Wednesday, August 29, 2007

fear

'Fear leads to anger, which leads to hate, which leads to suffering. This is the path to the dark side.' ~ Yoda, Star Wars

The speaker yesterday, Dr. Jed Baker, opened his lecture with this quote. He talked about how as teachers we can't be scared of our kids and situations. He mentioned the anxiety teachers can feel about being in control in front of others (administrators, fellow teachers, etc), which leads to reactive discipline rather than good teaching.

He then applied the quote to kids on the autism spectrum. Our job is to teach them the skills they need to integrate into society so that they will not fear, be angry,or hate, which can all lead to throwing chairs, running, biting, or other coping mechanisms.

I thought this concept of fear leading to suffering was perfect. So true not only for our kids but for us as well.

I just quoted Star Wars on my blog. Never saw that one coming...

paper work vs. lecture

Today was a teacher workday so that teachers on the year-round calendar could attend trainings with the traditional calendar teachers who have not yet started back. We are blessed to have a principal who allows us to choose whether or not we're going to attend these trainings. If we choose not to we can use the day to de-clutter our classroom, catch up on paperwork or have a mid-week breather.

This morning I was one grouchy camper on my way to my training session. How, I wondered, did I voluntarily give up a day of getting organized to go sit in training for 8 hours? After years of teaching first grade I don't do very well sitting for over 30 minutes. What was I thinking?

My grumbling stopped about 3 minutes into the presentation. It was incredible. Dr. Jed Baker was presenting on social skills training. I had spent the summer reading his books but had never put it together that he was the speaker assigned for today. He could probably explain how paint dries in a way that would make you excited to watch it.

I took so much from the day. Despite the fact that I still have stacks of paper on my desk I am ridiculously happy I attended. I got answers to questions I'd been grappling with all month and gained insight that I can apply tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

I don't like to share.

I don't. I've finally gotten good at admitting it. I'm not good at sharing. I don't like sharing my food at restaurants, and I don't like buying books with friends "to share". I don't like group work. If I have a problem I like to fix it myself to see if I can do it. I like my own things. I like to do things at my pace.

So I really don't like to share big things, like my kids.

They've hired a new special ed teacher, which is fabulous. We qualify for one with our numbers, which means our case loads will get smaller. This is great, except... I don't want to give anyone up.

We're a month into school. I know these kids. I know their parents. I know the books they like and the way they scrunch up their face when they get frustrated. They are challenging me and I want to follow them through to the end.

This is not fair to them. I'm making it about me. They deserve a special ed teacher who has more time. Maybe even someone who knows what they are doing more than I do. I know these facts. I can state them professionally. I can logically reason that it is best if we split up our caseloads. But I don't have to be happy about it.

If I was a kindergartner right now I would pout in the corner. I would hold onto my kids until I was told I'd miss recess if I didn't share. I might even miss a teeny, tiny bit of recess just because I didn't share a little while longer just to see if the teacher was serious. When I did hand them over I'd go sit with my head down for awhile and stomp my feet so everyone would know I was mad.

But I'm not a kindergartner. I'm suppose to be an adult. Not to mention a professional who is being paid to look out for the best interest of the kids. So fine. Take some of them if you have to.

But you can't make me happy about it.

Hopes and Dreams

Every Friday morning I have "book club" for my former students before the school day starts. They come to my room whenever they arrive at school and get to walk past the patrols (which makes them the coolest kids ever). We chat about what they are learning in their classes, look at old photos, and read books. It's fairly unstructured, which means no extra planning for me. There is usually a core group of fourth through second graders who come weekly. They are usually joined by a few kids who decide that just for one morning they really need to hang out with their first grade teacher. I think we all have mornings like that.

I love these mornings. I get to catch up with my kids and hear about what they are learning. They show me their books for guided reading and I get teary eyed with amazement that they've come so far since first grade. It's a great reminder to me that I don't have to solve every kid's problems within the year. Sometimes kids learn at their own pace and it's the woven mixture of teachers that produce the final product, not one amazing year.

