Saturday, February 27, 2010

Faith: Fuel to Persist in the Face of Failure

If I had to pick one thing that has been a consistent theme in this blog it would be failure. Maybe that sounds negative. There are two types of people in this world in regards to failure. There are the people who see failure as a label and those who see failure as an opportunity. This blog has really been about my learning to see failure as an opportunity.

Learning that lesson has changed everything about me as a teacher.

This blog has been about times that I failed. This blog has been about times I thought I was a failure. This blog has been about people who made me feel like a failure. This blog has been about people who believed in me when I didn't believe in myself.

One of my failures is that I haven't always been the teacher who believed in every student. That's changing about me.

I've been boarded up writing a report on reading interventions for struggling readers at my school. In this intervention, we were highly effective. Nineteen of our twenty-four third graders are now on target to be at grade level by the end of the year. I have faith that the others can do it and we can do it. The kids know this and they verbalize it. They've been telling us they are better readers.

All I can say, and this is in a cosmic way because the people I am talking to don't read this blog, is thanks to those who believed in me in failures. It is so hard to keep trying when you wonder if your failure makes you a failure. Thanks to those who believed in me. Because you didn't think I was a failure, I am a better person. Because you didn't think I was a failure, I am a better teacher. Thanks for the lesson, and I promise not to forget.

Read Across America Video

If your school is participating in Read Across America week, you've got to show this video to your class. It is so cute and gets the kids pumped up about reading.

Here's a link.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Vertex Edge What????

Be warned that I am just going to complain in this post.

I think that vertex edge graphing is the stupidist waste of instructional minutes possible. Really my kids would get more out of me teaching them how to speak in pig Latin or do the Monkey Walk.

Why, you might ask am I wasting Math time like this. Because it is all over the big government mandated test.

Here is a link to some of this.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


I had a dream last night that Captain got fired and Principal Sadie came back. Her first official act was banishing me to kindergarten. I know I didn't want to go to third grade and it has been okay, but Heaven help me, I could not be a kindergarten teacher. No way. Thank goodness it was only a dream.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Here and Now

We had a staff meeting today, and the Captain (my pseudonym for our principal) was talking about evaluations. He was talking about having conversations about how the year has gone for each of us. Recently, as you know if you have read much of this blog, my reaction to all things having to do with evaluation or administration is to shake in my boots (literally, because I love wearing boots lately).

When he said that, though, I thought about my year. It's been a great year! I love my class. I love my school. I have looked forward to coming to work every day for the first time since I started teaching. The only thing... The only thing that has been raining on my parade this year are memories of my bad experience last year.

I have to stop. I can either choose to keep believing that all the things said to me were true and eventually I will fail miserably at anything I try in education or I can choose to let it go. In life, letting go is almost always the right answer.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


In my graduate class, we are learning about teaching Writing. One of our assignments was to write about our first day of teaching, ever. For me, it wasn't that long ago (it's only been two and a half years). The first day of teaching, for someone who is a career teacher is a big moment. Anyway, it does seem like such a long time ago now! This is the piece I wrote about the beginning of my teaching career.

The Flood

At 6pm, the night before I started my first job as a teacher, the first flood came. This one was in my classroom. Looking around a classroom that would soon be filled with fifth graders, I was panicking because I realized that I didn’t have a clue how to handle all this responsibility on my own. I was barely twenty-two. I still lived with my Mom, and I knew that I was definitely in over my head. So, there I sat, in a flood of my own tears, in my classroom. I was just out of sorts.

At 8pm, the night before I started my first day as a teacher, the second flood came. This was a flood that literally seeped in through the bottom of my tiny closet and put two inches of water on my floor! A pipe had busted in the laundry room which backed up to my bedroom. All of my clothes were covered in dirty water. I salvaged whatever I could, packed it all in a suitcase, and went to stay with my grandparents until we could get all that water out of my bedroom. I was a refugee.

At midnight, on my first day as a teacher, my cell phone rang. It was my ex-boyfriend from college “Where are we?” he wanted to know.

