Saturday, September 29, 2007

National Book Festival

I personally believe the National Book Festival should be treated with the same enthusiasm and magic as Christmas. Maybe even more. Christmas = one Santa Claus, Book Festival = many authors AND other fictional characters. (Although we heard staff whispering that the Penguin from Penguin books got sick and had to leave before his scheduled appearance)

Our first stop of the morning was to hear Brian Haig, a mystery/thriller writer I discovered this summer on my quest to do nothing but sit on my porch and read. He was a surprisingly engaging speaker and beneath his quick wit he had great insights into the writing process. His greatest writing suggestion I took away was that he always starts knowing his ending. After that, he just needs to figure out how to get the characters there. What a great mini-lesson on planning for writing workshop.

Another tidbit I took away from him was that he writes with the beliefs that:
1. His readers are intelligent people and he doesn't need to hit them over the with his message. Less is more, both in terms of descriptive text and in political messages.
2. Much of the press and general literature depicts life as being black and white. He works to show that life is not like that. I haven't read his newest book on Iraq, but if it somehow shows what is going on over there without taking sides, I can't wait to read it. (hello intersession).

Later we wandered down to the Pavilion of States, which is really like a literary version of Halloween. Kids get a map of the US and are suppose to go to every state's booth and get their map stamped. Teachers, as true scavengers, go to every booth and grab posters, sticky notes, book marks, and more that all have something to do with reading.
Just like Halloween I came home to empty out my large yellow bag to check out my loot.
1 orange 'readstrong' bracelet. 1 Latin music cd. 2 books on nursery rhymes to read to your toddler. many fabulous posters. 1 nice pen. 1 pack of sticky notes. 2 cds of children's books in spanish. 1 pack of black-eyed-susan seeds.

We ended up at the top of the Post Office Pavilion where we could look down and see the large crowd of readers swarming the National Mall. What a great sight.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Spanish I never learned

Como se dice:
Are these bite marks in your guided reading book?

Did you bite your guided reading book?

Books are for reading, not for biting.

Did it taste good?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

bad sign

I just put my pajama pants on over my regular pants because I forgot to take them off.

Thank goodness intersession is coming up.

I LOVE year-round schooling.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

judging parents

I think my biggest pet peeve is teachers who blame parents for everything that is wrong with their kid. I have dealt with my share of parents that made me want to require people to fill out an application and take a training class before having kids, so I am well aware of the power parents have over their kids.


this is the exception, not the rule. I notice complaints about parents the most from young teachers like me who do not have children yet. It's easy for us to roll our eyes when papers don't come back, when lunch money isn't paid, kids are dropped off late, or when reading logs aren't signed. We haven't yet tried to juggle life like that. Then there are the teachers who use to complain about parents all the time, but have become silent as they had their own children.

I want a parent/teacher partnership that is working toward our shared goals for these awesome little kids. That may seem naive and a stretch, but us young teachers will never get there if we approach the parents as though their baby's problems are all their fault.

If they can drive us crazy all day, who is to say they aren't driving their parents crazy as well? The parents do not intentionally create monsters. They do not go out of their way to turn what would be a sweet, caring 6 year old into a screaming, hitting monster. Child development does that, not parents. We only have to deal with their child 7 hours a day. They have the rest, plus weekends, summers, breaks, etc. Let's cut them some slack and try to work together.

Or maybe I'm just worried what will be said behind my back when I have my own kids...

teachers as witches?

Do you remember the book, 'The Witches' by Roald Dahl? Do you remember reading it in elementary school and becoming convinced that at least one of the teachers at your school was a witch?

For me it was my strings teacher. We knew for a fact she wore a wig (one of Dahl's sure signs of witchery) and we were pretty sure her spit would have been blue if we ever got a chance to check. In fact, the day we found out the county would not be renewing her contract we ran around the playground singing "Ding, dong, the witch is dead!"
6th graders can be mean.

I think that if my kindergartners had read The Witches they would have accused me of being one today. While sitting on the carpet trying to listen to the substitute, one became very concerned with my fingernails.
"Why, Mrs. Lipstick? Why do you have them that long? That's very bad. Bad for my stomach."
"Bad for your stomach? How?" I whispered, wondering if there was some different cultural belief in having long fingernails.
"Because you could hurt kids stomachs!" he said, rather too loudly for carpet time. (I shouldn't have been whispering with him anyway.)

Fair enough. I didn't bother to ask why I would be touching a kid's stomach, I left it at the fact that long fingernails scaring little kids.

Maybe Dahl wasn't that far off in his witch characteristics. Perhaps teachers with long nails should be avoided for self protection.

