Sunday, December 30, 2007

i need to go back to work

over break i tried to diagnose my brother's kitten with adhd due to its clear lack of focus in following a mouse on a string. this led to a debate with my mother (also an educator) over whether or not there was possible brain damage.

i then tried to diagnose my own kitten with asperger's syndrome since she really isn't dealing well with the changes in household routines that came from the holidays. right now she's pouting because i'm not already asleep as i should be by 10pm on a school night. she's avoiding eye contact and doing some self-stim of cleaning herself over and over again.

then again, she's been eating our fake christmas tree made in china, so she could have lead poisoning.

anyone else want to bring their cat over for my clearly intelligent diagnosis? i'll be writing up kitten ieps for the next few days.
i need to either go back to work where i can work with kids, or get a grip on reality.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Weee! .

Subtitle: What happens when children are only allowed to watch PBS

(Please note the 'hungry, hungry hippos wee game along with the backgammon and solitaire sets)

This is what my husband and I got for Christmas from my brothers (seniors in college). The picture does not do it justice. The wee remote is a handle of a phone (a working phone... my dad and I are fighting about whether or not I get to keep the remote or if it has to be returned to its original use). This is my favorite Christmas present by far, and extremely fitting if you know my family.
We grew up in a 10 acre forest in the middle of nowhere. We were one of the last houses to have the original Nintendo system. Instead of getting us the trendy system, my parents dusted off an old Atari and tried to convince us it was even better than what our friends had. We were always told that "we didn't get cable" which was why our ancient remote-less tv only showed the news and PBS. So, we had to resort to creating our own tv and video-game-less fun which usually involved cardboard boxes in some way or another.
Now that we're adults and can do what we wish, when we wish, we apparently still spend hours making fake game systems just as we did as kids. What's Christmas without turning cardboard boxes into the toys we desire most of all?
My brothers included a check for an actual wii so that when we're actually able to find one in a store we can buy one. Still, opening the fake wee on Christmas was far more exciting than if it had been a real one. And I imagine they had a lot more fun making the wee than if they'd spent hours standing in line fighting for a real one.
A few weeks ago a mother of one of my former students stopped me in the hallway and said, "You have no idea the influence you had on my son!" I start patting myself on the back for his reading or math skills. But then she started to sound more like my own mother, "If I want to throw out a box I have to sneak it past him! He uses every box in the house to make some toy. He's even making cardboard versions of what he wants for Christmas in case he doesn't get it."
When I was a classroom teacher I had a "creation station" where I would keep old cardboard boxes. When children had time they could use the boxes to make houses, cars, and beds for stuffed animals, etc. This was obviously inspired from my own childhood memories, and I was thrilled when this mom reported this little one had carried on the tradition despite game systems and tv being readily available. Maybe when he's 21 he'll spend hours changing a cardboard box into the latest hard-t0-find game system.
Now that I'm older I realize how lucky I was to have parents who didn't give into the latest trends, or how easy it would have been to keep us busy with the tv. Thanks for putting up with all our cardboard creations!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Joy

So much of Christmas is about Joy. The joy that Jesus was born, the joy of being with family, the joy of having Santa Claus come down your chimney by magic.
Sitting in the Christmas Eve service tonight I found my mind wandering, wondering about my little ones' Christmas Eve. Are they bouncing off the walls while their parents try to read the Christmas Story to them? Are they at Mass, swinging their legs in the pews? Are they having a simple dinner, Eid being over, wondering what all the fuss is about tomorrow? My thoughts fell on one of my froglets. On Friday, in the height of the pre-Christmas chaos I asked him what he thought Santa Clause would bring him.
"No Santa" he said. Sadness, I thought, he already doesn't believe.
"Santa, 5 minutes" he said. "Right? No time." No time? I started to get confused.
"Other houses. No time me. 5 minutes. No time me."

My heart broke. He believes in Santa, yet he believes Santa Claus doesn't have time for him. He's not worthy of Santa. No wonder he doesn't pick his head off the desk, or bother to try to learn to read. Other children may deserve Santa, but he doesn't.
Our school gives him presents every year in our giving tree. But somehow he doesn't believe they come from Santa. The magical man skips his house, too busy to bother with this little boy. For him this night holds no magic, no joy.

I sat in church listening to the message of hope and joy God sent to us and prayed that God sends this little one some joy tomorrow. It doesn't have to be in the form of a magical man in red, or even in the form of presents. Just some joy to let him know that he deserves joy, deserves to be happy, and is a special one of God's children.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

a responsive classroom christmas miracle

Yesterday in one of the classrooms where I co-teach we were giving the kiddos popcorn in little bags while they watched the Polar Express. Before the movie had even started one of my little ones dropped his bag on the floor and popcorn went everywhere. We are working on controlling our anger but at that moment he broke down and went off into a corner.

We had no more popcorn and in fact had given the children very tiny amounts of popcorn to begin with. (It was 9am). Their teacher asked if they would like to give him some of their pieces since now he didn't have any. They didn't have to, but it would be nice if they did. They immediately got out of their chairs and rushed to him to offer him their snack. We tried to organize this to keep it from getting out of control and sent them back to their seats where we could pass a little bag~ church style~ if they would like to donate to him.

I got chills as they rushed to fill his little bag with popcorn. In the end we had to ask them to stop because they wouldn't have had any left for themselves. This was a little boy that isn't easy to like as a peer, and most likely dropped his bag due to his gross motor skills, which is hard to understand when you're 6. None of that stopped them. They rushed to help the member of their classroom who needed help at that time.

Friday, December 21, 2007

no eggs allowed

Our school's speech/language clinician (also my fabulous research partner) told me that she had been working with two of my kiddos from last year. They were making a list of items they could bring to the class party the following day. In the middle of the lesson one blurted out, "But no egg at school!"

Random? No. He began recounting the egg-breaking incident from last year and reminded her that Mrs. Lipstick said raw eggs are not alright to bring to school.

If nothing else, at least they learned something last year.

teacher presents

I have to be honest (and maybe this makes me sound greedy and selfish) but I love teacher presents. The tackier the better. I love opening bags in front of the little ones, watching their excited eyes fill with pride as they show me what they picked out themselves from the dollar store. Perhaps if I taught at a school where the families were better off I wouldn't like it as much, but from these families every present is a geniune surprise, and you can't help being touched by the effort and thought they put into it.

My Christmas tree is full of presents I converted into ornaments. What else to do with the large shiny blue flower necklace? Or the plastic 'crystal ball' given to me to "hang from my mirror in my car like my daddy"? The tree is a place where they'll come out every year, remind me of the great kid who gave them to me, and warm my heart for a few weeks.

My favorite gift of all time was an animal from build-a-bear with the little boy's voice recorded to say, "To Miss L, From M. God Bless Us Everyone." I also have a shelf in my office with my treasured ceramic dollar store gifts... an African American bride doll, a swam vase, a small flower pot, a bright blue cat. There are others I admit baffle me... (the used curling iron) but regardless when I think of the child and the family I get chills at the generosity expressed in the gift.

I feared this year that since I am no longer in the classroom I wouldn't receive presents. It's not that I have a desire to get lots of gifts or am greedy, it's just that I so enjoy watching a little one fill with pride when he sees you open his present. I still received a few, the highlight being the Day of the Week earrings from a kindergartner. (As requested, I am currently wearing Friday's yellow plastic triangles). I got a beautiful purse from China, an alarm clock, and a napkin holder. The child who gave me the napkin holder informed me I can use it to hold my mail to help me organize myself. hmmmm... I also received a gift certificate to Victoria Secret. It was overly generous and so sweet. The little girl however, is still waiting to hear what I buy and asked me every day this week when I was going to go pick something out for myself... good thing they sell lotion! (I have heard of teachers receiving Victoria Secret gifts the children picked out themselves... NOT lotion. I'm not sure how I would handle that one).

I guess I feel like a kid the day after Christmas tabulating his loot, but I have to admit, the teacher presents do make my day.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

prayer in schools?

as we sat down at lunch club today my little angel exclaimed, "NOBODY EAT YET! We have to pray!"

i reminded him of the school rules on organized prayer (as much as you can explain that to a kindergartner) but pointed out that if he wanted to pray before he ate he was more than welcome to do so.

he smiled, folded his hands above his mac and cheese on the pink styrofoam lunch tray and said loudly,


how does that not warm your heart and bring tears to your eyes?

unfortunately his prayer was so loud the other children went ahead and bowed their heads as well. so much for no organized prayer.

we'll have to work on praying quietly as not to force other people into religious practices...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Job Description

Today as an intro to a lesson I asked a kindergarten class if they knew what my job was. Hands waved in the air.

"You sing itchy, itchy, scratchy, scratchy!"

While that may be my absolute favorite part of my job, I do not think my principal hired me to sing "Flea, Fly, Mosquito". (Especially if you've heard my voice). But I like the idea that this little boy believes my purpose in the school is to go from class to class singing silly songs with them.