“I don’t know where you are, but I am in a flood!” I answered. I hung up shortly, but I couldn’t really sleep in a strange bed when I was distracted by this call. I was tired, but I couldn’t sleep.

At 6am, my alarm clock rang. I was an out of sorts, tired, little refugee; but I was a teacher!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Reasons Not to Be Complacent

When I was first hired by my district, I had to go to trainings over each of the subjects in our curriculum. I forgot most of what they told me, but a fact shared by the literacy facilitator stuck with me. The state of Arizona uses third grade literacy scores as part of the formula to project the number of prison beds that will be needed when these children reach adulthood ( As a third grade teacher in Arizona, that stat brings tears to my eyes.

My roommate is a nurse, and she's described to me the pressure that she faces every day knowing that a screw up could kill someone. I don't know how she handles that, but this statistic reminds me that our screw ups matter too. Statistically, if a child leaves my room with significant Reading problems, he's more likely to need a prison bed. It is sobering to think that they might buy a prison bed for this kid if I don't help him improve his reading.

I can't think about this fact that much because I would drive myself crazy obsessing over the reality that sometimes kids will leave my room without conquering their reading difficulties. It is good to remember it once in a while, though. I just can't take my job too lightly.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Rewriting History: Third Grade Style

The third graders get to do a huge project on a historical figure who restored the rights and freedoms of others. They dress up as the character, become a wax statue, and give a speech when the visitors to the museum press the buttons on their hands. Some of my students wanted to be Beyonce, Michael Jackson, and Julia Childs this year. They had some interesting justifications about why these individuals secured the rights and freedoms of others. I didn't let them be these people.

I did have a Rosa Parks and a Hillary Clinton this year. I went outside to pick up my class and found Rosa Parks chasing Hillary Clinton. "Come over here you two," I said. "What is going on?"

"Hillary kicked me off the bus!" said Rosa Parks (apparently in character already).

"Yeah, I kicked her off the bus because I wanted her seat," declared Hillary.

"Well, Hillary, I expected better of you," I answered. "No more running in line. Now let's go inside."

Anyway, overall it was a great day. The kids were very good. Below I have listed some other interesting events I witnessed.

Hillary Clinton waved her flag into George Washington's hat--splitting it in half on the way inside.

Pocahontas got into an argument with Jackie Robinson and Martin Luther King Junior over table space.

Amelia Earhart was repeatedly shushed by Harriet Tubman.

Life would be interesting if kids rewrote history, wouldn't it?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

I Think I Unwittingly Encouraged a Class of Third Graders to Become Hobos

I wanted to get my kids invested in the story out of the reader this week. The story is called Leah's Pony. It is a story about a little girl living in farm country during the Great Depression, and it is written by Elizabeth Friedrich.

"It can't be that hard to help these kids connect the Great Depression with life today," I thought to myself. So, we started out by talking about what the phrase "hard times" means.

"Hard times means having no money," one of my students declared. "It's like the other day, my mom said, 'You can't just buy gum anymore these are hard times.'"

"Okay," I said, "What else does it mean?"

"No jobs."
"Smaller houses."
"No food."

I thought things were going pretty well, because usually Historical Fiction takes a lot more work. I was excited to show my kids a few video clips I scouted out on the internet. First, we looked at some stuff on the Dust Bowl. My kids were quite certain, no matter how much I told them that the Dust Bowl was worse, that the Dust Bowl was exactly like the dust storms we have here. "Well, these pictures look exactly like a dust storm," said one of my students looking at me skeptically. I decided to move on, figuring that they had a vague notion of what the Dust Bowl was. Next, we watched a couple of clips on bread lines, hooverville, and the Great Depression in general.

I was hoping the kids would get a feel for the hard times this story is set in. What did they actually pick up from the movie? Lots of people used to be hobos.

As soon as the video was over hands were up all over the room.

"So, hobos didn't do any work; they just rode around on railroads?"
"They slept outside?"
"Were they all friends?"

They were all really intrigued about hobos.

I was hoping my students would be really invested in the moral of this story. I was hoping they would see how important it is in our hard times now that we help each other out like the characters in the story. Instead they are all considering becoming hobos. I'm going to board my room up on Career Day!

