Wednesday, December 31, 2008

a running record on myself

i decided about a month ago that i needed to improve my spanish to communicate with my kiddos and their families, and that a fun way to do so would be to pick up a children's novel i already know well and read it in spanish.

so, over thanksgiving i found a copy of harry potter y la piedra filosofal. over a month later i'm on page 77, right about where harry is buying his varita (wand- i think) and ollivander, the wand salesman, is explaining to him that you do not choose your wand, your wand chooses you.

i'm enjoying sitting down every once and awhile with a cup of tea and my spanish harry potter book, although i don't think it is helping my spanish that much at all. i started spanish in eighth grade and took it all the way through freshman year in college. that sounds like a long time- sounds like i should be fluent. i'm not. i'm horrible at it. i was blessed my last required semester of spanish in college with a professor who was only still with us through the magic of tenure. he'd had multiple strokes and couldn't remember our names very well. more importantly, (for me) there were only 3 girls in the class and we all had double first names (i went to a very southern school). he could not possibly remember the combinations of our names. as long as i didn't make eye contact with him when he'd call half of my name mixed with half of another girl's name i never had to participate. since i didn't look up the other girl would be forced to answer (she was better at spanish anyway). he didn't have participation grades for me, but since participation was only done by him calling on us, he couldn't fault me for it. i burned my spanish text books after my last semester and vowed to never do anything that would require me to use the language again. of course, i then found a job where if i knew it, i could use it every day. i realize now i should have tried harder.

reading the book in spanish is more like doing a brain puzzle than a relaxing read. my brain is working far harder to interpret the pages than it does when i sit and read for fun (even harder than when i actually do my reading for grad school).

what it has done is make me very aware of what my brain does when i read, which of course makes me think of my beginning readers who are also struggling with a text in another language. it's made me think a lot about the beginning reading process, what is important for me to be able to read the text, and what is important for our kids to have support with a text.
i've got the schema for the text so my book choice was spot on. i could retell the story of harry potter without reading it since i've read it so many times in the past. i can give you a general update on each page since i'm so familiar with the story. so it's really my schema that's getting me through all of this.
(for those of you not familiar with how we teach reading at my school we teach the children to activate their schema- use what they know and think about what makes sense as a reading strategy). through this experiment i've learned that this is my number one reading strategy.
when we teach reading we look to see if the children are using msv, or meaning, structure, visual in their reading. whichever they are not using is what we learn we need to teach more of to make them a better reader. meaning is using the picture, thinking about what makes sense, thinking about the bigger story in general. clearly i'm awesome at this.
structure is how it sounds in the language. does it sound right? are the verb tenses correct? needless to say i have a very limited knowledge of what an accurate, fluent spanish language sounds like, so i cannot rely on this very much at all. just like our students, i'm sure if i was reading this out loud i wouldn't re-read to make sure my tenses were in order.
the visual strategy is the phonics part- how the reader decodes the words on the page. i'm also not very good at this, but it certainly helps that i'm reading a language with a similar alphabet. and i am checking for parts of the words i know- just like we teach our early readers. if i was going to prescribe the next step in my spanish reading education i would decide that i need to work on spanish phonics, and, of course, my vocabulary. (those basic, simple high frequency words that i just don't know).

this experiment is building my sympathy for my readers. i'm amazed at how much they don't struggle with a text when we're teaching them to read in a language they don't really know. it's also shown me the importance of book choice. if i had choosen any other book i'd be drowning. i'd have no interest and i sure wouldn't be on page 77. i'd be on page- opps, did i leave that book in the coffee shop? i certainly didn't mean to do that... experiment over.

instead i'm interested enough in the book to keep going, although i spend a lot of time inferring vocabulary and re-reading for meaning. as i read i feel as though i am doing a running record on myself, i can see myself checking off the words, coding my mistakes, putting notes in the margins of what i am doing wrong. as i continue to read it will be interesting to see if it allows me any more insight into the world of a struggling reader, or if it just continues to give me sympathy.

Monday, December 22, 2008

don't hide your light

my bff came to school today with brand new sketchers that light up when you stomp your feet. and not just a little bit of light like most five year olds have. no, sketchers (because he only wears sketchers- he is very brand conscious) have outdone themselves with the lights in their '911' pair. blue and red lights flashing all over the shoe. for a typically-developing first grader this would be exciting. for my bff who has high-functioning autism, this is a reason to become completely immersed in your shoes for extended periods of time.

then the lights went out for last hour of the day. my bff immediately met this with horror until he realized that he had lights on his shoes. he could save the day. so the last hour was spent with him stomping his feet and saying, "don't worry! i'll give you my light!"

i love that his classmates are so understanding they don't even blink at these sorts of illogical announcements.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


we spent saturday at my parents' house. my mother's school district is now out for the holidays (we have two more days) and so we helped her unload her car of her teacher presents. she and i teach at schools with very different socio-economic populations, which is reflected every year in our teacher presents. she had so many gifts we had to make multiple trips to the car to get all of the bags. at my school, that's not usually what you expect. classic gifts i've received have included a (used) curling iron. a few years ago i started turning the smaller, more endearing gifts into christmas ornaments. now my tree is decorated with small tokens of love from former students (and decorating the tree involves my poor husband listening to me reminisce about each student.)

this icon was from possibly the sweetest little boy i've ever taught. he gave it to me so i could match him. i believe it is the virgin mary. he wore it every day around his neck. his baby teeth were black from his years in bolivia but his smile could warm your heart. he left our school a few years ago and i don't know what happened to him. but i still hang his necklace with love.