That is a job description I can handle.

gelatin and snowflakes

One of my fabulous co-teachers and I were in the middle of an exciting snowflake activity after reading The Snowy Day by Jack Eztra Keats when we hadn't thought all of the religious factors all the way through. We were handing out the marshmallows and pretzels and allowing them to smoosh everything together to make symmetrical snowflakes like Keats. Once they had finished with 2 snowflakes they could eat one of them and save one for home.

One child was allergic to marshmallows and his table looked at him with pity as he played with his pretzels. His friend said, "The only thing I can't eat is anything with pig".

And that was when I realized that tomorrow is Eid, a fourth of the class is Muslim, and here we having the class stuff gelatin filled marshmallows in their mouths.

SO, um, do your parents let you eat marshmallows at home? I asked.

"No! I've never had these before!" the little devout boy said, holding up the puffy white haven of sugar.

"Realllllyy.... What about you?" I started taking a poll. Half of the Muslims of the class reported they could eat the marshmallows, some reported they really just weren't sure... they had never eaten them before but didn't think it would be a problem. One little boy shouted out, "Don't worry Mrs. Lipstick! I'm another kind of Muslim. Not that kind!"

The devout boy looked at me with big eyes. "I ate a teeny tiny piece and nothing happened" he whispered.

"Oh honey, it wont make you sick, it's just that they use a tiny bit of pig to make it."

His eyes looked sad as he carefully placed his marshmallows on the table. "Ok, I can't eat pig."

We decided that if the children were Muslim they could take both snowflakes home and ask their parents if they could eat them or not.

A few minutes later I turned around to find the devout boy with white powder all over his face and no snowflake in sight. I suppose eating it at school is better than taking it home to have your mother tell you to throw it away, never allowing you to know the sweet taste of marshmallows.

Monday, December 17, 2007

pride of art

As I was leaving the other day I overheard a little boy in one of my classes telling our art teacher that she'd sent the wrong clay pot home with him.

"It's going to be ok" he explained bravely, "B. will bring in mine and then we'll switch".

My heart immediately went out to him. How I understood!

In second grade we made star ornaments out of clay. Once the clay was dry the teacher called us back and let us show her which star ornament was ours so we could paint it. So trusting of her... As I sat at my seat doing my work I watched another child take credit for my carefully crafted star. MY STAR! My heart sank when it was my turn and the teacher made me paint the lumpy star-like figure the star-stealer had made. How could I take this ugly star home to my parents? I wanted to cry but being the good, painfully shy second grader that I was, I'm sure I kept quiet until I came home and then told my parents about it.

We still hang the star on our Christmas tree, although every year we discuss the unfairness of the star switch. I can still feel my second grade heart's pain when I realized all those moments spent on the perfect points would only benefit someone else's Christmas tree.

The switch for my kiddos was merely a case of a mistaken identity~ the boys had the same initials. There was no trickery in one child taking another's work. Still, by the look on the little one's face talking to our art teacher I could understand his woe. (I have not heard if the boys have switched back or not, or if either still care a week later they even remember or care... I want to ask but don't want to bring up a touchy subject)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Christmas doll drama

Every year my school puts up a big paper Christmas tree in the copy room with tags for needy children. There is usually a mad rush to get to the tree and by 9am the tree is practically bare.

This year I greedily took two tags, one for a little girl wanting a doll, and another for a boy asking for legos. How much fun will it be to shop for a doll? I thought excitedly.

The excitement ended as I stood in the store wondering what kind of doll to buy. What color doll do I buy? I have no idea who this gift is going to. I'd hate to give a little Hispanic girl a black baby doll, or the other way around. Would it matter? It would depend on the kid I suppose. At my school the kids are so close to color blind anyway that the child might not notice.

But if you give a child a baby doll they want it to be a baby they could take care of. One that looks like them. Then again, really, the baby's daddy could be anybody, right? If a multi-ethnic family is going to be 100% accepted anywhere, it would be at my school.

Still, this is this child's kindergarten Christmas. Santa Clause knows what she looks like. I want to keep the magic alive.

I could go with the ever popular Bratz dolls that come dressed ready to stand on a street corner. The little one might not care about the color since the doll would be a specific character. Then again, I can't bring myself to give money to the Bratz makers.

I found a very cute dark skinned doll in Marshalls today. It looked like it could be considered in a number of ethnicities. I started to get hopeful. Then I noticed her cute tank top that came just below where her breasts would be if she was old enough to have them. There is not a chance I am giving a 5 year old a doll wearing a shirt that the child wouldn't be allowed to wear to school.

Who knew buying a doll would come with this much drama?

My parents tell me they have been through this. Apparently for my three or four year old Christmas I wanted a specific doll I had seen at my preschool. The story goes that after weeks of looking, the only doll they could find that matched the one I wanted was an African American baby. They bought it, but later in a toy store in the back woods of West Virginia found a white baby dressed in the wrong clothes. So, they bought the white baby and switched the clothes to give me the exact baby I was requesting. They donated the African American doll to my preschool, where I ended up finding it, falling in love with it, and wished I had my own African American doll of my very own.

So maybe I am going through all this drama for nothing...

overheard during kindergarten snack

A little girl eating raisins looked up at a little girl eating coco-crisps.

"Ewww! It looks like you're eating poo."

seriously? I had to walk away so I wouldn't ask the raisin eater to examine her own snack more carefully. I love kindergarten logic.

Friday, December 14, 2007

the grinch

before my feet even hit the cold floor this morning i could tell i was going to be a grinch today. i just knew. i don't seem to be the only one. we're all ready for break, ready for report cards to be turned in, meetings to be finished, the pre-santa wiggles to be gone.

i was the grinch for about 2 hours. then, i went into a kindergarten classroom where a child brought me a book. i ended up on the floor reading a book to 3 kindergarten boys. one crawled under my arm and rested his head against my shoulder.

and all my grinch-ness melted away.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

school temperatures & collaboration

Every Wed my school spends all day in local screening looking over the paperwork of special education children or children who could perhaps be considered for testing. The members of this team sit in one room all day listening to various case managers, teachers, and sometimes parents, come and go from the room. The team has to stay in the room the whole time.

I am very glad I am not on this team. I enjoy working with them and I always benefit from discussing children with them. It is a very knowledgeable group of educators who have so much to offer.

But they sit there, all day. One room. The biggest issue with this room is the temperature. It's hot. It doesn't depend on what time of year it is. The room is just hot. If you open the windows one side of the room starts to freeze. So anyone sitting over near the windows needs to close them. But then everyone else starts sweating again.

Did I mention this is all day?

Yesterday the schedule was so packed they didn't have time for lunch. I think people were suppose to bring their lunch to the meetings but they got off schedule and nobody had time to go get their lunches.

So they are in this small hot room the entire day without eating lunch.

You can imagine that things didn't go so well in the afternoon. I was lucky and only had to attend the first two meetings of the day. I only heard about the afternoon meetings from other people. It is all hearsay, but I can tell you that the looks on people's faces and their tone of voice when they left the room did not convey that things went well.

There are rumors of yelling, though these may just be rumors.

Truthfully, I'd yell at someone if they were what was standing in my way of escaping from the small, hot room so I could eat something. Not very professional, but it is the truth.

I can't help but wonder what would have happened if the meetings were held after every one's blood sugar was level, and held in a room where the temperature was comfortable. Executives would never meet with an important client in a back room that is overheating.

Environment is such a little thing but it can affect so much. Not that we have space elsewhere in our building!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

helen keller

did anyone know this book existed?

i wonder if it would help me cope with my helen keller hatred or would only add to it? I'm fascinated...

It's your birthday? Let's write about it!

For so many of the kids on my caseload it is all about motivation. If they want to participate in something we can work on their goals. If they don't want to participate, no adult is going to get them to do it. Period. Six year olds with no reasoning skills can be very strong willed.

So I frequently find myself taking advantage of events and situations to manipulate them into ways to work on their goals.

One of my friends' bdays is tomorrow so out came the cake mix, eggs, oil, and cooking supplies. Some kids could count the eggs, some could learn about measurement, some could read directions, all while working on our social goals of following directions, working together, and keeping our hands to ourselves. (Let me tell you... when your friend has the spatula that YOU WANT keeping your hands to yourself is pretty hard... great time to practice using our words and not our tiny fists.)

I love cooking with kids. I love watching them break the eggs, hesitating at first and then giving it a big smack that leaves pieces of broken shell in their hands as yoke oozes out from both sides. I love the frantic mixing, the wide-eyed stares as the 1/4 cup of water slowly pours into the bowl, the careful measuring of the oil.

After we had sent our cake to the oven one of my friends looked at me and said, "We tell office we bake cake." Sure! We can go brag about our cooking! (Meeting the goal of telling personal recounts and practicing vocabulary). So we told anyone who happened to be in our path that we'd been cooking. This from a child who spends most of his time with his hoody pulled up over his head.

Tomorrow we'll ice the cake, then maybe do some writing about how we baked it. Maybe a thank you card for the cafeteria for letting us use the oven. Maybe some math lessons on how many pieces we can cut it into. Hmmm....