Ironically, my nails have been long (Dahl may say witch-like) ever since I stopped playing the violin in college. It is a silent protest against my 6th grade string teacher who would get out the scissors used for cutting cello strings, line us up, and cut our farm-kid nails to make them appropriate for orchestra.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The trouble with co-teaching in 4 different classes...Or, Who Let Spider-Pig Out?

I was in my first kindergarten class of the day during their snack time when I heard a rousing rendition of 'Spider Pig' (from The Simpsons Movie) break out from one table group. They sang the song passionately, over and over again and so I left their classroom with "spider-pig, spider-pig, doin whatever a spider-pig does" playing in my head. I immediately entered another kindergarten class, who had just sat down to snack. It was not long before "Who let the dogs out?" was being sung by a table group munching on animal crackers.

It was kindergarten battle of the bands, the only loser being the teacher who now had both songs playing over and over again in her head.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Friday uno game

I got schooled in uno today by a kindergartner. I mean, 100% beat down. Sweetest little girl, when she's not playing uno. A slightly shy, nurturing 5 year old girl who becomes a 16 year old uno champion, complete with smack talk. It was as though she was transformed into another being once the uno cards came into her hands. Occasionally she'd come out of the trance and look embarrassed, apologize for her rudeness, and confirm that she was just joking. Then it would be her turn again and she'd throw down a well-played draw 4. She was even slipping in and out of Spanish when she got overly excited.
It was fun to watch this competitive, strategic side come out of her. It was such a reminder that we don't always see the whole-child in our little 7 hour window we get to see them. There is always a surprise hidden there somewhere!

Thursday, September 20, 2007


My bff is moving. I am heartbroken. We've come so far. It was his first year in elementary school, my first year as a special education teacher. We both had so much to learn. By the time he leaves it will be 9 weeks and we will have done so much.
When we return from our intersession break I will no longer be able to read 'If you give a mouse a cookie' every day. No more Dr. Jean songs over and over again. These daily events have become an important part of my schedule. All gone.
I'm happy for his family for buying a house. And sure, it will free up my schedule and make my case load lighter.
I am still heartbroken. What will I do without him?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

teacher research

I've come to believe that teacher research is what can save public education.
My school participates in the teacher research program, which gives us half a day a month to come together, discuss one idea or question we have, and dive deeply into investigation the idea. The school lines up substitutes for us and even hosts the event at the nearby school board building where we get to go and pretend we are busy professionals for a day.
Not only do we get to explore a problem of our choice, but this sends a message that, as a teacher:

1. You are an important professional.
2. Your ideas, questions, and observations matter.
3. Your critical thinking can help children succeed.
4. You have ownership of your classroom. Your ideas, thoughts, and actions can change your kids.

Google gives is employees time to investigate a new creative idea. They support an 80/20 rule, where employees are expected to spend 20% of their time exploring their own creativity that may, or may not benefit the company. Though most of these projects don't turn out, the 20% time is credited for giving us Gmail and other handy google practices.
Unlike programs like NCLB that limit a teacher's creativity, ownership, and professional judgement in the classroom, teacher research allows teachers to see themselves as an integral part of education. And we all know from working with kids, if a child sees himself as an important, valued part of a project he's a lot more likely to work harder and take ownership in the results.

hair cut anxiety

As teachers we know to look out on Monday mornings for anything dramatic that may have happened over the weekend. In the population I teach, we're have a heightened awareness for looking for signs of abuse. Mondays could be filled with stories of moving to a new apartment, having a relative go back to his home country, or even a family member go to jail. We know any of these events are traumatic to a little one and we try to be aware of them so we can be sensitive to the child's needs.
Yet we tend to forget there are smaller incidents that can distract from a child's ability to learn just as much as the larger ones.
A practice of families at my school is to let their little boy's hair grow out for a long time and then shave it off. One of my kiddos from last year would come to school announcing, "My haircut was a number 0!" He was one of the few that enjoyed this experience. The little boys come to school with cold heads and the memory of Friday when they had a full head of hair. They wear hoods over their head, avoid their friends, and keep their eyes down most of the day.
This behavior is naturally upsetting to a teacher who wants hoods off, eyes up, happy children. Yet I think it's so easy to forget how sensitive younger children can be to small things like haircuts. They haven't learned the coping mechanisms and self-talk to pull themselves through an unwanted haircut.
Yesterday we had a little one who absolutely refused to be a part of the group. When finally investigated his new shaved head and his eyes filled with tears were revealed. All he needed was a sensitive teacher's hug, some time alone, and an understanding talk that hair will grow back and that we love him no matter how it looks.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Mary Poppins

Today I was walking my bff down the hall toward kiss and ride, praising him for what an incredible job he was doing walking in the hallway. I was feeling pretty pleased with his behavior over the last week and was thinking that we had really turned a corner.