this necklace was an end-of-year present from a little girl. it is handmade on plastic twine. she had her dad use his cigarette lighter to burn the string since they did not have scissors.

these shoes are from a little one who left our school for the gifted and talented center. she proudly gave me these tiny tokens on teacher appreciation day. she drove me crazy because she was always telling me her parents had lied on her forms when she came into america and she was actually older than seven, the year i had on record. any time age came up she'd argue with me about it. looking back at her height, maturity, and work habits, she probably was two years older than we were told.
this fan is from one of my former students who is now one of my jumpers. she brought it to me after her family travelled to vietnam one summer. i had no idea what to do with it (it's actually scented to help you fall asleep on hot nights) but i feel it adds an international flare to the christmas tree.

this little one has gone back to her country, argentina, but she presented this to me with pride one christmas. i was to hang it on my rear view mirror in my car so i could be exactly like her daddy.
this was a necklace, and while it is beautiful, it isn't quite my style. but doesn't it capture the light of the tree nicely? it's a gift from the little one who threw up on my feet one year. memories.

these handmade ornaments came from a little one from sri lanka. she was in my room the year of the tsunami. she desperately wanted to organize some way to help the victims back in her country, although she didn't know where to begin since she was only six. she made posters on her own and asked me if she could put them up in our classroom. she was one of four beautiful girls, all with long, dark hair,which was frequently infected with lice. however, she loved to toss her flowing hair constantly while she talked and we'd always be dodging her head as we sat in guided reading. she gave me many of these homemade ornaments and hung them all over our classroom, even though she was hindu. she returned to sri lanka a few years later, but promised that she'd come back when she was a teenager so she could learn to drive like an american.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

down and out

one of my kiddos looked just a bit off this morning. "hows it going?" i asked in my most cheerful-pull-a-kindergartner-out-of-being-a-grump voice.

"i don't feel so good" he said (which is the most articulate i've ever heard him be)

"and i hate christmas!"

"why do you hate christmas?"

"because, every year i ask santa clause to come, and every year he doesn't. my mom says he'll come one year, but i don't know when."

what do you say to that? for most of the kids christmas is an incredible time, but to think that santa skips you... one of my kiddos from last year told me that santa was too busy for him. it's heartbreaking to imagine a child thinking that this magical man skips just them but goes to all the other children. :(

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

my brilliant coworker, with her genius idea

splatypus over at kindergartenchaos sent me an article on charter schools yesterday (Charter Schools Make Gains On TestsHeadway by Poor Children Linked To Rigorous Methods, Ample Funds
By Dan Keating and Theola Labbé-DeBoseWashington Post Staff Writers,)

once i was finished ranting she pointed out why she'd sent it to me, "why doesn't someone compare our school with the high performing charter schools? even though we're public we still do a lot of what makes them (and us) successful."

excellent point. why do only charter schools get to be successful? come see us and see what makes us successful. how we, as a public school, are able to raise test scores.

sometimes it seems nobody wants to point to the public schools that are working... it's a lot more fun and controversial to point to the schools that aren't.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

the world, as seen from sitting criss-cross-applesauce

i'm sitting criss-cross-applesauce on the rug behind abby, a little girl who just joined one of my classes. she's an ethiopian refugee who came to us a few weeks ago speaking no english. she's wearing zack morris style pants- white wash denim with elastic cuffs. but instead of hugging her ankles they stop at her calves, even though it's about 40 degrees outside. her pink socks are tucked away in her red hand-me-down little boy sneakers with the rubber soles starting to peel away from the top of the shoe. her hair is in two neat pigtail braids but i can see silver strands of hair poking their way around her head. what makes a first grader begin to go grey?
she bounces up to the board to point to a letter s at the end of a word. she can't speak english but she follows the lesson about the ending of words and after watching her peers she knows what to do. she's beaming with pride.

i can't help watching her and feeling a sense of hope for life itself. every time you turn on the radio these days you hear about another 300 people losing their jobs right before christmas. you hear about your stock portfolio crashing in on itself, the value of your home declining, and how nobody is sure what's about to happen to our country. it's unsettling at a time of year that we're use to being filled with unbridled consumerism.

yet i watch abby, whose family did not just lose their house and their jobs- they lost their country. they lost their friends and their grandparents, and everything they knew. they lost the comfort of speaking being surrounded by a language they understood. they experienced something that made their first grader's hair begin to turn silver.

but abby is glowing just to be in school even in her zack morrison pants surrounded by a language she really doesn't understand. watching her fills you with a sense of relief, comfort, and hope.

all this that's going on right now, it sucks, and it's scary, and we don't know what will happen. but we're going to be ok. we will survive. it may be with out of style clothing, but we'll get there. the world- and our lives in the world, are bigger than all of this.

Friday, December 12, 2008

baby fever

my bff has been wanting a baby in his house for a long time. a few months ago he told me his mom was having a baby and we believed him until i checked with mom and found out that this was not the case.
"oh no!" she said, "he wants one so badly but we can't afford it right now. maybe next year." from the look on her face i could tell she felt the same way my bff did.

i hadn't heard the baby-stuff for awhile but today it came back. we were taking a walk to calm down on this december friday and so i let him hold a small bear from my desk. he immediately began cradling it like a baby and talking to it.

