacher, but let me explain why operating under these assumptions lets me set up for the smoothest school year possible. If I were to list my daily responsibilities as a classroom teacher, this post would go on forever. I really am running a small office in terms of paperwork, record keeping, and scheduling. The good news is I have a lot of employees--sort of. I do not have to check off every box with my own hand. I do not have to distribute every paper. I do not have to track every schedule. I do not have to sharpen every pencil and refill every paper box myself. I do have to idiot proof every job, routine, and organizational system in my room--let's face it: this includes the things only I touch because my wits will certainly be dulled when I am constantly attending to multiple tasks at the same time. I have to assume that every employee in my office is Amelia Bedelia (you should really google that if you didn't catch that referrence because those books are excellent). This sounds easy but it's not! I am going to give one concrete example to illustrate the myriad of these organizational quandaries that are my life right now.

If you have read this blog a while, you might remember that I consider pencils my arch nemesis in the classroom (you can read about that here, here, and here). Supplying sharpened pencils is one of those jobs I want to delegate to my "employees". If I didn't do this, I could almost provide a full time job for myself sharpening and keeping track of pencils. However, if I were to give everyone a couple of pencils and let things run their course, the pencils would last a total of two hours. If I just assume that my "employees" know what a sharp pencil is or when is an appropriate time to sharpen pencil, my "employees" will sharpen every pencil down to the erasers in a couple of days and will turn the electric pencil sharpener on during important meetings and will break and jam the electric pencil sharpener. Quickly, my room will digress to a Lord of the Flies state. So, I've got to "idiot proof things" a little. Each employee keeps two pencils in his desk. On the counter, are two pencil cups labeled dull and sharp. Employees may exchange a pencil from their desks for a sharp pencil. One employee is designated "the pencil sharpener." This is the only employee allowed to touch the electric pencil sharpener. I will give this employee special training on things like when to empty the pencil sharpener, when to sharpen pencils, and how to use the dull and sharp cups.

That is just one example of the hundreds of organizational tasks I have to attend to in order for the year to run smoothly. If you walked into my room, you would see clipboards and charts and labels everywhere. I think I am passed the new teacher stage because I have graduated from decorative tendencies to organizational obsession.

Anyway, school starts tomorrow and I have to think of it as New Employee Orientation for an entire staff of Amelia Bedelias. My goal is that if you walk into my room it looks like my job is easy, but parents, administrators, or anyone in my room who hasn't been in the shoes of classroom teacher for a while you should know that I have to take an incompetent staff and turn them into the dream team. It might look like they just know what to do, but trust me, I taught them!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Odd Couple: My Head and My Heart

I have my own special brand of neurosis and I can't keep fighting it.

I am not easily rattled by outside circumstances. I am not bothered by a crooked picture or a shoe left in the middle of the floor. I feel fine going out without my hair or makeup done. I am not easily offended by what people say. I like trying new things. I stay calm under pressure. I almost never lose my temper.

Yet, I am not good at being calm. My dentist tells me that I grind my teeth. I can't help but fidget. Even when I sleep, I dream every night and almost always remember my dreams clearly.

If I have nothing good to be wound up about, then I get wound up about something stupid. Right now, everything is going well for me, but something in me wants to make it more complicated. I want to find the problems in my own life just so I can figure them out. It is like someone shoved a giant problem solving machine in my head and I can never turn it off.

I love my work situation this year. I am so happy to be at the same school. I love my position. I love my colleagues. My brain just wants to anticipate possible problems and solve them.

I am having a good time dating a few guys at the same time and not being serious. My brain wants to find a puzzle and use that to select the right guy. My brain wants to find all possible problems with every guy.

I am finishing my Master's degree in December. My brain won't quit thinking about what should be next!

I live by a lot of family and love spending time with them. Yet, I can't help but think about what my life away from them means and how it will effect them.

I have the two best friends in the world and starting in October we'll all be roommates. My brain wants to think about what to do in a year when one of them is possibly getting married and the other is possibly moving to another state.

I feel my heart saying, "You have a great, blessed life. Enjoy it!"
The problem is that my brain has always been so much louder than my heart, and it is saying, "The problems are there waiting to be solved. We just have to find them!"

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Where to Begin???

I have to report on this day chronologically. I just don't know how else to do it.

This morning, I woke up. Hey, that was an accomplishment. I woke up, and I felt really excited to go back to school. Considering that last year on the first day back I woke up crying, I've come a long way. I feel so much more confident and so much more happy in what I am doing. My days of tears over the whole episode in my second year of teaching are behind me. This morning, I knew I am healed up and ready to go on.

We had meetings all day and they were boring and uneventful. I did learn that each teacher this year has a "results binder" which is literally a 100+ page binder that explains the results of DIBELs, district testing, and state testing. It compares you with other teachers and the whole district. I guess each of us has to discuss whatever is in these binders (we haven't seen them yet) at a lengthy gradelevel meeting. At first, this did conjure up an image in my mind's eye of Principal Sadie sitting with a gavel and demanding that I give an answer to each line of this document that was not to her liking. As the day went on, I realized that I love numbers and hard data and I will learn valuable information from the intimidating document. Principal Sadie is not here, and at some point, I have to move on from the scars I have from encounters with her and use constructive feedback to become a better, stronger teacher. I am kind of looking forward to seeing my results binder and I will use whatever I learn from it.

Tonight I went out with PreLawGuy again and we did kiss tonight (pg rated kiss though, no worries). It actually was very nice, but I am not sure if that is enough. I still don't know.