This year one of my visitors looked at me and said,
"In third grade my hopes and dreams are to listen to the teacher, because I don't think I've done that yet in school. Not for you, not for second grade, not ever."

It certainly was something we (as the teachers) worked on with her in first grade and something I heard they worked on in second grade. Now, in her 4th year of school, it's suddenly occurred to her to take ownership and put this as her working goal for the year. How grown-up she sounded telling me her plan to pay attention. "If someone is talking to me I'm going to say, 'please stop, I'm trying to listen' and then I'll move away from them"

I loved the realization that all those days filled with patience in first grade finally paid off, two years later.

My hopes and dreams do not need to be for success by the end of the year, but to be a step in the ladder of a child's whole learning career.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

runners

I have been a runner all my life. I ran cross country and track in high school and college and continue to run road races. I love running and all of the feelings that come with it. The freedom to let your mind wonder. The flying sensation of running faster than you thought your legs could go. The energy you gain from a quick jaunt around the park. Running can put you back in control of life, calm you down, ground you and energize you all at once.

So maybe I understand why I have two children who choose to sprint from the classroom occasionally. If I was in kindergarten and had a communication disorder, I'd probably find it freeing to take control of the situation and go sprinting for the door. If I had an emotional disorder I would probably relish the control I found from running. It would allow me to deal with my emotions while removing me from the crazy class that's really annoying me anyway. Not having the language to say, "Hey, you know, I don't like to read because it makes me feel stupid. This morning has been rough and I ALREADY feel kind of dumb so I'd prefer to take a pass today", running is just another method to cope with all that.

I can understand it, but I'm ready for it to stop.

Running cross country for 8 years left me with arthritis in one ankle at an early age. I can still run, but shouldn't go as far as frequently as I use to in college. Which means the occasional sprinting from the classroom after a kiddo isn't really good for my ankle. (Not to mention trying not to twist it while skipping over blocks and toys on the floor).

I've also had to start keeping another shirt at school in case of extended runs in the late August heat. I've given up wearing any shoes other than my running shoes, not wanting to risk sprinting in a pair of heels.

I've written social stories on how everyone has to walk in school. We read them over and over again. Some times I think they are working. Then suddenly, right when I least expect it, bam. We're out the door, into the hallway and up the stairs before I can leap over the small kindergarten tables (as well as small kindergartners) to catch up.

We have got to find other coping mechanisms.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

'special-ed gravy train'??

This week's City Paper has a feature on 'How to get your child a private education at a public-school price'. Basically it creates a step-by-step procedure through the IEP process which highlighting where "the fight begins" and which steps parents have power to can take control of the system.

At first I was horrified by the directions on "how to get your kid on the DCPS special-ed gravy train'. It seemed like a horrid way to cheat the government out of money intended for a community of children. Plus, it recommends using an advocate, something every special ed teacher is taught to shutter at. While the article is written with a 'how to manipulate the system' attitude, I started to think it actually had some good uses. It lays out parent/child rights in clear, easily understood terms, something the school system doesn't always do for parents. In a choose-your-own adventure format it visually shows the IEP process and exactly how far you can legally take it.

The IEP process can be intimidating and I imagine a lot of parents are not comfortable expressing their concerns to a table of professionals. Specifically those families who had terrible school experiences themselves or are not legally in the country are far more unlikely to question the system. I've been uncomfortable at some meetings when I worried we were taking advantage of the fact a parent was following Asian cultural norms, did not speak English, or was worried any arguments would lead to questions of legal status. (We would never intend to do this, but I fear sometimes it happens) Although these parents would be questioning me and the quality of my job, I would preferred them to have us prove our concerns. Even if the result of the IEP would be the same, parents could go home with a sense of confidence and understanding of their own child's education.

http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/cover/2007/a_special_education.pdf

The article is offensive, but is still a useful tool, even for parents who don't want to abuse the 'gravy train'. (This is easy for me to say not working at a school with over-zealous parents. I am sure there are schools whose lives have been made miserable by this article)

Friday, August 24, 2007

All I can say about today...