"i love you baby bear!" he said. when we stopped to talk to someone in the hallway he turned the bottom of my shirt into the baby's cradle and had me keep the baby there while he cooed over it. i finally got him to hold the baby himself, since he was starting to tell me that the baby was hungry for milk. he waited until we were in the clinic and then the baby went up his shirt.
and poof. he gave birth, right there in the clinic.

we walked back to class as he snuggled his baby, kissed its nose, and sung christmas carols to it. every female teacher we saw in the hallway (and even those alone in their classrooms) were given the baby to hold in their shirts.

this was cute and endearing. then...

we'd gone upstairs to do writing workshop and were passing a class of second graders. he stuffed the bear up his shirt and then stood spread-eagle style and started moaning. "oh, oh, oh, oh, oh" shaking, as the bear fell out.
"my baby!" he cried with pure, excited joy (the kid will one day win an oscar).
i distracted him as quickly as i could, but it just wasn't fast enough.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

"so, class, what do you know about police?"

today our local police officer is talking to the kindergarteners. as we were getting the children ready for the assembly we asked them what a police officer did. one of my little ones began chatting away about beers.

as they lined up to go he said, "mrs. lipstick, i know about police officers. they put you in jail if you drink too much beers. just like my daddy. he drank too much beers and so they put him in jail. and my mom was so mad. she said, 'i don't want to sleep in the room with you!' so he had to sleep on the, on the, what do you say, in the sala?"

"on the couch in the living room?"

"yeah, that. so my dad had to sleep on the couch until he stopped drinking beers. but he really likes beers. and when he drank beers his truck smelled like so many beers. and my mom went to the jail and said, 'get outta that jail!' and my uncle came from new york city and said, 'STOP DRINKING THOSE BEERS!'. my dad likes beers. i really missed him when he was in jail. there were three of them there, my uncle, another guy, and my dad. but only my dad went to jail. they put the handcuffs on him. did you know that the security officers can look like police men?
has that ever happened to you? that's my story. tell me your story."

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

wandering eyes and common sense

we're currently in the middle of giving a spelling assessment to our first grade classes to see where they stand on their knowledge of the 100 high frequency words first graders should know by the end of the year. this is typically a fairly painful. we quiz the students on 25 words a day, which doesn't sound bad, but since they are only expected to know half of the words we're asking them to spell words they haven't learned yet.

this doesn't phase some children, like the little one on my case load who wanted to high five after each and every word even when she just wrote the letter 'b' for the word because. but no matter how many times we explain they are not suppose to know all these words there are always some children who become overwhelmed by the idea of getting some of them wrong.

i sat beside one of my kiddos to help her track the test or to scribe for her since sometimes her handwriting gets in the way of us realizing she knows how to spell a word. as i helped her track i noticed the boy beside her starting at her paper and then frantically scribbling on his own paper.

seriously? he sits between her and the smartest girl in the class. if he is going to choose to copy one of them and he chooses my friend, well... that tell us more about him than the results of the spelling test will. i let him keep going for a few words and then gave him the evil eye.

at the end his paper matched hers for the most part. although he probably could spell the words like he, mother, make, my and here, he had instead decided that my little one, who was writing with crazy confidence clearly knew the words better than he did. so like her, he wrote m4 for my. except that i know her 4s equal ys, for him, it just looks like m4.

perhaps it's not the cheating that bothers me as much as the fact he didn't check to see if his friend's answers could possibly be correct or not. he had a chance to make this a multiple choice test with only two answers. for the word make- is it spelled make or km? now, he knows the word make starts with /m/, so one would think he could choose the right answer. apparently not.

at least we have 2 more years to teach him test taking strategies before he takes state standardized testing.

goodness gracious.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

an excuse for me to talk about my trip to greece...

one of the professors who led my study abroad in greece (imagine 6 weeks being led through greece by a classics professor, a byzantine art professor, a philosophy professor and a woman who worked at the met- pure intellectual heaven) just published a new book.

on our trip we all adored this man and could listen to him lecture forever as we strolled through the very streets of the acropolis socrates himself strolled.

he mentions in the article that one of his biggest problems teaching western philosophy in asia was the cultural difference in approaching teachers:

I would try to run my class like I would here at W&L,” he says, “where we have a good exchange and bright students raise sizzling questions. That’s what keeps us alive. Not so in the East. The problem, which I had discovered earlier when teaching in Hong Kong, is that students in the East won’t talk. They see asking the teacher a question as an insult because it means the teacher hasn’t been clear. And while I did sometimes get the beginning of a hesitant question from the monks, they were very much like my students in Hong Kong.”

we have to take the same cultural consideration in our elementary school classrooms. this is something many of us struggle with in our multi-cultured classrooms. some children talk all the time and some don't talk at all. it is interesting to hear about the challenge from a college-level perspective.

my greatest fear

my greatest fear as a teacher had been, until yesterday, being approached by parents about why i had called child protective services about them. until yesterday i'd never had that happen. i'd had one student tell me, for his mother, that i needed to mind my own business. i've had another parent accuse me of getting his car repossessed because i called cps (which i didn't do so i'm not sure how he decided that his car being repossessed= his child's teacher calling cps). that was a fun one.
but i'd never actually been approached by a parent who wanted to know why i called cps. for some reason the idea of this terrified me. it's suppose to be confidential, but what would you do if a parent came in, angry and upset? i'm a terrible liar.

and then, on monday, it happened. my stomach dropped when he appeared in the doorway. it happened so fast there wasn't time to call an administrator or even get out the words "i don't know what you're talking about"

and it wasn't as horrible as i thought it would be. it wasn't attacking, it wasn't accusing, it was just concern, wanting someone to listen, wanting to let us know he cared. by the end i think my coteacher and i felt like it was good that we'd called cps, but also really good that the parent cared enough to come talk to us. it's a loving family who cares about their children and is willing to accept advice from the outside. i think in the end the children are safer and we're more on the same page with the parent. i still don't know if i ever want to have that conversation again. i need to work on my poker face.