And just then, around the corner, came my two new friends who recently enrolled in our school. Screaming. I passed my bff off to his kindergarten teacher and went to go help the kindergarten aids settle down my two new friends.

As I was telling my husband this incident, he pointed out that I have become Mary Poppins. I'm with kids as long as they need me, pulling magical toys out of my endless bag. (I actually mean this literally... I carry a very large bright green bag where I keep all sorts of tricks, books, thera-puty, and other fun items I may need. But I guess the bag could be metaphorical as well.) Then, once they've melded into their classroom community, I'm onto the next group.

While this made me smile, it made me wonder, was Mary Poppins every ready to leave her charges? Didn't she get to sit back for awhile and settle in with the calmness she created?

I guess that isn't really her style. It's not mine either.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Responsive Classroom

I just came from the first of 5 all-day Saturday classes for my Masters Program in Special Ed. This class is on behavior management, which I'm excited about because you can never have too many behavior management ideas in your pocket.

I admit though that most of the class just showed me how much Responsive Classroom has done for me. I kept thinking about how simple concepts like teacher language end so many of the behavior problems in a classroom. Most of the recommendations on how to be proactive in the classroom are covered fully and accurately in the RC approach. I also realized how RC has changed my general thinking about children, behavior, and how to teach. I hadn't realized how much it has been ingrained in me.

Today reaffirmed my beliefs in RC and reminded me that it has great tools I can't forget about now that I'm out of the classroom.

On a side note, I also sat through a painful 45 minute PowerPoint on APA style, where I learned it is no longer acceptable to double space after a period. Breaking this habit is going to be much harder than composing the actual assignments. We're talking years and years of double-spacing. Who decided this? When did this become the norm?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

lunch date

Everyday I eat lunch with my bff. This began on the first day of school because we were worried about how he would handle the cafeteria. As the year has progressed I've realized that although he can handle the cafeteria now, I would really miss the 45 minutes we have to read books, write our abcs, sing songs, and play without worrying about the distraction of a whole class.
This week we invited another little boy to our group. My bff and this boy had been to preschool together so although they are not in the same class they know each other and are comfortable with one another. I was terrified about how this could go. I pictured disaster, both children having melt-downs, one of them running out of the classroom, one under the table. Last week I went back and forth on whether or not to even invite the other boy. Could this possibly be a good idea or would I be the one under the table hoping no one would notice if I didn't go to my classes the rest of the day?

It has been the best experience this year. The two are so grown-up in this setting. They interact more with each other than they do with other children, which gives me the opportunity to work on social skills we couldn't begin to touch on in a whole-group setting. The best part, however, is the empathy they show toward one another. They look out for one another, giggle at each other's jokes, and generally interact in a way expected of kindergartners.

I am loving it and can honestly say that even after a long day of school and grad class I am looking forward to tomorrow's lunch date.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


One of my greatest strengths as a teacher (or what I think is my greatest strength) is my ability to remain completely calm with my kiddos. I can have objects thrown at me, obscenities screamed at me, or just general frustrating behavior, and I usually am able to keep a calm voice. I believe I developed this gift from having twin brothers who were 5 years younger than me. I was also a book worm, and learned to ignore behavior intended to get my attention in order to continue to read my books. I also learned that sometimes if you get angry with 4 year old twins it doesn't help anything, so you might as well remain calm. And I learned logic rarely works in the middle of a fit.

This ability has a drawback however, which I believes leads to one of my greatest weaknesses as a teacher. My frustration doesn't come out at the children, but instead festers inside looking for something to attach itself to. I know I am putting all of my frustration for the situation on the wrong objects (like the toyota dealership that made me pay a lot of money tonight). I don't hold grudges and this frustration never lasts long, but I realize that I do it and it is not ok.

At home I have an imaginary housekeeper. She gets blamed for the dishes that don't get done before I get home, the laundry still sitting in the machine, and the dust bunnies behind the bookshelves. Poor woman. Sometimes I feel sorry for her since I will say rather mean things about her and her inability to get her work done. Still, there is nothing like muttering under your breath at someone who doesn't actually exist, while you do a task you've been putting off forever. What does she think we pay her for anyway? To sit around and watch the soaps? Seriously!

I think I should take this strategy and create an imaginary being to give my frustration to at school. The pesky house elf always riling up the kids right when I settle them down? Any other ideas for imaginary creatures?

Monday, September 10, 2007

being new

Being brand new at something is really, really hard. I should remember this when working with the kindergartners who have never been expected to stand in line, sit criss-cross applesauce, or share with 20+ kids before.

Tomorrow I have my first big special ed meeting. Due to my own newness and just general not knowing how the time-line works, I'm already 'out of compliance' with the timing of the meeting. This means I can expect a letter from the county telling me I did something wrong. I had no idea it was possible to do it wrong, but I did. Now I have to go into all this hoping I wont do anything else wrong so the county wont send me more letters. I'm about as nervous as I was the night before I had to defend my thesis to a board of very scary religion professors who thrived on making seniors cry.