Is that my normal Friday treat of a tall espresso drink from Starbucks was not nearly enough caffeine. Even a jolt of soda at lunch didn't help me have enough energy to keep up with the kids.

i hate dr. jean

not really. I hate her in that way you hate your mother in high school. the 'you're making my life miserable right now but i know you're actually right' way.

dr. jean is actually brilliant. she sings basic concepts (abcs, days of the week, ect.) to catchy tunes to help the kids learn and remember them. it's great.

the problem is, they are very catchy. all i have heard in my head the last 2 weeks is 'a for apple, aaa b for boy, b, bbbbb' to the tune of the jeopardy theme song. i can't escape it. when i wake up in the morning. in the shower. in the car on the way to work. sometimes i think i'm actually going insane.

this morning i thought it had finally gone away, but alas, it was only to be replaced by the days of the week to the adams family theme song.

catchy. brilliant.

i hate her.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

new reading love

I worried that I would be leaving behind one of my favorite aspects of teaching when I switched to my new position in special ed. I LOVE read alouds. I love doing the voices for the characters and making my voice reflect the excitement and emotion of the books. Most of all I love the kids' genuine joy toward the literature. The giggles for Big Anthony's antics, the horror in their eyes when Lily insults her teacher, and the cheers when Mean Jean turns nice. Read alouds are an experience that build community and set a tone for the day. I was so worried that I'd be leaving behind these great events.

Now I'm still immersed in children's literature, but in a different way. It's no longer me performing for a group of six year olds. Now I'm sharing a book with one or two children. My bff loves certain books and I get to spend hours pouring over the pictures with him, repeating certain phrases, and giggling over the silly mouse's antics. We whisper every time we get to the bear's cave in Going on a Bear Hunt, and we pretend to sleep every time the mouse takes a nap. It's a delight to become so engrossed in a book with a child. It's a whole new literature experience.

Then there are the books I read to small groups for a reason. We had a rough morning so in afternoon group we read When Sophie Gets Really, Really Angry. Or if we want to talk about different emotions we read Today I Feel Silly. We become totally immersed in the literature. The books are guiding us, connecting us, and moving us toward understanding ourselves.

While I miss whole group read alouds I'm selfishly enjoying these new kid-led literature experiences.

measure success

This is a close answer to my previous post, which I found on teach to learn's blog.

I kind of think it's brilliant. :)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

question

would you rather have written an entire shelf of books at the public library like john grisham, or write one powerful book like harper lee?

Many truly great books like Toni Morrison, or again, one powerful, culture changing book like harper lee?

how do we measure success?

learning through play

The last few weeks I've spent a lot of time working with kids in kindergarten classrooms. Since so many of the kids have never been in school before, the teachers are doing a lot of slightly-structured free play. There's not too much direct instruction yet as kids get use to the manipulatives and routines of the classroom.

Everyday I love how much I'm able to do with the kids during free play. You don't need a strict lecture to teach colors, counting, or vocabulary. If the daily routines stay like they are I would still be able to meet each kid's needs by joining them in play and directing their attention to the 'academic' needs through their own interests. It makes me a believer in Montessori pre-schools. (Or in universal pre-school programs)

Of course, in the classrooms I'm working with I'm the 3rd teacher and I don't have to worry about the other children. I'm only focused on 5 kids at the most at one time, which makes it easy to teach numbers through playing with blocks.

The whole concept of learning through play fascinates me. How far can you take it? At what age is it no longer appropriate?