Monday, December 8, 2008

bathroom, yes or no?

today, in the middle of a read aloud, my bff looked at me and asked,

mrs lipstick, did you use the bathroom?

did you pee? yes or no?

do you need to pee? yes or no?

did you use the bathroom!!

i think he was reflecting on a conversation he's had previously at home, but i was a tad embarrassed it was directed toward me. luckly i don't think any of the kids heard.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

2 more points for our calendar. and then i'll be off my soap box (for now)

- It is possible to save a lot of money by cutting the intersession program but keeping our calendar.

-If we keep the intersession program we could use it to meet the Federal Mandate of Response to Intervention which was added to IDEA in 2004. This could be a low cost way of implementing this program that counties across the country are struggling with because the money for RTI is not suppose to come from the special education budget.

if you work at my school...

I'm putting my letters to the school board members in the mail today. If you are interested in getting names and addresses of our school board representatives let me know. I'm also happy to send you what I wrote and the talking points I used to point out why year-round calendar benefits our kids. I just focused on the calendar itself and not the benefits of intersession, which of course, is huge, and you could write about forever.

Things you could include in the letter:

-Our kids have less time over the summer to forget what we taught them. We don't have to spend the first month of school completely reteaching everything.

-Our kids don't have the entire summer to be away from English speakers, academic vocabulary, and school-related activities.

-Our families can travel during our breaks to go back to their countries instead of leaving during the academic year.

-We have more time to reflect on certain kids during our intersession breaks. It makes us better teachers and reduced our stress level.

-Our families are very stressed right now with the economy. Being away from school the entire summer would put our kids in unhealthy situations at home.

-We have to get everyone to pass the SOLs by 2014. Since this is statistically impossible we are currently doing pretty well making AYP. We have to work magic, and our calendar is helping us do that. The full summer break could really hurt our children's academic retention, which would impact test scores. (Ok, if you write about this maybe don't mention the statistically impossible part... forgive my bitterness).

Anything else?? Anything you disagree with?

The other schools have parents writing letters for their concerns, but so few of our parents even know what the county is currently discussing. They don't have the resources to be heard, but we do. Write! Write! Write!

getting specific

when i entered my afternoon classroom yesterday my bff was sitting in the thinking spot (time-out with encouraged reflection). his teacher explained that she caught him pummelling his fists into his friend in line.

i took him into the hallway with the social story i'd written a few weeks ago about not hurting our friends. the minute we sat down he said, "hey! i love that book! but i didn't put my hands around his neck! i just really hit him a lot"

social story worked- he didn't put his hands around his friend's neck. next time i need to make a much longer list of specific actions he may not do.

we added pummelling fists into a friend to things that will make his friends sad.

"ok!" he said happily and was ready to re-join the group.

i'm clearly still learning how to adjust my logic for high functioning autism.

Friday, December 5, 2008

deep, deep depression with a hint of an immature tantrum

Our county is going through severe budget cuts at the moment and it looks as though we are about to lose our year-round school program. I am devastated. We all are. Along with losing our calendar other changes across the county will be that our class sizes will go up, they are going to cut the funding for supplies, cut positions, increase our case loads, and not give us our cost of living pay increase.
To be honest, when given a choice, I'll live with all the other changes, including keeping the same salary to be able to keep our year round program.

I'm working on writing letters to the school board listing the reasons they should keep us as year round. It feels futile and I fear I sound whiny.

Truthfully, part of me IS whiny. I want to throw a kindergarten tantrum, kick my legs, yell, pout, sit down and refuse to move. And of course, I am whiny because of what I wont say in my letter-

What am I going to do with that long summer break? I'll go out of my mind! (Not to mention what the kids will do- their parents can't afford summer camps and fun day programs). I'll have to get a summer job- like at a book store with college kids home for the summer. I don't want to have the whole summer off. I want to teach!!
And we'll have to teach through October. October. The most glorious month to have a 2 week break. The crisp autumn air, the tourist have left the city, plane tickets are lower, and we've worked hard for about 12 weeks. October is a great time to relax, reflect on our kiddos, and come back refreshed for the craziness that is November and December.

We're all walking around in shock. It's happened so fast and I don't think our families even realize the county is discussing it. I don't know if we even have a plan to deal with how to tell our families.

I feel like walking around kicking the ground with my hands in my pockets for awhile. This sucks.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

respect, anger, frustration- warning- rant

When I read Time Magazine's piece on Michelle Rhee my stomach tightened, I had trouble breathing, and I found myself wondering exactly how long I'll stay in teaching. If this is where the country is headed- if this is going to be our philosophy on education, I'm not sure I can stay in the field.

It took me a bit to put my finger on exactly what bothered me about the article. Outraged at some of her comments on teachers wasting their time on morning meetings I wanted to scream at her about research-based teaching strategies that are proven to work. I wanted to yell about how she doesn't even understand what good, proven teaching is and that she is going to ruin us.

But I realized that all of those little comments reflect what bothers me the most- her attitude toward teachers and the teaching profession. She gives no respect to teachers- and is proud of it. She talks about teachers as though we got into the profession for a cushy job and put no thought into the welfare of our kids. I'm sure when the district messes up the payroll and teachers go yet another month without pay, while working in a building that's falling apart, for a boss who doesn't know anything about the job he or she is overseeing, they are in their career because they are lazy. Or just "nice" as she describes them, as though the word disgusts her.