Thank goodness for birthdays. Let's see... we'll have to find more reasons to bake in the future. Here's to anything that motivates!

Monday, December 10, 2007

so what kind of animal does your God let you eat?

My first year teaching I accidentally turned my class into vegetarians for 2 weeks. I got a new student who had recently converted to Islam. A few weeks prior she had been living in North Carolina attending a Baptist church with her very Southern American girl name, wearing very American girl clothing. Her parent married someone from India and so she moved away from the South, converted to Islam, changed her name, and began dressing in beautiful Muslim play clothes. She also had to suddenly understand what she could and could not eat. Though she was the first Muslim student in our small classroom there were many Hindu children who did not eat beef, so she was not the only one with dietary restrictions.

Every day going through the lunch line was an ordeal. "Does that have pork in it?" she'd ask and point to a baked potato. "What about that?" and point to corn. One day when I am sure I had to run go copy papers and finish lesson plans I said, "Ok, this is from a cow, this is from a pig, this is from the garden", etc.

"WHAT??" a first grade boy yelled. "This hamburger is from a COW? This is a COW?" The class went crazy. "I'm not eating COW." "Ewwww... PIG!! I can't eat that!"


Since then I've tried to stay with labels like "beef, pork, and poultry" when helping our religious kids choose what they are able to eat. Last week I was leading my kindergarten lunch club through the line when I realized one little boy was holding a ham sandwich I knew he could not eat. I grabbed it from him (keep in mind my previous posts about my lunch bunch... this is not usually a time when I am able to think calmly and slowly), reminded him he can't eat pork, and slapped the waffles and turkey sausage down on his tray. The lower lip began to tremble. "I can't eat that either!" he said pointing to the turkey sausage.
*sigh* you try to explain to a child who can't read that the meat on his plate may look like its from a pig but it really comes from a bird.
The cafeteria lady threw down a pb&j sandwich. The lower lip trembles even more. "I'm allergic to peanuts!" he announces.
*sigh* We are out of options. I re-plop down the waffles and fake sausage, hoping I can explain to him the difference upstairs.
Next in line is a little girl from the same country as this little one. A little girl also clutching a ham sandwich. I'm not sure I'm ready to go through this again. "Honey, are you Muslim?" I ask. "What? " she said, "What's that?"

moment of truth... do I coach her to get something else or do I figure that since I do not have any note on dietary restrictions, and since the child doesn't know at this moment in time what 'Muslim' is, do I allow her to each the sandwich?

Upstairs the little boy refused to eat anything that came into contact with the turkey sausage. Here is this crazy teacher letting his friend eat her ham sandwich and trying to tell him they make sausage from turkey.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

trashy tv's commentary on education

the entire premise of tonight's Family Guy cartoon show is that a character gets expelled from high school because his test scores are so low they cost his school its federal funding according to NCLB.

It is really something when NCLB is being mocked on Fox. The punch-line of the scene sadly was exactly what we say all the time ourselves, but its not so funny when we say it.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

the internet is for...

(hang with me on this one, although it is not really education focused...)

This morning, after waking up groggy from our staff holiday party the night before, I headed to meet my jumpers for our yearly clinic. A team of competitive jumpers drives down every year from a nearby state (we pay them) to help us with our skills. I stood there watching them interact with my team and found myself becoming defensive. How dare they judge us like that, I think, sure it is because of the vast diversity of my team. How we don't have fancy uniforms, some of our kids don't have good shoes, there is no Nike clothing to work out in, and some don't speak English. As I had these disgruntled thoughts I realized I was judging their team for their Norwegian blond looks, matching jackets and bags, and general yuppiness. The song "Everybody's a Little Bit Racist" began playing in my head and I ran to my cell phone to text my husband to remind him to get tickets to the play Avenue Q tonight.

Thank goodness I did. It is brilliant. I feel like something in my life has come full circle. Healing, almost. Perhaps it is because I was raised on Sesame Street (my parents lied to us and told us PBS was the only channel we got on our remote-less tv). So in a very (very) odd way it felt natural and healthy to have puppets, digital images, and peppy songs delivering the message about the ups and downs of those first post-college years.

If you are not familiar with Avenue Q it is a Broadway Music featuring singing puppets suffering through their first post college years. Just as Sesame Street helped my generation learn its abcs with our early social skills, Avenue Q helps my generation understand that we are not alone in our transition into the real world.

The first time I heard the Avenue Q soundtrack, specifically the song, "I want to go back to College" I had recently graduated from college myself. I had a "text-to-self" connection with a song that reminded me of the soulful song of my youth, "I don't want to live on the moon" sung by Ernie. I almost cried. "Yes!" I wanted to shout to the world. "I COULD be in the computer lab right now! Or in the quad, knowing who I am! Yes, it sucks to be me!" (Quotes from the songs if you are unfamiliar with Avenue Q).

A few years later I finally got to see the actual production. It was still fabulous, but I found myself with lingering existential thoughts the entire time. How life has changed since I went through those stages myself. I no longer felt the urge to wave my hand in the air in the "I have a connection" motion we teach the kids to make. And with that came a scary thought... does this mean I have passed into the world of being grown-up? Am I so old that I no longer identify with the post-college blues? I can relate, but only in the past tense.

Thank God.

My brothers are seniors in college this year. I considered buying the soundtrack for them for Christmas, but realize they wont fully appreciate the puppets' wisdom yet. They still have the hopes and dreams that come from college. Next year though, it will be on my shopping list.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

what's in there?

Today in honor of the snow I grabbed white paint and blue paper and decided we would make Snowy Day snow pictures. I did this with my kindergarten lunch club yesterday and decided that it went well enough I'd try it with my first grade group.

The only problem is, I don't have paint brushes. I had a fantastic tub of paint brushes. If I'm honest my tub of paint brushes was my favorite part of my classroom. It looked so inviting. The different shapes and sizes of brushes, just asking to be used in whatever creative process they are needed. When I moved out of my classroom I left the brushes and haven't seen them since. I miss them.

So, yesterday when I was grabbing the supplies for my kindergarten bunch I didn't have time to ask someone for brushes. Why let that stop me? I grabbed plastic knives, spoons, and paperclips and demonstrated all the magic we could create with these supplies. They bought it, and we had a lot of fun. So why not try it again?

Today I introduced this to my two first graders and they ate it up. One though, seemed to dive into the project in a way I'd never seen before. He started looking around the classroom for other supplies to paint with. He found two skinny wooden rods, hooked them together with a paperclip, and began painting with both of the rods. Then he grabbed another piece of paper and pressed it on top of his current art work to create a stamp.

This is a little one who stays in the back of the classroom by choice, defies teachers who try to engage him, and frequently avoids participating. He struggles with language and although wants to communicate, gets so frustrated by his difficulties that he lashes out in anger frequently.

I've seen him talkative and happy before, but I've never witnessed this amount of initiative and creativity. He was in his own world, making his ideas happen, testing his theories, and fixing them when they didn't work. To be honest, I was shocked. This is a child who has thrown his guided reading books at me when he got frustrated.

So what is in there? He is a problem solver, he is thinking quickly, making connections in his life, and he seems to love creating. This just isn't what we normally see. This isn't reflected in his testing, or his predicted ability. Are his communication struggles making him appear behind his peers in everything when really it is just his ability to verbalize his thoughts? Who is this little boy we've known all year? What else is hiding in there?

I don't know, but I am planning another open-ended art project for tomorrow. Let's see what else we can discover.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

am i that predictable?

During the chaos of the snowy day I watched 2 kindergartners strategically set up a catapult for crayolas during reading centers. Amazed with their engineering skills I let it go on until I was sure they were headed for a crayon rainstorm. I pulled them into the hallway and started in on one of my Miss Viola Swamp Lectures of Death.

My smart-cookie from last year was sitting outside her second grade classroom directly across the hall, working on math problems. As I stopped to take breathes from my lecture she was ready with my next words. "Yeah, and you can hit someone in the eye!" "Yeah, would Miss L let someone throw a crayon at you?" (This really confused them since they have never heard of Miss L... just Mrs. Lipstick) "What will you do next time?"

As I sent the boys back inside the classroom I turned and looked at her. "Kindergarten" she said, "They'll make you crazy."

A year later and she still knows my lectures. I clearly need to get more creative.


What a day. I am completely exhausted.

Until today I had never experienced a snowy day in kindergarten. I had no idea what I was in for. Not even first grade prepared me for this. If you are ever wondering about the meaning of life or caught up in an existential thought, come to kindergarten on a snowy day. The magic and excitement flying around the room will just make you happy to be alive.

The snow fell a bit this morning but around 9am starting floating down slowly and steadily. Frequently, throughout the day, a little one would tug on my shirt, tap me on the arm, or just yell across the room, "Hey! It's snowing!" "Did you know? It's snowing!" "There is SNOW out there!"