I know I learned a lot about baseball rules through playing Mario baseball on GameCube. I keep hoping they'll come up with a football version so I might actually start to understand the game. So maybe we all learn best through play...

mmm

there is something about the smell of the laminator greeting you on a rainy morning that really says welcome back to school.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

sunday night

It's Sunday night and I'm excited about the fact that I get to go to work tomorrow.

I find it almost eerie how much I enjoy my new job. I'm not even necessarily good at it.

Even after our fire alarm (not a drill) on Friday, which had me and my bff out in the heat singing dr. jean songs for way too long, I still came home energized and excited about the day.

I hope this lasts :) I truly believe finding a job you're excited to go to everyday is more important than the money you make there. (I can say that now without having kids to support).

inclusion?

I haven't decided what my final opinion is on this. It changes daily, depending on how the kids were that day, how the teachers were, and my own energy level.

We are a full-inclusion school, which is incredible. Last year the speech therapist even came into my room to work with the kids instead of pulling them out. Except for the children receiving reading recovery, very few students are ever 'pulled' at my school. Considering some of the significant needs a few children have, as well as our high English Language Learner population, this is really something we work hard to make work. In many ways it's incredible and contributes to the loving and accepting nature of our school community.

Is it always best for every child? As a classroom teacher I had a child who had previously been self-contained at another school. We watched him come in with one set of behaviors and slowly develop behaviors reflected in traditionally developing children. I also had a child with autism who fit in perfectly. I think my first graders would have been shocked if anyone had suggested there was something different about him.

Then there are the kids who sit in an inclusion classroom, but don't achieve. Is it really their least restrictive environment if they are too scared to open their mouths because they are embarrassed of their ability? Or if the teachers are only managing their behavior to make them fit, but never really contributing to their actually education. Learning how to interact with others is arguably the most important skill you learn in school, and is an essential life-skill for children with communication disorders like autism. Yet sometimes it feels like we're maintaining sanity instead of educating.

I have a few children this year who require separate hours in a special education setting. Although this is very rare at my school I have been allowed to continue to meet these IEP requirements. Their growth in 3 weeks has been amazing. I watch them come to our group and let themselves relax for the first time all day. Originally did not participate in their classroom, but in group we've been able to work on skills to give them confidence. As they became comfortable in a small setting they have slowly begun to apply those skills in the classroom.

The thing is, the subject of inclusion is never going to be black or white. Every child is different and there is no one right answer.

In my first few weeks as a special education teacher this question continues to pop into my head frequently. Is this the best way to serve my kiddos' needs? I am sure I will continue to debate it in my head. I'd love to hear your comments and thoughts.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

the trouble with education...

is every child is different. There is no right way or wrong way when it gets down to it, because every situation differs and no day is ever the same. All the theory in the world doesn't make up for good old instinct and the ability to read each child in the situation. And because of that we're never really sure (or at least I'm never really sure) if what we're doing is right or not.

Sometimes it would be nice to have a formula. If you do a, b, c and then multiply times d you'll equal the perfect lesson. The kiddo will learn AND will sit still and listen to you. If you're lazy you can skip c but then he'll only learn some of your lesson.

It doesn't work this way. You can do everything by the book and still have the kids fall apart. Your lesson can look perfect and the kids can learn nothing. Your lesson can look like a disaster but actually be successful. And sometimes there is no way to know how it's going to turn out.

When you do the 'right' thing, how do you know? Most of the time there is no one there saying, 'wow, that was great'. We get credit for when things look good on the outside, or when test scores are high. The rest of the time you ask yourself, 'if this looks ridiculous but gets results, is it worth it?'

How do you prevent a tantrum? Make a kid pee in the toilet and not the floor? We all have techniques for these and most of us can give advice like we're Dr. Phil, but it doesn't always apply to every child every time even though we act like it should.