I know there are bad teachers in DC. Yet so little is in place to make good teachers- and Rhee doesn't seem to be planning on making it better. My own principal has commented that she can make anyone a good teacher- and I believe that. If you work at my school you are given support, guidance, coaching, advice, and the materials you need to do your job. You will work hard, you have to be willing to learn, but you will grow every day to become a better teacher. We have a structure in place to do that- and most of that comes from the respect and trust my principal gives to our staff.

I believe it should be as hard to be a teacher as it is to be a doctor. Yet we need many teachers and the only way to recruit masses of new ones year after year is to either lower standards or to make the job more attractive. Since one of these is more expensive in the short term, well, we know what has happened.

No one is going to read the Time article about Rhee and think, "wow, I really want to be a teacher!" Nothing she says makes anyone want to give up the prospects of a high paying job to go work in the trenches with no respect (I myself found myself thinking about law school once again). She makes those who teach sound like bumbling idiots. Who wants to sign up to be put into that category?

Rhee's off-handed comments about what she sees in her schools (which she mocks in the article) show her lack of knowledge and respect for the profession. Her comment about morning meeting really struck home. We do not do morning meetings for fun. We do not do them because, hey, this is a great way to waste instructional time. Morning meetings are a proven strategy to build community in a classroom, which then encourages children to take academic risks (like, you know, trying to read when they are scared to fail). This strategy is based on developmental psychology and has been studied in depth by many educators. It is a particularly important strategy for students coming from low income families. It allows them to feel safe in school, breaks down barriers, teaches cultural norms, sets high expectations, and allows children a transition time between their chaotic home life and school. Without morning meetings classes are more likely to have behavior problems throughout the day and have students not as engaged in their lessons. Yet Rhee, who does not have a background in education, does not seem to have taken the time to learn the meaning of this method. She walked into a classroom- saw what appeared to be students sitting around "not learning" (they always are- we embed curriculum like crazy in those meetings- I could always give you my SOLs for each meeting) and assumed the teacher was being incompetent.

Another of Rhee's comments was that good teachers are "in a hurry". The educational term is pacing- (Fundamentals of Education 101- if she'd taken an education course). Good pacing is essential to good teaching. It is moving quickly, not leaving any down time, using every opportunity for learning. Yet it is also knowing your children, responding to their needs and altering your instruction based on your on the spot assessments. Teachers who are "in a hurry" rarely take the time to access, re-teach, and re-evaluate. Teachers with good pacing know where they are, move quickly, and aren't afraid to move backward if needed. Rhee probably observed good pacing, yet not knowing what it was now will have all DC teachers wanting to look like they are in a hurry. Not exactly what DC needs.

I had a lot of respect for Rhee, or at least, some respect, before the article. I even wondered if I'd want to teach in DCPS when I decide I'm ready for another challenge. Yet I cannot imagine working under someone so far removed from the reality of day to day, and who has no intention of learning about it.

I would love to see Rhee come visit us. Our school is not far from the district and our population is perhaps even more in need than many DC schools. (My cousin/roommate did TFA in the district for years and was always shocked that my kids seemed so much needier than hers). Rhee should see how my county and my principal nurture teachers, embraces families, and promote good, reflective teaching. I'd be happy to show her our test scores and how we've improved as a school. I'd be happy to talk to her about what makes us dedicated teachers, and what makes us end a lesson and immediately wonder what we could have done better. I really believe that if DC wants to make improvements they need to observe school systems like mine and those around us who are, for the most part, doing this education thing right.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

butta woman

about two weeks ago at our first grade planning day we decided that it would be fun to have a thanksgiving switch day where the classes rotate between all the teachers to do different holiday-themed activities. we do this every year. and every year when it's over, we wonder if we'll ever do it again. we may have agreed to this only because we planned this on a planning day when we gorging ourselves on sugar and relaxing among ourselves.

regardless, i suckered my fabulous co-teacher and another great team member into agreeing to "make" butter. this is one of my all-time favorite activities to do with first graders. i love asking them where butter comes from. you get all kinds of answers- corn, bee hive, trees, the ground, horses- were some of today's.

then you get to watch their amazed faces as you turn a liquid into a solid before their very eyes. and then they get to eat the ridiculously thick and creamy heavy whipping cream.

the entire first grade rotated through our butter station today (i am exhausted). at lunch and at the end of the day as i walked down the hallway i heard children call out 'look, it's the butta woman'.

problem solving

last night my husband returned home to find me yet again ranting about parents who hit their children with belts. he entered the house and i turned from cooking dinner to waving my cooking spoon in the air and shouting. the cat, who had been happily sitting at my feet by the stove, ran off and cowered in fear under the living room chair.

after listening for a bit and trying to keep an amused smile off his face (i imagine i really did look like a crazy person) he had a suggestion.

"has it ever occurred to you?" he asked, "that perhaps the solution is for you and your fabulous co-teacher to break into their houses at night and just steal all their belts?"

while this justified being whacked in the head with a kitchen spoon, i've been smiling all night and all morning from the image of me and my co-teacher dressed in black, scaling the side of the brick apartment buildings, stealing all their belts like the grinch stole stockings on christmas eve. avengers of the children. perhaps my husband is on to something. i mean, my co-teacher and i are awesome.