You find yourself thinking, "Good grief! It's like they've never seen snow before" and then you realize that for some of them its true. They haven't. None of the kindergartners have experienced what school is like on a snowy day, but some of our children just came into the country from more tropical locations. For some of them it truly was their first experience with white flakes falling out of the air. So they look at us like we're crazy when we pull out the reading books and tell them to sit on their bottoms. No wonder they keep reminding us about the snow! We clearly forgot the world is covered in white magic if we think reading workshop is going to happen...

One little boy who recently entered the country just stood and talked on and on about the snow (and I later learned, his brand new boots). He spoke in nothing but excited Spanish and although I can sometimes understand Spanish, excited, hurried, kindergartner on a snowy day Spanish is another thing entirely. I just stared at his huge brown eyes containing that glow of wonder.

So many of the great teachers I co-teach with knew not to fight it. They took their classes outside for snow walks, generated lists of snowy words, and encouraged snowy stories in writing workshop. One little boy explained to me in great detail what it was like to have snow touch his nose. Fantastic vocabulary practice if nothing else!

I shamelessly abused the magic of the snow for lunch club and we read The Snowy Day by Jack Ezra Keats and then painted snow scenes. It was pure gold. During the reading and painting they'd occasionally stop and say, "Hey! Mrs Lipstick... there is snow at the window! Snow in the book! And snow in the window!"

It was magic, but I wont complain if we have a two-hour delay tomorrow. Or even more snow so they have to close schools altogether. Pajamas, inside out everyone!


about to go run kiss and ride in the snow. pray for me that there are no accidents... i can only imagine the nightmare that could possibly occur...

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

chance of flurries?

Put the pjs on inside out, backwards, do your snow dance, drop the ice cubes in the toilet (i just learned that one last year) and do whatever else it takes to make it snow before 6am.

It's the first chance of snow this school year and although they are only calling for a few inches to slowly accumulate during the day, there is nothing like a little bit of hope on a school night. (It is perfect timing with the grad school finals I'm working on.)

Bring on the snow!

How do you get home?

"Are you taking the bus home today?"


"Oh. Then how are you going home today?"

"The bus is taking me home."

Got it. Although the image of a kindergartener physically taking the bus home has been making me smile all day. This little one has heard that phrase so many times, does he think some kids are the lucky ones who do get to take the bus home with them?

Monday, December 3, 2007

Dear upstairs copier,

Dear upstairs copier,
I want to apologize for my frustrated outburst this afternoon. It was not fair when I said those words under my breath. You copy papers very, very quickly. You do not get jammed very frequently. I am glad to have you.

But you have to understand, when you beep loudly to tell me to add more paper, I don't like it. In fact, when I'm already tense, it makes things a lot worse. I KNOW I need to add more paper. You have a flashy light that tells me so. I was GETTING the paper. But I had to find it in the workroom. Then I had to unwrap it and load it into the machine. I was working on it. But the entire time you kept beeping. Beep. Beep. Beep. Did you think I would leave you? Just walk off, saying, "You know what, I didn't want those copies anyway?" What if I had to get the paper from downstairs? Were you going to beep the entire time? Or if we ran out of paper completely? Would you have beeped until I pulled the plug?

I spend all day with five year olds poking me, reminding me they are there, wanting my help. I can be patient with them. But from you copy machine, I expect more. Our relationship is different than that. It may not be fair, but it is true.

Have you ever seen the fax machine scene from Office Space?

Think about it.

I am.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

1 reason I question my sanity (subtitle: I love my job)

Every day from 12 to 12:45 I meet with my lunch club. This is possibly the craziest 45 minutes I have ever experienced in my life, and every day I make a mental note to change my schedule, cancel the group, and save my sanity. Then I go home, replay the events, laugh, take a deep breathe, and convince myself it is actually a great experience. And then I thank God that I do not teach a self-contained class where this is the norm.

The club's membership varies between 6 students. It is mainly kindergartners, one set of twin boys, two other kindergarten boys, one kindergarten girl, and one first grade boy. Each is on my case load and comes with his or her own set of excitement and energy.

There have been days where lunch club goes smoothly. We read books. We chat about life. We review our table manners. We retell stories with beginning, middle, and end. We discuss rules for our group (1. Wait, listen, then talk. 2. Use a quiet voice) We check out the frog.

Other days, not so much.

One of our goals is to use the bathroom when we need to go so before we have lunch I make everyone go to the bathroom to prevent accidents. In kindergarten they are accustomed to having bathrooms in their classrooms but in my office we have to use the third grade bathroom next door. Sometimes there are third graders there. Sometimes this is very, very bad.

Last week one of my excited kiddos comes RUNNING out of the bathroom. (He only has to go 2 feet but since he is running at a full pace his feet skid on the floor as he hops past me, and has to turn around, skidding again. It takes a few tries before he hops directly in front of me. We're still learning how to control our bodies) "Mrs. Lipstick! Mrs. Lipstick, do you know what your Angel said? He said he's going to kick my A** all over the school! My A**" His twin pops out of the bathroom in much the same manner and the two bop up and down in front of me. "My A**" (Luckily they are difficult to understand since there are third graders lined up to use the bathroom. Two classes, plus their teachers and interns, staring at me and my kiddo screaming A**.) So I storm into the bathroom, announcing to the third grade boys that I'm coming in. There is lots of scrambling and excitement about a teacher entering the boys bathroom. And then I see my Angel, standing there with his arms crossed, holding court. The third grade boys see me and come running. "He said he's going to get our butts kicked out of school!" they yell at me, pointing at my tiny little angel who I have never seen do anything wrong since he entered our school. I take a deep breathe and prepare for my lecture of doom. I put on my Miss Viola Swamp no-nonsense face and prepare to let Angel have it. (Frankly, he's lucky the third graders didn't decide to jump him before I was summoned).

"ANGEL!" I begin when a third grader with autism jumps out from the stall.
"Hey! Kid! Is you're name Angel? My name is Angel! Hey! Is your name Angel? My name is Angel! Hey!" he shouts excitedly.

I love kids with autism. Trying not to crack a smile (and failing miserably) I take in the scene: the disgruntled defendant, my angry kiddo who was threatened, and his twin brother who is out to defend his honor, my little girl who missed all of the fun so is trying to run into the boys bathroom and find out what's wrong, and the teeny tiny kiddo in the group who is standing there with his arms crossed just like me, looking down his nose and giving my Angel the Viola-Swamp lecture for me. Since he's taking care of it I bury my head into my arm and laugh. hard.

Taking a deep breath I lead my posse back into my room and close the door to solve the issue in private.

and that is just the first five minutes of lunch club.

Friday, November 30, 2007

just let me fix it

sometimes we run into kiddos we want to take home with us. we get glimpses into their home lives and we shutter with fright at what they see every night when they leave our school. we try to put it out of our minds when we're with our own families but our minds continue to drift back to our children in unsafe situations. and most of the time we are powerless to do anything about it.
i really thought i was fairly immune to this by now, but i've learned if i was i wouldn't be human. last year i had a classroom of kiddos i would have put into my car and driven home with me in a heartbeat. i spent so much time on the phone with child services i felt like i should send christmas cards to the different agents i worked with. none of that experience or the hardened shell i gained helped me yesterday.
i went home so scared. i wanted to throw things. kick things. cry. and yet it wasn't my problem. and the worst thing is, nobody can fix it.
i spent the night wondering what i could do. how could i make it better? what could i solve? change? help with? and then i realized that anything i did was purely to make myself feel better. it would not change lives or fix the problem. some problems can't be fixed. sometimes the only way we 'fix it' is to listen to it, acknowledge it, and sit with it knowing we are powerless to do something about it. trying to fix it is almost insulting to the kiddos suffering. as though we are so powerful as teachers we can wave our wands and fix their lives. as though their suffering is so insignificant that one person, or a group of people, can enter onto the scene with their super hero capes on and make it all go away.
but we can't always be super heroes. no matter how good we are at it most of the time.
sometimes we have to let kids be sad. we have to admit there is nothing we can do. we have to know the world is unfair and that we cannot protect everyone around us.

and then we have to go home and cry, knowing that caring hurts, but also that caring is what makes us who we are.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


today was one of those days that left me feeling powerless. no knowledge, preparation, or intellect could have helped today. yet you still are left feeling so lost. On days when you make a mistake you get upset, but know how you can fix it, promising yourself that you'll do better next time.

Not today.

kindergarten excitement

There is possibly nothing more exciting than watching 5 kindergartners go on a letter hunt.

MRS LIPSTICK!! I SEE A B!!! as he points to the alphabet chart.

I mean, can you believe there is a B on the abc chart?? The excitement of discover when you are 5 just makes my day.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

House Collaboration Follow-up

Today I got to be a part of an all-day screening for our gifted and talented program. We started at 8am and went until about 2:20 in order to meet with each first grade teacher and discuss the students who may qualify for the program. While normally spending all-day in one room overwhelms me with boredom today was different.