Monday, February 15, 2010

President's Day

All weekend, I've had a pretty bad head cold. I feel quite a bit better today, but I have to go to work. This is not me being a workaholic either. I actually have a lot that must be done. Here is my to do list:

1.) Career Ladder: Our plan has several structural problems I found out about at a meeting on Wednesday. I need to fix it before I forget what the representative told us.

2.) Research Action Plan: This is due to graduate school March 2nd. I haven't started.

3.) Finish my application to teach summer school. I need the money to pay for grad school.

4.) Get lesson plans done. This is the second week I might have unnanounced observations (not a good week to be underprepared).

5.) Enter graduate coursework into the Human Resource System. The deadline is today, on Monday of a three day weekend. If it isn't done, there is no chance I will get any compensation for my graduate work next year. If I get it done, there is a slight chance.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Happy Friendship/Love/V Day

I hate it when people call Valentine's Day "V-Day". I think it takes away from V-E Day which seems like a more important celebration than a day to celebrate a little man in diapers shooting people in the heart with arrows. So, I don't know why I said "V-Day".

Anyway, as a teacher, you still experience little cardboard valentines, mountains of candy, and if you are like me, a little queasiness from overindulging on the Valentine's Day candy. I usually think that I never want to see anything pink or red again after experiencing Valentine's Day at an elementary school.

Really, at the end of Valentine's Day Elementary Style you think you are about ready to pull your own hair out if one more kid asks you when you are passing out Valentines (despite the clear schedule on the board), you are exhauseted from finding candy that has somehow made its way into little hands and little desks, and you just want to fall asleep. Then you get sweet valentines from your kids and you see them holding your stupid paper valentine and reading it over and over because you sent it to them. Kids do make valentines more fun, but the thing that saves your sanity when you work at a school are the other adults. It really is your colleagues that make or break your experience in a school.

Admittedly, I did not want to be working on the team I was on this year. It was a tough transition. I will say this year I have laughed more, collaborated more, and seen my teammates more outside of work than I ever have before. Part of it is that I don't feel stressed out now that administration has changed, but it is also because they are a lot of fun.

My Secret Cupid finally revealed herself, and she was a part of BFF Team, but it was not Mrs. Partygirl. It was Mrs. Organization! She gave me nice stuff on the last day and the following note:

Dear Ms. Understood,

You have made this year's Secret Cupid so much fun for me! Thank you for being such a great sport! I need you to know how much I admire and respect you. You are an amazing asset to the third grade team--you have no idea how much I hope that doesn't change for next year. You have proven to be a great teacher and a loyal friend. Have a happy Valentine's Day my new little friend!

Love, Mrs. Organization

PS I'm sorry I lied to you.
PPS I didn't really drink the vodka on Monday morning.
PPPS Mrs. Partygirl has the Playgirl.

This year has been stressful with the budget, rifs, new programs, and lots of change; but my stress has been drastically reduced by working with great people this year. That goes for administration and colleagues.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

More Surprises

I got another "present" today. I walked into the office and the whole office staff as well as various teachers greeted me saying, "Ms. Understood, go get your present out of your mailbox. We're all waiting to see what it is!"

I first pulled out a letter. It was written by me (or I should say the person who forged my identity). It read as follows:

Dear Fabulous Secretary,

I would like to volunteer to baby-sit for every PTO event being held at the school for the rest of the year AT NO CHARGE. Just send all those cute little guys to my room right after school on meeting days. I have all the dates marked off on my calendar already- no need to send a reminder notice to me. I just love all those little kids so much.

Thanks, Ms. Understood

"I'll take that!" said the secretary.

Next I found various bowling paraphanelia along with some bumper sticker which said the following:







At the bottom of the bag, was a subscription coupon for Playgirl and a Vodka coupon. I thought that was the end of my surprises until I returned to my classroom. What was on my desk? "Love Cuffs." 'Nough Said.