Friday, November 21, 2008

the perfect storm

today was pure chaos, no organization about it.

picture this: friday after an already long week. the first week it's been so cold the kids can't go play outside. a week that brought the first snow flurries of the season. a week that began with three days of substitutes in one of my classes. it's pajama day, our principal is out of the building and we have two different sets of visitors at our school. the last 3 days children have lined the hallway in the office. i personally have been behaving like ms. viola swamp. teachers and children are cranky. construction workers have decided today will be a great day to work in the first grade hallway.

and so it began.

time, 7:40- setting, book club for my old students:
my smart cookie and her sister went into great detail about how they chase each other with old pet needles at their house. this disturbing conversation was followed by "hey, mrs. lipstick, you know, our mom is a pet sitter. she could totally watch your cat over thanksgiving"
yeah. no.

time, 8:10, setting, hallway:
my co-teacher and i were chatting about a lesson for today when we heard quite the scuffle out in the hallway as the kids began descending on our wing. an investigation showed that the contractors who had been working in our hallway that morning decided not to put away their ladders or remove the large wires hanging from the ceiling as the kids came barreling down the hallway. we spent the next 10 minutes body blocking kindergartners from swinging on the wires or climbing up the ladders while the construction workers merrily went about their business. this thrilled my bff who took one look at the ladders and wires in the hallway and turned right back around saying, "OH NO" as he ran the other way. i should have followed his lead and gone home right then.

you'd think they'd quickly finish up and leave but when i returned back to the hallway after a meeting i found their tools sitting out, unattended.
tools as in saws.
which they left unattended.
in a first grade/kindergarten hallway.
i kindly explained to them that 6 year olds really like shiny things. and 6 year olds can't see something without first touching it and then waving it in the air. this image of six year olds out of control with saws didn't seem to bother the construction workers as much as it bothered me. i later heard many people from our office yelling at them yet this still didn't change the fact that they'd leave for extended periods of time with multiple saws just sitting in our hallway.

time, 12:30, setting, first grade literacy block:
after reading groups i looked up just in time to catch one of my kiddos attacking the other with a marker. off to the thinking spot with her- where she promptly lay down and kicked her feet back in the air like she was at home watching tv. my co-teacher went over to talk to her and sent her back to the carpet. yet halfway to the carpet the little one changed her mind about following directions and turned back around to get water. my co-teacher told her she wasn't allowed so she placed her head against my teacher's stomach and proceeded to attempt to head butt her way to the water fountain. now, this little girl is the size of my pinky so i feel the words 'head butt' are strong, but i can't think of another way to describe it. nor can i understand what was going through this little one's mind as she did this to her teacher.

so she was off to a thinking spot in another teacher's classroom to draw a picture of what she did and what she'll do better next time.

i returned to the classroom where my bff was waiting for me, indignant. "how dare you take her?" he cried. "where is she? i want her back" and just to prove he meant it he threw a paper. we've taken the line with him that if he throws things he has to go to the thinking spot- so off he went. "i want to go with her!" he cried from the thinking spot, and, being as brilliant as my bff is, decided to throw anything he could reach so that i'd get angry with him and send him to the other classroom with the little girl.

after removing everything in his surrounding area so that he could no longer throw anything i popped back to check on our first little friend to see how she was coming with her paper. i was impressed with the elaborate drawing and asked her to explain it to me. "that's you" she said. "stealing my gold"
"you're stealing my gold"
"why would i steal your gold?"
"because you like to steal gold. see, here's you with the gold, and there's the store and there's me."
"and what do you have?"
"a vacuum"
"a vacuum?" i had to ask.
"why do you have a vacuum"
"it was dirty. i had to clean."

so i hauled her into an empty classroom and asked if she knew what "being in trouble" meant. she nodded.
"do you know you are in trouble right now?" i asked
"me? why?"

i was much more direct this time.

we roll played listening to the teacher. so back she went to make another drawing. (this time i drew in her teacher and she just had to draw herself- doing the right thing)

time, 2pm, setting, the hallway-
by 2pm i thought nothing more could happen since it was almost the end of the day. silly me, i returned to the hallway where it had all begun just a few hours ago. as my bff's classroom came around the corner a teacher caught my bff with his hands around another kiddo's neck. i pulled him over to the side of the hallway to try to explain why this was not ok behavior when he reached up and put his hands around my neck. now it wasn't hard and i don't think it was out of violence- i don't even think he knew what he was doing (don't worry, we'll address this much more on monday) but his whole class saw this and GASPED. later, out at kiss and ride kids kept running up to me, "were you strangled?" they asked, "so-and-so said you were strangled."

perhaps, if i was strangled, i might have an excuse to not coming into school on monday. of course, i did return to school the monday after the hand-sanitizer-in-the-diet-coke-incident so i don't suppose i could get away with not going in now.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

kindergarten thankfulness.

these were unprompted while others were saying they were thankful for their cars, their moms, their friends, and their toys. we had three of these, and another kindergarten teacher had one as well.

note the spelling: obrarakobama. that's the white house in the background.

this little one said she was thankful for the president. after she added the pictures we learned she was confused. we decided not to explain the 'president-elect' title.

humpty dumpty's revenge

i think i may have nightmares after today's writing workshop.

salt in the wound

yesterday was just off. as though the cosmos were conspiring against us. i woke up to a microwave, dishwasher, and refrigerator that just decided to stop working. the fridge has been threatening this for awhile and yesterday it seemed to make its final decision. (the freezer is still working however. we're perplexed)
somehow i managed to leave the house without my house keys and from that point on bumbled through the rest of the day with the same pattern of behavior from myself. something was just off.

and then, one of my kiddos, who i've worked closely with for two years now, looked at me and said, "mrs lipstick, i don't like your shoes".

ok, i don't like that pair of shoes either. their old and scuffed and kind of look like the shoes the witch of the east was wearing when the house fell on her. but i had my reasons for putting them on yesterday morning, as sad as they were.

"that makes me sad, what's wrong with my shoes?"