The group included the gifted and talented teacher, the guidance counselor, a reading specialist, a math specialist, the ESOL teacher, and me as the special-ed teacher. Everyone brought a particular perspective to the table. I've already blogged about how much I love sitting around and analyzing kids so this entire day's agenda was right up my alley. Even more exciting was that each kid we discussed showed so much promise despite family backgrounds or disabilities. I came away with such a feeling of hope and excitement. For some kids I saw how important good teaching can be to help them use their awesome powers for good and not evil. For others I was amazed at how they seem to have the ability to grow and learn regardless of adult interaction. Most importantly I was reminded of how different each and every child is. We can't have one 'fits all' label for gifted education. It can't be measured by one test score or one observation. There is so much to the whole picture of each of these little ones.

We didn't have lab coats or anyone mocking us for our theories and ideas but we did a fantastic job of collaborating on these kids. It was another day that reminded me of how incredible my work place is.

Monday, November 26, 2007

tday reflections

So how was your Thanksgiving, little one?

It was great. We had a feast. Then we got fat. So we shaked. A lot.

You shaked?

Yes. We shaked to my brother's ipod. Like this: (begins demonstrating shaking entire body with arms in air, similar motion to dancing)

Wow. Was it fun?

Yeah, the shaking made us not fat anymore. see?

My over-active imagination

Last summer after I swore I would never watch an episode of Grey's Anatomy again (which lasted until I watched the season premiere this fall...) my husband and I began watching House as a replacement to G.A. I'm slowly becoming addicted and sometimes find myself imagining my coworkers and I are in House, but we're analyzing my special education kids instead of patients.

What is so compelling about House is that it depicts a group of drs in a room analyzing a situation to discover two things:
1) a cause
2) a cure.
Really, not so far from what we are trying to do with our special education kiddos if you think about it. To find a cause the drs have to ask a lot of questions, take data, run tests, look at the entire patient, make hypothesis, test the hypothesis, revise the hypothesis, and test again. They are ok with being wrong the first time. Being wrong rules out possibilities and lets them move on to the next hypothesis that could be the one to save the patient's life. Being wrong is a step toward being right.

Instead of being discouraged with some of my children's progress and behavior issues I try to think that we're all sitting around in our white dr coats trying to break the code and discover the cause. We have to ask questions, find patterns and trends, take data, and examine the whole child. We have to brainstorm ideas and have it be ok to be wrong.

A House-Special Education-Scene:
Dr. House:(stated with sarcasm yet a sense of urgency) We have a case of a six-year-old child who refuses to participate with a group. According to his charts, his behavior is reported to not have changed since kindergarten. He responds well to read-alouds but poorly to mathematical and scientific lessons. He currently is banging his head in the back of the classroom and throwing pencils at other children. Thoughts?
One not so bright member of specialized team: ADHD?
House: "Sure, give everyone a diagnosis of ADHD. Why not? He responds well to read-alouds and reading activities, but hey, what else does my genius team have for me?" (ok, so hollywood wont be asking me to be a script-writer anytime soon)
Team: "Is he doing whole-group math problems or differentiated math problems?"
"Is he distracted by the children around him?"
"If he is not in the classroom setting can he do the work independently?"
House: Why are you still sitting here? Go run tests! Take data! Find out!

I recently spent a lot of time creating a social story for a kid only to have it not work at all. I pictured myself in House stating matter-of-factly that we ran the high verbal social story test and it showed no response so now we will run the non-verbal social story test.
House always sends a team to the patient's house to take soil samples or see if there is some environmental factor causing the sickness. We have to do that too, as much as we can. Home visits tell us so much, as do talking with parents and learning more about the child's home life. A child has trouble when he comes into the building in the morning? House would yell at the team and tell us to go to the child's house in the morning to discover the cause of the problem. Run tests. Take samples. Get information. Develop theories.

I even put together a team of experts to work on a particular difficult case. It's composed of an administrator, two classroom teachers, the clinic aide, the school nurse, the social worker, and the guidance counselor. I know they all hate me for my group emails, but we're making progress. We email our theories, share data, and test hypotheses. Again, it's ok to be wrong because it is getting us closer to our answers. The more ideas thrown out there the more we know and the more we can say, "yes, we considered that but ruled it out due to...." (I'd like to state that I did not put together this team purely to pretend I was in a tv show, the tv show similarities are just a nice bonus. If only we all had white coats and walked around the hallways very quickly...)

House recently fired all of his staff but in a soul-searching moment realized he needed them because he worked better when he could bounce ideas of others. I like to think of our planning and collaboration meetings as being as important as meetings between doctors, important, brilliant minds working together looking for a cause to aide us in a cure. Really, sometimes we need to take ourselves more seriously and realize that we're not "just teachers" we are TEACHERS: doctors of the planet! Saviors of the World!

Sometimes keeping things in perspective helps us from getting stressed out. Other times creating an imaginary life related to a television show helps. Whatever works, right?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

black friday

As some of my jumpers left practice on Tuesday they wished me "Happy Black Friday!"

Seriously? I'm not usually one to lament about the state of our society, but really?? Is that something we're doing now? When we go back tomorrow am I suppose to ask them how the sales were?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A Book House

Over Thanksgiving I walked into my parents' bedroom and jumped for joy when I saw the new stack of paperback books forming a leaning tower of Pisa under my Dad's nightstand. I immediately rummaged through it to find books I hadn't read, ones that I'd be interested in reading, or ones that might just keep me occupied when I'm procrastinating from my grad school work. As I rummaged I realized how common this act was for me growing up. Despite the fact I had trouble reading and spelling in school, I was an avid reader at home and read fairly quickly. Growing up in a small town with one tiny bookstore and one small library, being a fast reader didn't help me much. With twin babies at home we didn't get to the library as frequently as I would have liked so when we did we stacked up on books. For a very long time I kept my original library card with my six-year-old signature on it. You had to be able to write your name to get a library card, and so I was filled with pride when I printed those letters on the white plastic for the first time. My license to read.

Even so, I frequently rummaged through my family's books finding ones I could read because I had nothing new to read. I re-read books I loved, and then re-read them again. I was never above finishing a book only to turn to page 1 and start over.

The only real rules I remember getting in trouble for growing up were:
1) No reading at the dinner table.
2) No reading Nancy Drew after 6pm.
3) No reading under the covers with a flashlight.

I'd read while walking and then stop in awkward places... the stairs happened most frequently. Perhaps because when I got to the bottom or top of the stairs I had to fill a parental request like "clean up your room" or "set the table". As long as I was in-transit between floors I could finish my chapter... or book.

My first year teaching I walked through the rooms of my house suddenly realizing how lucky I was to grow up in a 'book house'. Reading was so important to us that we have books in every single room. Some rooms have toppling stacks of books, others have messy bookshelves. Some have books in nice, clean, linear order, while others display books on the coffee table as though they are the centerpiece of the room. My parents are avid readers so reading for pleasure was modeled for me every day. There are even framed pictures in our house of my mother, her sister, and her grandfather sharing a book. There is a similar one of me and my own grandmother so entranced in reading Eliose that we don't notice the camera snapped our picture. Reading was so important to my house we took pictures of it and framed them. As a first year teacher I realized what an incredible message that sent to me as a child. You take pictures of a child's first steps, first bike ride, birthday parties, and holidays. Yet alongside those framed moments were framed pictures of us reading.

I went out and bought cheap picture frames, decorated them, and placed pictures of children reading in the shelves of our classroom library. Every year I start by having those nice orderly bookshelves (the one day they stay that way) covered with pictures of last year's class reading books. Welcome to my room, where you too will learn to dive into the world of reading. As soon as I can I snap pictures of my new kiddos enjoying books and replace the pictures so they can look at themselves experiencing such a momentous occasion.

I struggled with reading in school and was usually in the slow reading group. I even needed a tutor (who is now my principal) to help me with my reading and my God-awful spelling. I wonder where I would be in life if I hadn't grown up with such a powerful message displayed to me everyday in my house. I am sure I wouldn't have had the perseverance and the desire to read despite the unpleasantness it created for me in school. I try to remember this as I open books for children in reading workshop, invite them in, and wish them Happy Reading. Beyond any good teaching I myself can give them is their desire to dive into the world of books itself. Creating that desire may be more important than the skillful reading strategies we so diligently teach. So, how do we create that love and passion?

Thursday, November 22, 2007


I met an old co-worker for lunch yesterday and started to hear all about her new school in North Carolina. As she talked I started to have a panic attack... Schools can be like that? Really? The terrible administrators? The lack of collaboration? The painful team meetings where nothing gets accomplished? The parents vs teacher community? The crazy district who makes arbitrary decisions not based on research?

It made me realize how much I take for granted at my school. I have fabulous administrators who basically "get our backs" for anything and everything. We have a culture of collaboration, we're all on the same page with the same expectations for our kids. I could go on and on. Wow. I'm not thrilled with the area we live in and the chaos this area has but I love my school, and don't think I'll find another place like it ever. If we ever move I'll just have to commute.