In all seriousness, I haven't laughed so hard at work in a long time. It really takes a good friend to orchestrate all of this and I have been having a great time with it. Really. I have no doubt, I will be thoroughly embarassed tomorrow, but this has been a lot of fun!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Five Days of Valentine's Day

Well, the "Secret Cupid Mystery" (regarding how I got signed up) was only the beginning.

On the first day of Secret Cupid, I recieved a note that said, "A Little Somethin' Somethin' to Get You Through the Day." On the inside of the package was a can of Coke, a Milkyway Bar, and--oh yeah--a mini bottle of Absolute Vodka. I did find out later that the mini vodka bottle was filled with water, but seriously--Vodka??

On the second day of Secret Cupid, my true love gave to me one ash tray, a Cigar Afficionado coupon, and Spearmint Gum (I assume this is for the breath I would have after smoking).

On the third day of Secret Cupid, I saw a huge bag sitting by my mailbox. By this time, everyone in the school is watching to see what I get. The first thing I pulled out was a "Tattoo Magazine". I had no idea such things existed, but there it was. The second thing was a "Playgirl Magazine". I did find out later that the "Playgirl" was only a cover taped to a cooking magazine. I did enjoy the note, though. It said, "Something manly to get your tastebuds going. If this doesn't make you say 'mmmm,' I don't know what will." Lovely.

There are only two days left and my Secret Cupid keeps one-upping her or himself. I am scared for Friday.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Metamorphosis: Maybe I Am Like a Little Teaching Butterfly Now

Do you think that when a little Caterpillar comes out of his cocoon he is surprised to find that he has wings? Does he recognize that his wings work?

I have had my own metamorphosis in teaching this year. My wings are finally here and I am learning how to use them. Maybe I was just a late bloomer?

I used to think a lot about content. I used to think all the time about how to cover information. I find that I am always thinking now about the process of learning. I still look at standards, but I look more at the students and the assessments.

What changed? Some of what changed is I have had two years to expressly observe the learning of others. Before I was a teacher, I could only think about how I learned. That is one person and it lead me to some bad conclusions. I have always learned things in one sitting and I don't like repetition. You can imagine how that would turn out if all teachers taught only to that learning style.

I have also learned to look at the kids and the standard and set goals. That was too overwhelming for me in the beginning, but I know how to do it now.

I'm kind of rambling and I am trying to describe a process that I don't fully understand. Here's the irony that I am trying to express: the steepest learning curb I have ever faced is learning how to teach.

There is a take home message in this about new teachers. There are many things written on how to support, train, and improve performance in new teachers. I am sure there are things that are far more effective than others. Maybe the key, though, is not crushing the caterpillars before you see what they might turn into. Why do so many new teachers quit? Is it because they are just not cut out for teaching? Maybe. Is it because the job is harder than they expected? Probably, at least for some. One thing I know is that I would have quit after last year if I had the means to do it. Why would I have quit? Because I was getting the message that I was and always would be a caterpillar and I was forcing children to miss out on the butterflies. Maybe in some sense that was true, but in another sense, who is going to be doing this job in twenty years, if that is the message given to teachers who are just starting?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Case of the Secret Cupid Identity Theft

4:00pm Today: I am finally leaving for the day, and go through the office on my way out to turn in some yearbook forms. I look in my mailbox and see a paper stapled with my name on the outside. "This is never good," I think to myself as I rip it open. It was worse than I thought. It was a SECRET CUPID assignment. "What?" I thought, "I did not sign up for this. Could this possibly be mandatory now?" That's when I remembered a strange conversation I had in the staff lounge at lunch.

12:35pm (3 and a half hours prior): BFF team was eating lunch in the lounge and people were ridiculing my oatmeal (which I was eating for the second day in a row because I am too lazy to go to the store right now). Mrs. Partygirl first asked me what my favorite cookie was and then my favorite candy. She asks random questions occasionally so I just answered, but I thought it was weird.

This reminded me about a story I was telling BFF team before school today.