"mmmmmm...... you need new ones, like me." and he showed me his shoes from the A store again.

yes! i wanted to cry! i need new shoes! but sadly, now i'm a grown up and have to worry about my refrigerator, and my dishwasher, and my microwave, and how all the food in my fridge is going to go bad and now i'll have to buy all new food, and how the water faucet to turn the outside water off is stuck and we can't turn it and now our pipes will burst and we'll be out tons of money. why, why did we buy a house? why can't we just call our landlord's handyman and ask him to fix it? he was so nice and cheerful and best of all we didn't get the bill. yes, i need new shoes!! but i'm stuck with these old witch-like shoes.

thanks for rubbing salt in the wound.

i'm sure on any other day i wouldn't have been impacted so much by his innocent words. he didn't really mean anything. perhaps he just wanted to show me his A shoes again. still.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


i cleaned my engagement ring for maybe the first time since i got married. it must have been really, really dirty because all of a sudden all of the kids are noticing it.

one little boy grabbed my hand today and said, "what does this mean?"
"it means i'm married."
"ahhh" he said knowlingly. "are you a princess?"

Sunday, November 16, 2008

we are awesome

they say a good co-teaching relationship is like a good marriage. sometimes i think my co-teacher and i are more like brilliant business partners destined to earn millions- our brains together sometimes come up with fantastic ideas.

one of our little ones occasionally never wants to leave the classroom when the class goes to specials. we've tried everything- ignoring her, forcing her (this doesn't go well), carrying her, getting an administrator, etc. everything is a battle. once she gets to the special she's fine, it's just getting her out of the classroom to actually get there.

so, last monday when she refused to go i felt like pulling my hair out. i was stuck- what to do- this habit has got to stop. i stood outside of the classroom where i could see her but she couldn't see me. when my co-teacher got back from dropping the rest of the class off we stood outside the door- trapped between not wanting to give her the attention she wanted and not being able to go into the classroom to get work done.

and then, we had an idea. we're using an fm sound system for our teacher research project. because it's an old school fm system and not the new, fancy infra-red system it will transmit when you are outside of the room as long as you are close enough to the transmitter. which means you have to remember to turn it off when you go to the bathroom or the class may hear everything. or, it means that you can talk to someone from outside the room and they can't see you, or talk back.

we got a teacher whose voice would not be recognizable and asked her to talk into the mike, telling this little one that staying in the classroom was not ok, she had to go to music. and that she had to leave the classroom by the time she counted to five.

the little one, laying on the carpet in the room sat up when the speaker called her name but she couldn't see who was talking to her. then, when it seemed some god was telling her to leave the classroom she slowly got up. by '5' her little nose poked out of the door frame. we immediately grabbed her and said, "good choice!" and pulled her off to music as though some mysterious voice had not just asked her to leave the room.

it may never work again, but i have to say it was incredible to see her little face come out of the room, wondering if god had been directing her to go to music. because so much of her actions are for attention this took away the human interaction part. she earned time with an adult once she left the room, but from inside the room she could only hear a voice.

sometimes i find teaching special ed is all about the creativity. you find something that works, do it until it doesn't work, and then find something else, even more creative.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

testing my smart cookie

i got to administer the practice state standardized test to my smart cookie (aka clementine) this week. although i hate being pulled from my case load to test, i was thrilled to get one-on-one time with msc.
her brilliant classroom teacher had suggested to her mother that she be able to sit on a work-out ball instead of a chair in class. (brilliant!! i wish we'd done that in 1st grade.) as we left the room her teacher reminded her to "carry it like furniture". my smart cookie looked at me with an evil twinkle eye and smirked, yeah, but i threw a chair once.

yeah, i know. i replied. i was there. it was my chair, remember?

oh yeah.
~~ ~~ ~~
i adore this little girl and really enjoyed getting to see her thinking on the standardized test. it gave me insight in general into how 3rd graders do on these kinds of tests. part of her fully believed the numbers were "speaking to her" and that she could guess the right answer by just staring at the answers hard enough.
on some questions she'd become so distracted by the names used in the examples, or even just the way the test makers laid out the page that she'd totally forget the purpose of what she was trying to do.
today on the reading test i couldn't stop smiling because she couldn't read the passages without giving her running commentary on them. this kid remembers so much about everything so every nonfiction passage lead to her informing me about the science behind it. i was fascinated about where she learned the information, but just kept nodding since i couldn't interact with her beyond the test instructions. and of course, out of nowhere she'd fill me on on details of her life.
"done with number two. so, mrs. lipstick. did i tell you my hamster passed away?"
"tell me when you're finished with your test, msc"
middle of reading next passage
"so, did you know that if you cut your cat's tongue out it wouldn't be able to purr anymore?"
"can we talk about this-"
"oh yeah. later"
back to work.
"hey, did you hear that?"
hear what?
loud fart.

see why she gets small group testing?

i love this kid.

teachable moment

one of my fantastic co-teachers has been out of the building quite a bit recently for different reasons so her students have had a lot of different subs. they've gotten quite savvy at how to work with these subs as well. last thursday we were all out of the building to see katie wood ray speak and throughout the day i got emails from teachers and administrators in the building about what craziness was going on in the room. when we returned on friday it turned out her class had been horrid to the sub. they managed to get almost an hour of recess, destroyed the room, and even broke a rocking chair. (the chair was on its last leg, but regardless, they broke it).