I remember my first year teaching being told I was doing guided reading wrong. I wish I had said, "Of COURSE I am doing guided reading wrong. I don't even know what guided reading is! How on earth could I possibly be doing it right?" Instead I just felt terrible that I hadn't know what it was, and had been doing it wrong regardless of not knowing.

Being new is no fun. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't change my new job for the world, but I have to settle in and know it is ok to have a learning curve. There are things I don't know, therefore I will be wrong sometimes. I will mess up. I will make mistakes. This is ok. I'll learn from them.

I don't like making mistakes.
Being new is no fun.

Friday, September 7, 2007

ants, balloons, computers

a b c's of this week in kindergarten

A for the many, many ants that crawled into the half the book bags yesterday due to an open yogurt container. Somehow "please throw away your yogurt" translated into "please put it into your bookbag and save it for later"...

B is for the 50 balloons that were paraded past one of my classes today, causing them to stop in their tracks and look in awe at every kindergartner's dream. Some hopped up and down, clapped their hands, and generally forgot where they were.

C for computers that each child gets a turn on when their name comes up. Every class I was in today had issues with children trying take other children's turns. My bff even announced, "Hey, it's broken! It doesn't say BFF! Fix it!!"
I give him credit for trying though. That's kind of clever.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

first grade anxiety

A girl in one of my classes looked up at her teacher and asked, "But my birthday is in two months and how do I even know if I'm growing or not?! Is it in my sleep, or right now?"

I remember that anxiety well. There is your deadline, right there waiting for you to be one year older and there is nothing you can do about it. You have no idea how to help yourself grow. The ridiculous grown-up answer is always, 'eat your carrots', or some such nonsense, but you know they have to say that because they are grown ups. I remember that worry of, what happens if one year goes by and you haven't grown? How do you know if your getting older? What if just your body grows and not your mind?

I wanted to hug the little one who asked. There are so many deadlines awaiting her I want to tell her not to worry about this one. But then, if she is like me, she would probably worry about all those unknown deadlines off in the future.

So my dear, there is nothing you can do. You just have to sit back, enjoy childhood, and let the years go by.

I love my job

I came back to school today feeling overwhelmed and lost. We were away this weekend for a family emergency and our plane got in at 10pm last night. Other than crisis management planning for a substitute, I hadn't spent much time thinking about school over the weekend, and certainly had not put thought into my lessons.

This morning I woke up on the wrong side of the bed and even the nice Starbucks man who handed me coffee was irritating me.
Then I walked into one of my kindergarten rooms and my heart melted. One little boy looked at me and said,
"Come here Mrs. Lipstick, I want to give you a hug."
"How did you know I needed a hug?" I asked.
"I could just tell it."

Then another little girl handed me a bright red gift bag. She didn't speak so it took me a minute to realize she was giving it to me. After checking the tag to be sure it was truly intended for me, I opened the bag and found a beautiful porcelain kitten with bright pink fur that only a kindergartner could have picked out. I am a sucker for teacher presents. I have a wide collection of cherished porcelain items purchased from the dollar store. I'm sure anyone coming into my office questions my sanity when they see the small display, but to me it's full of love.

Later in the day I looked up from a reading group to see a child 100% tangled in the listening center cords. I'm not sure how she did it since she's not a child to do such a thing on purpose. Though normally I don't like anything to distract from Gilbert the Pig, this image made me smile the rest of the day.

The rest of the day had its ups and downs and now I am certainly ready for a nap. I'm still overwhelmed with the work I have to catch up on, but it's those small little times that make me realize I could never do any other sort of job.

Saturday, September 1, 2007


It turns out I don't have to share after all! I kind of feel like a preschooler who just threw a temper tantrum for no reason. Slightly embarrassed, but pleased with the outcome non-the-less.

i don't like to share

random thoughts

1) The other night I made my husband 'use his words' when he pointed at the fridge and expected me to know what to get out. I didn't mean to, it was my automatic reaction to pre-verbal-like requests.

2) I notice that every time I wear my new school t-shirt I have a really, really bad day with the kids. Maybe there is something about the blue and grey t-shirt that causes certain kids to run away from me.

3) My new favorite aspect of my new job is that I get to delete all those stressful emails for classroom teachers regarding where to send the PTA money, the after-school care sign up sheets, and the SCA spirit day participation counts, etc. delete, delete, delete. Those little emails use to send me into an anxiety attack as kids came into the room in the morning waving papers I hadn't even realized I'd sent home. Kiss and Ride duty once a week is worth those moments of 'delete'.