7:00am: Mrs. Party Girl asked us all if we were going to participate in Secret Cupid. This seemed like a good opportunity to run my mouth off about what I think of Secret Cupid. "No, I hate those kind of things," I said. "When everyone was getting Booed at Halloween I ran off copies of Mrs. Bear's flyer so I could put it on my own door and pretend like someone else Booed me. Unfortunately, before I taped it to my door someone Booed me. Unfortunately again, before I could tape the actual flyer from the package to my door someone else Booed me. At least in Secret Cupid you have to sign up and nothing like that can happen."

All of these clues lead me to one conclusion. Mrs. Partygirl forged a SECRET CUPID application and turned it in for me. I have a feeling she did not put things I actually like on the flyer too. It probably says that my favorite drink is malt liquor and I like some sort of gift that is inappropriate. Oh boy, I think I am going to be getting some interesting presents over the next week... Oh, and I will have my revenge against Mrs. Partygirl. In time. In time.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Strange Thought

Happy endings are kind of an oxymoron. Personally, I prefer an ending with a little more reality. You can call me cynical, but I haven't experienced many endings that aren't tinged with sadness, pain, and some regret. Who stands at a grave and thinks, "Wow, I really had enough time with this loved one"? Who wouldn't feel a twinge of sadness when her child grows up and moves out on his own? Who, when a break-up that needs to occur happens, feels joyful? It's a Wonderful Life is a great movie, but I feel the ending of Gone with the Wind.

The end of this school year may very well be the end of my time in this district or even my teaching career. As time ticks on, and we still do not know, the reality of that is more sobering. Maybe I shouldn't dwell on dark thoughts, but today I entertained the thought of what it would be like to find out I lost my job.

How would it be to know that I am closing the door of the three years I spent at my first professional job learning to be a teacher? How would it feel when the future hung in the air in total uncertainty?

It would feel scary and sad. I would feel the sting of separation from people I really care about. It would feel like an ending, but a happy ending in as much as those exist. I've been encouraged and if I walk away at least I know now that my time spent here did some good.

If I had been rifed last year, I would not have walked away feeling that. I would have walked away with the words of my former principal in my head "those kids didn't deserve to be novice." Words that haunt me still. Words that said those kids would be better off if you were never a teacher.

If I left last year, I would never have had a reason to come back. I've been encouraged this year, though. I thought I would never stop wondering if it would be better if I wasn't a teacher, but now I think that if they rif third year teachers this year then some kids will miss out on having a pretty good teacher who cares about them and wants to keep getting better.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Lost Day!!!

If you are not a LOST fan, please enjoy the video below in place of my post because I am going to go on and on the way only someone way too into that show would!

Final Season Of 'Lost' Promises To Make Fans More Annoying Than Ever

I felt that I should have the day off of work due to a family emergency. After all, my friends have been lost on an island and quite possibly blown up by an atomic bomb for months now! Unfortunately, the LOST season premier does not actually qualify as a family emergency. So, I decided to think about which of my students could be similar to LOST characters.

Sun and Jin: This one was easy because I have a non-English speaking student in my class! She would have to qualify as both.
Shannon: I know she died in LOST (well maybe), but I have the perfect Shannon in my class. She is very used to getting her way. She even looks a little like this character.
Sayid: I definitely have a Junior Engineer kid that would make an excellent Sayid.
Jack: I definitely have a little boy who is a great leader--like Jack.
Sawyer: This would be my little rebel!

Anyway, my class learned a lot today.

Math: 4 8 15 16 23 42
Science: Polar Bears reside primarily on tropical islands
Social Studies: Pockets of energy tend to move islands around
Reading: We read up on philosophy of John Locke
Writing: We wrote to a prompt (What is the black smoke monster?)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Misery Loves Company

Is it wrong that I felt better today when my friend from BFF team (the other non-tenure teacher on our team) told me that she feels like she is getting an ulcer from thinking about the rif threat hanging over our heads? It's not that I want anyone else to be in the same bad boat with me. It is just good to have a friend going through the same thing.

We saw a "help wanted" sign in Taco Bell on our way to graduate class today. "I call drive through when we work there next year," she said.

"I probably have janitor duty because Principal Sadie will most likely end up our manager," I thought. My life always seem to have a very funny irony.