Do we need perfection? What would perfection in the classroom look like? When is it ok to say, 'you know what, that was far from perfect, but that is ok'?

little things

What a day

1 first grade tantrum
2 kindergarten tantrums
1 run away child
1 bathroom accident that needed cleaning
1 fender-bender during kiss-and-ride duty when I was directing traffic

But,

"Mrs. Lipstick, I think your bff is doing a great job today." a kindergartner told me.
"Thanks. That's nice of you to notice"
"Mrs. Lipstick?"
"Yes?"
"I think you do a good job with your bff".


And somehow that makes everything else ok.

Monday, August 13, 2007

to give a mouse...

If you give a mouse a cookie he'll want a glass of milk to go with it. When you give him the milk, he'll probably ask for a straw.


This is my new best friend's favorite book. My new bff is the kiddo on my caseload I spend the most time with. He's a great little guy and I love working with him.

I have read If You Give a Mouse a Cookie at least 50 times since the first day of school. Two-three times a day, every school day. I have it memorized. I could even describe the pictures to you perfectly, giving full detail of all the things the little boy pulls out of the cabinet. I know because we go through each object. "Is that a cookie? Noooo. Is that a cookie? Noooo."

Now that I've become very familiar with the book I find myself writing my own version in my head while I work to keep my kiddos on task.

...If you give a kindergartner a book he'll want you to read it to him. When you open it to read it he'll remember his other favorite book in the classroom library. When he walks to the bookshelf he'll see a pillow and remember that he's tired. He'll lay down to sleep and see his friend's spiderman shoes. Thinking of shoes will remind him that he has shoe laces. He'll want to untie his laces and will want you to tie them. When you tie them he'll want to walk quickly in his shoes. Walking quickly will remind him of recess and he'll want to go outside and play. When you say 'not right now' he'll remember he misses his mom. He'll start to cry and to distract him you'll want to him. And if you're going to read to him, you'll want to get him the book.

previous post

When re-reading my previous post I realized it might not have made much sense. This is because:
1) It was Friday
2) It was the Friday of the 2nd week of school
3) It was too hot to go out to recess all week
4) The kindergartners seemed to have collectively gone crazy.

I apologize for my lack of detail and detached sentence structure. It's kind of like going back and looking at primary documents. Posting at the end of the day reflects the true state of mind.

Friday, August 10, 2007

protesters

After 2 weeks of school the kindergartners at my school seem to have gotten together and collectively decided to boycott school. They seem to see through the whole 'sitting quietly, playing nicely, sharing, waiting in line' thing. Home is much more fun, less rules, more toys, no lines. One looked at me and said, "Oh my. Long day today." It was 9am.

You can't blame them, but it does make for a rather hectic Friday.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

"Mrs. Lipstick, when did you get pretty?"

"Mrs. Lipstick, when did you get pretty?" a kindergartner exclaimed tonight when she saw me at back-to-school night. I'd seen her a mere 3 hours earlier.

Who knew my back-to-school night change of clothes had could alter my appearance so much?

Back To School Night '07

Whew! I've been joking all week about how wonderful back to school night will be now that I don't have my own classroom and don't have to present to parents. God must have started laughing at me Monday and decided to have me regret that joke. There were moments tonight I wished I was presenting. Instead I was running up and down the first grade hallway trying to convince the many, many kids in the hallway that they shouldn't be yelling because their mommies and daddies were inside their classroom trying to listen to their teacher. I've been the teacher trying to present so I know that those kids in the hallway are so loud your parents can barely hear you. They nod and smile like they understand because they don't want to go into the hallway and get their screaming child.

All the specialist and non-classroom teachers are stationed around the school trying to babysit the kiddos who weren't suppose to come to school that night. One of my co-workers ended up carrying around a two year old who didn't seem to belong to any adult. He held her until her diaper leaked onto his arm, at which point he started trying to find other adults to take her so he could go clean his arm.

I was even excited to dress up for the first time all year and so I was wearing nice tall heels that I can't wear during the day. Silly me didn't think that I'd be spending the night running up and down in my steve maddens, stopping kids from wondering into classrooms, throwing crayons, and playing mercy.

