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.


Some days at work I think, "Wow, I can't believe I get paid for this! I have the best job in the world"
Yesterday was not one of those days.
Yesterday was one of those days I had to remind myself, "It might be awful, but I am getting paid for this."
Those days are few and far between.
I hope I don't have one again for a long, long time.

Thursday, November 1, 2007


I learned tonight in my grad class that a nearby county always has a teacher workday the day after Halloween. They came to grad class a little less frazzled than those of us who tried to monitor the wild rumpus of the wild things on sugar and excitement. I was jealous. Then I realize it means I would have missed out on hearing the stories of trick-or-treating, details about costumes, and the hilarious-to-only-a-first-grader recounts of incidents on the candy trail.

Still, I'm tired.

overreacting grownups

I took one sick kiddo to the clinic today. We hauled him into the bathroom and then wrung our hands about what to do next. As the nurse, clinic aide, and I stood outside the bathroom door and debated in hushed whispers about the seriousness of the situation I heard an odd noise from inside.
"Are you ok?" I asked the child.
"Yeah, I'm just lookin' at these cool pictures of the football men"

Never underestimate the power of distraction.