For all my co-workers, I am so thankful for you! Happy Thanksgiving

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

worst fire drill ever

Every month our school is required by our district to hold a fire drill. As most schools do, we typically wait for the warmest day of the last week of the month and have the drill at 2:10. So if we are really concerned about the unannounced drill we should be able to predict exactly when it will occur. Unfortunately we usually forget about it until the alarm startles us at which time we realize how stupid it was for it to take us by surprise since it is a beautiful day.
Today the kindergarten classes were having a Thanksgiving Switch-Day. They mixed up all the kids into 6 groups and sent them from class to class for fun Thanksgiving activities. So nobody has their own kids and no official class was together. Kids from every class were with each group. My group made butter.

We’re up to our elbows in bread and homemade butter when the alarm went goes off. And at that point we all realize just how stupid we are for not expecting this. It was 2:10. On a warm day at the end of the month. Damn. We have no idea who the kids in front of us are, nor do we know how many, who they belonged to, or if they have any idea how to exit the building from the classroom we are in.

Somehow we lead them outside at which point they see their friends from their class. (THEIR CLASS… the class they were with maybe 40 minutes earlier). “HEY!!! WILLY!!! They scream their friends names as they SPRINT down the hill. We don’t know their names to yell at them so we find ourselves chasing them down the hill yelling, “STOP! QUIET! LINE UP!” at no one in particular. We line them up and then try to keep them quiet while we wait for the all-clear. This goes poorly as they are still waving to their friends, spinning in circles, and saying, “HEY! Look over there! That’s my house!” At which point I start to wonder if anyone ran home without us noticing.

We entered the school and I briefly considered giving them my Miss Viola-Swamp Fire Drill Lecture of DEATH but realized it really wasn’t really their fault. So I let them enjoy their bread and butter and made a mental note to never be surprised by an end-of-month fire drill again.

Deflecting story telling

First graders tend to ramble on and on about the important stories in their lives at inopportune times. I’ve learned the best way for dealing with these stories is to say (with true sincerity) “I can’t wait to read that story during writing workshop!” Not only does the child stop talking without feeling like you cut him off, but you did a 2 second mini-lesson for writing workshop by suggesting that he write about his life.

Today I noticed that occasionally when I’m telling a story to my coworkers they say, “Wow, I can’t wait to read about it in your blog.”


kindergarten changes

"What is something that changes?" was the broad question my fabulous co-teacher asked to her kindergarten class.

"An egg. When you throw it. It goes splot."

"A fish. It's alive and it disappears when you eat it."

"Blood. It's blood and then it turns into a boo-boo."

"My apartment. Now its bigger."

"An umbrella. It's closed, then it opens when it rains."

"A werewolf."

Monday, November 19, 2007

Teaching American Dreams

I knew November was coming and I have been trying to prepare myself for not teaching my pilgrim unit. I've been worried about this since the day I decided I needed a break from the classroom. I've wondered how I was going to handle it. I was doing ok until I was planning with one of the interns I work with. She was talking through her lesson plans for Thanksgiving and I got a little too excited. Now I've had interns in the past and I know (or should know) how to walk the line between suggesting ideas and letting them do their own thing. (I even let someone else teach about George Washington Carver last year!) but I wasn't doing well sitting back this time. This isn't even my classroom and I'm not even in there for social studies. Still, I found myself vomiting up Thanksgiving lesson plans at a record pace. The poor girl looked like a deer in the headlights so I excused myself from planning.

I kind of like teaching history. I kind of love teaching history that opens the door to cooking, play acting, holding town meetings, debates, and connects to our world.

Normally I would start right after Halloween by showing the kids a picture on the smartboard of the Pilgrims before they left England. "What do you notice?" I'd ask and they'd talk about how the clothes are different than we'd wear, how they don't see lights, just candles, etc.

THEN I set the scene: we're in England and the MEAN king wont let us live like we want to live. We want to believe one thing, he says we can't. So we're coming together to hold a meeting. We've heard about this strange 'New World' place and think if we go there we could believe whatever we wanted. But we have to leave everything behind. I ask one person to be head of the town meeting and we open it up to debate. Should we go? Should we stay? Why or why not? I make them state their answers in full sentences and say things like, "I agree with Kelly because______" to prove they are listening to one anothers' ideas. Then we take a vote. Every year but last year the kids showed their adventurous spirit and voted to leave. Last year was different and I ended up having to say, "too bad, we're going anyway. Get on the boat."

The debate is the highlight of the unit and in May they are still talking about the Mean King and how we had to leave everything we knew. I love watching their little minds explode with possibility.

So we act out packing all our belongings, saying goodbye to our friends, getting on the boat, living on the boat, arriving in the new world, and starting over. I introduce everything with pictures or drawings on the smart board so we can get good pictures in our heads and discuss "what do you notice?" to initiate discussion I try to allow time for them to play that they are actually a pilgrim. Without leading them through a lesson I sit back and watch them get into character and transport themselves back to 1620.

We build construction paper houses in our new world using specific measurements to go along with our measurement unit in Math. We "milk cows" and make butter to discuss change of states in science, and generally live like the pilgrims for the month.

The best part though comes when we meet Squanto. We talk about how out of the woods comes someone that looks very different than us. Are we scared? How do we feel? They look at me like I'm crazy and point out that everyone has different skin so why are we worried about Squanto. We discuss how the pilgrims all had white skin and had never seen someone like Squanto before. But Squanto ends up saving their lives and teaching them how to live off the land. (When I teach Martin Luther King I review the lessons we learned from Squanto.)

Squanto teaches us to live off the land so we study plants to meet our science SOLs.

We end it with a big feast and I hand out their Thanksgiving Projects. Over Thanksgiving Break I make my classes interview their relatives about their ancestors who also made a trip to America. They come back with a decorated paper doll of their ancestor and share the trip with the class. For some kids they are the 'pilgrims' and it is always a meaningful experience to hear them talk about their trip to America. One boy once wrote, "In Bolivia it was hard. We came for American Dreams". I cried.

After Thanksgiving the Ancestor unit moves us into map skills which keeps us excited and active through the holiday season.

I love the units that become curriculum encompassing, in-depth, meaningful life lessons.

teacher language

In writing workshop today I just stopped by a kindergartner's desk to check in. It wasn't a huge writing conference and I was really just walking by him when I realized I should see what he wrote today. I just stated what I noticed, patted him on the back and walked away, not really thinking anything of my 'hit and run' conference. I didn't leave him with a 'next time try...' or a 'good writers always...' tidbit like I usually do. I didn't say 'good job' or 'great writing' but pointed out that he'd used spaces, put details in his drawing, and added details to his story. I never know if the specific praise theory works with kids or not, but that's what they tell us to do so I try to stick by it.
A few minutes later I heard him whisper to his friend, "Hey! Do you know what Mrs. Lipstick told me? She said I had nice spaces and that I added on more details to my story when I wrote 'with my dad'." He was practically bubbling over with pride. Pride that didn't come from pleasing me, but for realizing what he produced in his own work.

I guess that whole teacher-language of stating specifics really works.

Friday, November 16, 2007

bananas unite

I spent some glorious summer days at Camp Alleghany for girls on the Greenbriar River in West Virginia. If you've ever been to an all-girls camp you know there is a lot of singing. A lot of singing really silly songs.

The glory of teaching elementary school is that when you wake up with a song in your head from your childhood you actually get to sing it with your class. Which is how I ended up teaching 'Bananas Unite' to my intersession classes last year.

There is even a dance that goes with it. I taught them that too.

Now whenever I am herding my kindergarten lunch club through the crowded cafeteria one second grade boy will yell, "Miss L!!" Then he'll jump out of his seat, slap his arms up over his head and yell, "BANANAS UNITE". Sometimes when his class walks by me in line he'll whisper it.

I feel ridiculous that I serve as a visual reminder of such a fantastic song. Maybe one day he'll wake up as an adult and wonder how he'll get that crazy song out of his head...

i thought i could handle it

i'm taking 2 grad classes this semester while i'm starting my new position as a special ed teacher. i got married last march so i'm still in the first year of my marriage and we're house-hunting and all the fun stuff that comes along with that.

i really thought i was doing great. i thought i had it under control. at first i thought it wasn't that much responsibility. then when i decided it was, i kept thinking wow, i'm dealing with this all really well.

this saturday i have three fairly large projects due for one class, along with the 6 chapters of reading we need to do to complete one of the projects. that's for tomorrow. i've read 4 chapters, have drafts of all 3 projects, and was hoping to have a nice quiet friday evening with my husband after a long crazy week. (ok, really i'd like to go to happy hour and then go out on the town with my husband). i'm starting to realize tonight is going to be an all-nighter.

i forgot about my book club this week. stood them up. completely. forgot to write back to emails. yesterday i pulled a kiddo to read with him one on one. when i got back to the classroom i realized i was suppose to teach the lesson that day and now the teachers and kiddos were waiting on me. sometimes i forget to call my family. sometimes i forget to write back to my husbands emails during the day. i've lost touch with some of my good friends.

i need to learn to prioritize. in undergrad i was use to putting 100% effort into my work. now i'm still trying to do that, but 100% effort into grad school isn't necessary anymore. 100% effort into my marriage, my friends, my real job, my life... yes, those are things i need to prioritize. passing grad school is what matters, not getting straight a's.

that just feels so wrong.
then again, so does standing up my book club, being grouchy in the evenings, and forgetting to teach a focus lesson to a group of first graders.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Bellybutton Appreciation Day

I must have missed it on the calendar this morning, but today seems to be international Examine Your Belly Button Day. In almost every class I have been in so far there has been at least one child (if not more) with his shirt pulled up to his chin and he's staring at his belly button. I know they are fascinating objects, and that we are learning to be scientists in kindergarten, but I'm amazed at the consistency of this action across the classes.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

third graders

To be honest I don't spend a lot of time with third graders. I teach kindergarten and first graders and most of the kids I coach on the jump rope team are fourth and fifth graders. We have some third graders, but most of them are quiet at practice around the older girls.