One of the best things about year-round schooling is that we get Back to School Night out of the way in August. Those of you in regular schooling, have fun :) I'm finished until '08.

Friday, August 3, 2007

homicide

One of my kiddos ran out of the classroom today and refused to come back. He was crawling around on the floor of the hallway, following an ant. I tried my best to remove the ant and put it outside, not wanting to hurt the little guy in front of my first grader. This didn't really work and only amused my kiddo.
So then I threatened homicide.

"If you don't go back inside and sit on the rug I'll have to step on the ant because he is distracting you"

It was out before I realized what I was saying. Translated, I basically said, 'Kid, the fate of the ant is in your hands. Much like your being controlled by the mob, you can choose to obey, or the ant dies.'

Luckily he went inside and I didn't have to follow through on my words and crush the poor ant.

It was Friday, we were all tired. Next time I'll try not to threaten homicide.

change

My first week in my new job is over. And I'm ecstatically happy. It's not that the job is easier than my old position by any means, but there is something about this new challenge that I'm loving. Everyday this week I've woken up excited to go to work, and at the end of the day I find myself looking forward to the next day. I've spent the week making loads of mistakes, but I've had enough successes to make me excited to try and fix my mistakes the next day. I've clearly got a lot to learn and I'm oddly excited about it.

Last year I wondered whether or not I would should even go back into the world of education. I was burning out and not even enjoying the kids anymore. I don't think I realized exactly how much until today when I listened to a kindergartner's joy in listening to a story. This week I've felt that love for the children that I'd lost last year.

I want to remember this positive change and hope that I never get stuck in a rut. I would have been a terrible classroom teacher if I'd gone back into the classroom this year. I just didn't have it in me. Things would have been fine, but not good. I wouldn't have been satisfied with good, but wouldn't have had the energy to make it good.

I hope I'll always be willing to take the risk of a new job.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

out-of-life message

At the end of the day I was standing in the first grade hallway with my co-workers going over the ins and outs of the day. One of my co-workers laughed and said, "My poor husband. I go home and don't want to talk. I don't want to be playful and joke. I want to watch tv and be alone."
I felt an instant wave of relief. I'm not the only evil, terrible wife who is a completely moody, unresponsive and quiet person lately. Suddenly everyone began talking about how we all were having similar experiences. We manage to hold it together during the school day, keeping ourselves in check, not showing emotion, stating ridiculous statements with a complete sense of calm. "We use our feet for walking, not for kicking." "Scissors are for cutting paper, not for cutting hair. Show me how to use the scissors like a first grader. No? OK, today you may not use the scissors. You may try again tomorrow. I'm sorry you hate me for taking away the scissors. I love you very much."
By the time we get home we can't possible hold it in any longer. Some wives mentioned yelling for no reason, taking their frustration out on their husbands. Others mentioned locking themselves in a room for "me time". It wont last forever, just in the beginning of the school year. Soon the kids will know how to push in chairs, line up, hold scissors, and how to raise their hands (even if they forget sometimes). Soon the parents will stop reminding you how to blow their child's nose (we hope) . Soon we'll go home with as much energy as we use during the day.
My husband has been wonderful. On Tuesday I sent a text message that read "Pls cook me dinner. Am tired." Wed. we had friends over for dinner and he cooked and hosted while I lay tranquilized on the couch, hoping my friends wouldn't notice I've forgotten how to have adult conversations. Still, I feel guilty. Someone can only be fantastic for so long without wanting his real wife back. I don't know how people do this job when they have children. You are my heroes.

I've always wanted to post an automatic email reply during the month of August just to warn people that it's my one month of being socially unavailable.
"I am currently beginning the school year and am away from my life right now. I am unable to attend to social obligations unless you are six. I will be back at the end of August and look forward to seeing you then."

A think tank focused on creative solutions for future problem solvers -tree