Yesterday I administered a practice state standardized test to a small group of third graders. When they had all completed the test we had to remain in our testing location until we were given the 'all clear' and it was safe to enter the school hallways without disrupting other test takers. And so, I was trapped in the strings trailer with 5 very hyper third graders. I handed out blank scratch paper and told them they could play tic-tac-toe. There were 5 kids... one would have to be by himself. I figured they would work it out on their own, and if they didn't I'd play with the other kid. Maybe they didn't all want to play. Maybe some wanted to read or some wanted to draw.

The next thing I knew all 5 are playing with their imaginary friends. All 5 playing alone, talking to the air. They even put the pencils down between their turn and the imaginary friend's turn. First graders sometimes have that kind of imagination, but for the most part they are extremely literal. I was amazed at how social acceptable it was for each of the 5 kids to play quietly with their imagination. I thought it was kind of incredible. Is that normal third grade behavior, or did I just test a special, imaginative group of kids?

Monday, November 12, 2007

death and dying

Ugh. What a way to start a new week. I still haven't fully gotten over the experience from this morning. I spent all day scared to death about what I was going to tell the frog bloggers. Obviously I would leave out the part about the cannibalism, but even just telling them one of our beloved frogs croaked (how many times did I hear that joke today?) worried me! I found my copy of the book, "The Tenth Good Thing about Barney" and then realized to make the book meaningful I would have to outright lie and tell them I went out this morning and buried our friend Bubbles in our school's nature center. (I didn't. In my defense I wasn't thinking clearly at that moment in time and burying the frog was the least of my worries.)

Ok, so, memorial service? Our fabulous guidance counselor suggested singing "It ain't easy being green".

I had a pit in my stomach all day and I could hear the death march playing in my head as I went to pull my frog bloggers for our small group. One wanted to stay and finish his lesson, and since I let group be a choice I went ahead and let him. So it is just me and froggy 2.

We get to my office and Froggy 2 sees the beautiful new aquarium I bought for the frogs this weekend. He giggles and looks for the frogs. Which is when I sputter out the words about what happened and wait for the chaos.

"Oh, he die? He eat him? Where is he?"
Obviously I didn't tell him one frog ate the other... first graders just think like that.
"Oh look, he sad. he need mom. he lonely. he need friend. he hide 'cause he sad. Can I feed him?"

And that was that. We blogged about the new home and that one died, but it ended there.

Last year one of the little ones in my classroom lost her mother to a sudden illness. I was devastated and ran to our fabulous guidance counselor for help on how to even begin to approach helping this little one through her grief. She gave me articles to read and what I learned surprised me, yet proved to be true. The ages of 5-8 seem to be the most logic and concise about processing death and dying. They take it very literally and don't grieve as much as we do at other stages in life. A great loss like losing a parent might be grieved later on in another stage of development, but for the most part six year olds are very matter-of-fact about death. This proved to be true for my little one who looked at me and said, "You know why I was gone yesterday? My mom got sick and died. Now I am suppose to be a sad girl without a mommy". I fought back my own tears and tried to process ways I could respond.

I suppose my frog bloggers are in the same matter-of-fact stage where death is a fact. I am going to have to be careful to let my own trauma interfer with their natural death processing.

oh... no.... awful, awful, awful

i came in this morning with the dread that the frogs might be dead.

one was.

the other one was eating him.

i am going to be sick.

what was i thinking?

i'm still shaking.

and on top of it all i have to tell my kiddos one died.

sh** sh** sh**

Saturday, November 10, 2007

things i have learned i am not above...

* Having children graph the temperature of the classroom. There is nothing that gets attention like a beautiful kid-made graph showing the room is way too hot to learn.

* When the children complain to me about it being too hot or too cold in the classroom I tell them to write letters to the office because there is nothing I can do. (This is true, I had already tried. Kids' handwriting just has more power)

*showing up uninvited at a kid's birthday party because the mom refused to come to school and meet me. I just wanted to start the positive parent/teacher relationship... and see how the kid lived.

*Playing with a parent's baby during kiss and ride so that they can't drive off without answering my questions.

*Asking kids to be quiet because they might get in me in trouble. There is nothing like being a co-conspirator with your teacher to make you behave.

*Starting contentious IEP meetings by giving the parent a picture of their child having fun in the classroom.

* Taking pictures on field trips of a kid with their parent so I can give mom the picture at the contentious IEP meeting.

*Serving hot chocolate on days with a 2 hour delay. Hand a hyper, snowy kid a cup of hot chocolate when he walks in the door, whisper this morning we're just going to sip hot coco and read and suddenly the chaos of a 2 hour delay becomes your quietest moment of the year.

*Telling the class that when we walk in the hallway we're going to pretend we are hiking in the woods looking for animals, just like Squanto (SOL 1.something). I teach them the "Squanto-walk"... heel to toe, hands behind you so you can hear the animals in the forest.

Does this make me creative or just unethical?

Friday, November 9, 2007

Can I teach you to read?

One of my froglets (frogblog authors) spent today in the office for the second day in a row. I was shocked to see him sitting there. Yesterday was one thing, but to be back already by 10am? Did an entire day in the office not seem miserable the first time?

I was sure his behavior warranted an office visit. Lately we've witnessed his frustration come out through kicking chairs, throwing anything in his way, and banging his head against the door. He goes out of his way to refuse to do whatever we ask and we've been banging our own heads against the wall trying to figure out what to do with this kiddo who refuses to hold a reading book.

I was startled to hear him crying and I went over to talk to him. I tried asking him open ended questions and didn't get anywhere. So I tried,
"thumbs up or down, do you know why you are here?
thumbs up.
Did you listen to your teacher?
thumbs down
Are you angry?
thumbs up
Are you sad?
thumbs up
We went through this for a bit before I asked him to tell me what he is good at. No response. Ok, are you good at art?
thumbs down
are you good at reading?
thumbs down
are you a good friend.
Head nods and eyes light up
are you good at listening to stories and talking about them?
fast head nodding
are you good at art?
more head nodding.

Can I help you? I finally asked him, looking straight into his big brown eyes. "You are so good at all of those things. I know you feel like you are not good at reading. Can I help you be better?"
Head shake, no.
"Do you know my secret?" I asked, "My secret that I didn't learn to read until I was in third grade? My mom found me a special teacher, and that teacher was our principal."
He nodded and I realized I'd already used this one before. Oops. New tactic.
"Do you know that I love to teach kids to read?"
No response.
"Do you know that it is my job to teach kids to read? I went to school and I studied and I read books at night so that I can teach kids how to read?"
Big brown eyes looking at me.
"Do you know what I really love to do? I love to work with kids who have trouble with reading. That's my job. It is ok when kids have trouble with reading, they might just need someone like me to help them."
Head starting to nod.
"Can I teach you to read?"
Head nodding vigorously
"I would like that a lot. But you know what, we have to be a team. If I'm going to teach you I need you to help. You need to look at the book."
Head shaking, no

"I can't open up your brain and make it read, so we'll have to be a team. Your job is to look at the book, point to the words, and follow my directions. Can you do that?"
head shaking no- then slight change to a nod

"If you can do those things than I can help you learn to read. Can we be a team?"
Head nodding, slowly, unsure, then vigorously as a smile breaks out on his face.

"We'll be a team. I'll do my job, you do yours. Let's shake on it."

Later I came back, asked if we were still going to be a reading team, and decided we would meet every day, just the two of us in my office to do some hard work. We can do this as long as he is ready to be a team. This means he'll have to follow directions, listen to his teacher, and keep his hands and feet to himself.

This isn't exactly the stern lectures I want kids to get in the office. But something got to me today. The look of loss on his face, the fact that even though he is only in first grade we're already losing him to his anger, or the fact that it was the 2nd day in a row he was sitting in the office. He's a great kid with a big smile when he lets you see it. We just have to make sure he feels confident enough to show it and not find his confidence through being the problem child in the class.

We'll see how this goes. Now I just hope I can live up to teaching him to read. After staring into his eyes today I'm terrified I'll let him down.


Today was an awful rainy Friday and as I finally headed to my car this afternoon I noticed one of my kiddos from last year hanging out in the parking lot with his coat on upside down. (yes, upside down, not backwards) I took a deep breath and instead of going to my car I wondered over to him to see why he was standing in the cold rain.
As he talked I realized he was looking for his kindergarten brother he was suppose to walk home. He didn't know where his brother was and he was worried he was lost. Because of his disabilities this story came out in disjointed parts and I wasn't even exactly sure about it all. I walked him inside so we could get out of the rain and started trying to investigate his problem. Half an hour later I sent him on his way, wondering if it had even been worth stopping to help him understand his brother had already gone home.
Why did I stop? It was raining and cold, I felt sick, had a bad day, and was already thinking about the ice cream I was going to eat when I got home. When I did stop why didn't I just explain to him that most likely his brother had gone home already and he should go ahead and go find him?
Maybe it is because I still see him as "mine". Maybe it is because I worried about this kiddo more than the many other children I've worried about. Maybe it was because despite his confusion it was the most care and concern I had ever seen him exhibit toward another person. And even though he's not mine anymore I still saw his Friday afternoon worry as progress and I wanted to acknowledge it and see it through.

I am having a lot of trouble letting go of my kiddos from last year. They no longer keep me from falling asleep at night, but I still think about them on my drive to work or when my mind wonders in grad class.
Will I ever be able to let them go? Should I let them go, or should I still follow their progress, giving unsolicited advice to their new teachers, chatting with their parents, and giving them hugs and support along the way? Sometimes I think my attachment to them is too much, and sometimes I think it is exactly what they need.

colder aspects of co-teaching

I woke up with a scratchy throat and that achy 'you're about to get sick' feeling. I suspect this is why:
Don't get me wrong, I really enjoy co-teaching. I work in 4 different classrooms and I have 4 incredible co-teachers.
This week was the kindergarten Fall Festivities. Every day two classes hiked through the woods to a small park that sits between our school and the high school. (hiked is used in the most liberal sense). There were rotating stations set up so the children could go on scavenger hunts, make patterns out of leaves and sticks, drink cider and make musical shaker bottles filled with acorns and rocks. It was fantastic and I loved watching the children's delight as they discovered acorns hidden under leaves and beautiful yellow maple leaves larger than their heads. On the way back we sang 'Going on a bear hunt' and listened to children squeal as the squirrels ran away from us. It was pretty close to magic.

It was also very, very cold. And of course, I got to go twice so I could go with all of my classes. Not only did I get 2 days of standing in the cold, but I had 2 days of wiping the frozen noses of the children who were also cold.

I don't think it is a mystery where this cold came from.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

election day

My first year teaching was during the '04 Presidential Primary. I drove into the school parking lot on the day of my state's primary and was ecstatic to realize the voting was being held at our school. Knowing the families I taught and how many jobs they worked, I didn't think they would be taking their children along with them to vote. I doubted the children had ever seen what it was like to experience the voting process, and, as a first year teacher not yet obsessed by the demands of my plan book, I decided to remedy this.

I got permission from the poll officials to bring my loud first graders down to our gym. Then I tried to prep my kids. How do you explain a primary to first graders? Ok, so you know we have a president. Yes, George Bush. No, not George Washington DC Bush, just George Bush. No, George Washington is dead. No, so is Abraham Lincoln. Yes, a long time ago. SO, YES, a president. Well, every 4 years we decide if we want to keep the current president and we give other people a chance at the job. This went on for quite awhile.

Eventually we ended up holding a vote, who thinks George Bush should stay president? Who thinks someone else should get a chance? The results were a clear example of First Grade logic. 'George Bush should stay president because it is his turn now and we might hurt his feelings if we ask him to leave'. 'George Bush can still be president. All those people saying that he does a bad job, well, they don't know what the job is. George Bush does.' 'My mom says George Bush is president'.

After our own classroom voting experience we walked down to the gym, ready to check out the voting booth. I might add that I am from a small town and as I stood there with my first graders I realized that it would also be my first time seeing how the electronic touch-screens work. (To this day I still have not voted on one). A kind elderly gentleman realized why we were there and offered to let us watch his vote, as long as we didn't tell anyone. Aha! Teachable moment on voting rights and privacy!

So, we leaned in to listen to how the machine worked and watch the man vote. As we listened to the explanation one of my kiddos broke away from the pack. 'I want George Bush, I want George Bush' he grumbled under his breath as he spun in circles in the middle of the gym. Thank God it was only a primary, otherwise he would have needed to be forcibly removed by election staff for influencing voters. I suppose technically this still could have been considered an influence, but the election officials were understanding.

Back in the classroom the kids told everyone who entered who the man had voted for. Just in case you don't work with first graders, you should know they can't keep secrets.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Frog Blog

Ok, I'm trying to blog with one of my small groups. Today was our first day. We'll see how it goes...

Visit us :Frog Blog

I haven't figured out how to upload our photos yet, but instead I'm making the first graders use imagery to describe what they see. Teachable moments hiding everywhere.

We'll see how it goes. Any tips on blogging with first graders?

Sunday, November 4, 2007


On our first grade field trip on Friday I looked over and noticed two 6 year old girls applying lip gloss with passion. As I asked them to hand it over, promising it would be returned at the end of the day, one said, "But Mrs. Lipstick, it is lipstick!"

I have got to work harder at teaching them my real name.

ability grouping for test scores?

This Sunday's Washington Post Metro section has an article on 'Closing the Gap', discussing how one school has improved test scores by ability grouping their students for more than half of the instructional day. At first this makes me automatically recoil. Ability grouping? Really? Is this what NCLB has brought us to?
On second look it may not be that bad a program. The students' progress is monitored closely by the entire school. Once they are able to move up they do, and they never move back down. In the beginning of the program the school looked into the gifted and talented programs across their county. It sounds like they are applying the ideas they got to the entire school, just differentiated by level. (I may be wrong about that though).

What I think works about this is that the teachers and administrators carefully track the progress of each child. It sounds like each child's need are taking into consideration and each is taught at his or her level. They also seem to be doing a great job engaging the parents by hosting a 'closing the gap' dinner for parents of students who have made progress that year. By congratulating the parents on their child's accomplishment they are also sending a message that there is a partnership between the school and home.

On the other hand, I wonder what the atmosphere in the school is like. It sounds like standardized tests are frequent occurrences. Are the children in the accelerated classes given higher social status than others? What is the feeling in a class when a child moves up? What about the children who are not moving up? And, do we let emotions interfere with academic success? (Or do they go hand in hand?)

I'm interested in other educator's opinions on this system. What are your thoughts?

Saturday, November 3, 2007

school board election

I woke up early this morning to go join my husband at a republican rally for the local county elections. I decided to join him because even though I can't vote in that particular county, it is the same county as my school and I wanted to meet the school board candidates. I figured that it was kind of like voting- if I didn't get up early this morning to take advantage of this opportunity I lose my chance to complain about our school board members.
There was a moment there in my warm bed when I thought not complaining would be ok but I know myself too well so I dragged myself out of bed.

Meeting school board candidates proved to be interesting. After a conversation with one woman currently on the school board I wanted to hug her. She's done a lot for the community my school is in and seems to truly care about the community and schools. She seemed in-touch, realistic, and willing to be a part of the community, not someone lording over us from on-high.

Another candidate I met was also currently serving on our school board. I hope he doesn't continue to serve after Tuesday. After learning I was a teacher at a school with a community computer lab he dove into lecturing me on why we don't need to teach key-boarding to our children, we need to teach handwriting and cursive. Then as I tried to push my appreciation for year-round schooling on him (shamelessly self-advocating, but hey, that's why I got out of bed) he launched into how he didn't' want to take summer vacation away from kids, but was starting to come around to the idea. He wandered off on the subject of childhood obesity and strayed from the topic of our current schools to his own passion for reading. He had no interest in talking with me about our schools. He had no interest in getting my opinion, as a teacher, about what works and what doesn't. He, as a school board member, was clearly my boss and I had to listen to his handwriting rant. His literature brags about the phonics program he hopes to bring to our schools. I wasn't able to get a word in, but if I had, I wanted to ask him about this program, what he knew about it, why it worked, what research was behind it, etc. And more importantly, had he been in our schools to observe the reading curriculum? Does he know how we teach reading? Why does he think that doesn't work? It is researched based. Why does he disagree with it's writers, Fontas and Pannil? Does he have a good reason to believe it doesn't work?

The next candidate I met is not currently serving. He won me over when he explained that he was amazed how the current school board does not actively seek teacher's opinions when implementing new programs. He said he wants to let us do what we do best without throwing programs at us that may or may not work. Sure he has to say that on the campaign trail, but it is better to ask me about the programs than lecture me on them.

Someone listening nearby started to ask my opinion as a 'Republican Teacher'. I had to explain that when it comes to school board I am not interested in party lines. What I want is a school board member who listens to the teachers and the community. I want someone who knows what is going on in the schools and is going to keep their ear to the ground on what works and what doesn't. I don't want a politician telling me how to teach in my classroom. I want someone who has knowledge and background in education to make our policies. More importantly, I want someone who respects teachers. Telling me that I'm not doing enough to teach handwriting when you barely know me shows me that you do not really think any teacher is a qualified professional. Asking my opinion and listening, even if you don't take my ideas, does.