so, on friday, since the classroom teacher was not going to be back in until tuesday, i read them the riot act in the morning. i put on my very best viola-swamp face, channelled the scariest teacher i ever had, and we had quite a meeting. i told them they had to figure out what to do to make up for the horrors of the day before. we're a responsive classroom school and follow the idea of 'logical consequences'. so i told them to spend the morning thinking about how we could 'fix' this. the reading coach and i took turns checking in on them every 15 minutes to make sure they were still behaving. i'd hear them whisper "it's mrs lipstick" when i walked in the door and suddenly they were silent with their hands in their lap. i mean, i was scary.

so after spending the morning making them wish they could crawl inside a hole in the floor we started the afternoon with another meeting. we, while still being firm, told them it was time to start fixing it. being sorry didn't make anything better. so, come up with a plan.

we brainstormed a list of what we could do: fix her rocking chair, clean the room, be super nice to her, listen, etc. i loved their ideas about fixing the rocking chair. they really thought about it. some suggested tape, and a debate began over whether we tape it on the bottom, on the top, or both, or if that would make the chair sticky. one little girl said she would learn how to weave. a boy in the back mentioned that in kindergarten they learned to weave in art class (you know with those construction paper place mats) so maybe their art teacher could teach them how to weave with yarn and fix the chair.
i love the logical thinking we pushed with them. they had to explain what they were thinking and really problem solve. everyone became invested in the outcome.
so then we wrote a letter to the classroom teacher, apologizing but also including our plan of how to fix it. (we decided to give her options on how we'd fix it, and then let her choose since it was her chair. really, so i wasn't stuck watching them try to fix a chair with tape only to have the logical consequences lesson ruined when we ruined the chair).

we put a lot of literacy into writing the letter. we focused on the sounds within words, made them tell us where the punctuation would go, etc.
the lesson ended up going over 2 days. on monday we finished our letter by adding our new class plan for how we would follow the rules, listen to the teacher, etc. all of this from their own ideas.

in the end i felt like we took the horrible day on thursday and really changed it for the best. we built community, reviewed our rules in a positive, student-generated way, worked on literacy skills in a meaningful activity, and gave them a great problem-solving experience. instead of feeling guilty and worthless when their teacher came back, the kids felt proud of their problem solving and felt like they had ownership over the problem.

now, she was out today for our team planning and she'll be out monday-wed next week for a conference (she's that awesome) so we'll have to see if i can keep them in line until she gets back. it worked once, who knows if it will work again. i may need to invest in some more black-viola-swamp-like clothing.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

new perspective

today at jumpers i watched one jumper who was one of my first grade students two years ago. i enjoyed having her as a student but the work was too easy for her and she developed quite an attitude. i never saw her try very hard at anything because she just didn't have to. i see her every friday at book club and although i love catching up with her i've never seen a hint of anything but a smart kid who goes easily through life.
i was excited when she made the team, but a little worried. we realized we didn't have any 3rd graders and so we looked through who was the best out of 3rd grade. so while she has tons of promise we knew that if we put her and the one other 3rd grader on the team they'd have a hard year ahead of her. we've seen kids have a difficult year jumping in 3rd grade but be the stars of the team in 5th. we know they can do it, they just have to want it. i wasn't sure how this little one would react to working so hard.
but i watched her today as we pushed through learning a new routine. it was only our 3rd practice and due to certain circumstances we are pushing a new routine on them faster than we normally would.
i was blown away watching her. she's not good~ in fact, she may be struggling more than anyone else. but she is determined. her eyes are on the coach- her feet are moving and she's trying. and at one point i saw her screw her face up into a determined scowl- not a 'i can't do this' look, but an 'i'm going to do this if it kills me' look. at the end of practice she went to the back of the gym and practiced the routine silently, by herself.
my heart glowed as i saw her in a completely new light. i've always known she was smart, but today she showed me that she's a fighter. she is going to work hard- at something she's not very good at. in fact, for the first time in her life she may be 'not naturally good' at something. i've seen a lot of kids crumple in that first 'this is hard' experience. but she didn't.
with those brains and that kind of determination she's going to go far in life. until today i didn't know what she had in her. here's to new perspectives.

Monday, November 10, 2008

it's the economy stupid

the current economy sucks for most of us, even if it only involves watching our 401ks crash, or the value on our recently-purchased house drop. when i'm complaining about it in these ways i think i forget how much it actually impacts the lives of my kiddos.

i had trouble setting up two different parent meetings today- one was a no-show parent for a meeting scheduled for today (i was even all decked out in my most professional attire) another was canceling on a meeting scheduled in a few weeks. both parents explained that they didn't feel comfortable taking off work right now. their bosses are currently laying people off and they know they can't take off or it could give their boss a reason to fire them. these are both essential, must-have-meetings that we needed to do by yesterday. but the desperation in these parents' voices rings true. how we can expect them to take off yet again when it could mean they are fired? being able to feed their family is more important than meeting with us, despite how inconvenient it is to us. we're so frustrated with the situation. we HAVE to have these meetings. we need these parents to know what is going on at school. and all of these meetings involve a lot of professionals- not a meeting you can have as a "drive by" at their house.

so much has made this year more stressful than we expected, and i feel like it can all be tracked back to the economy. our parents are losing jobs, losing houses, and feeling stressed which, sadly, leads them to beat their children. education is not essential to anyone but those of us trying to make ayp. and how do we argue that our priority is more important than theirs?

confused goodbyes

friday was the recess queen's last day with us. he will be attending another school that will be able to meet his needs better than we can.

the first time someone mentioned an alternative placement my co teacher and i felt like someone had thrown water on us. what? things aren't that bad, are they? and then slowly we realized that yes, they were. the more we sat with the situation the more we understood it was the best thing for him, but it didn't make it much easier. having to look his mom in the eye and explain that we don't feel we can do anything more for her son- that he'll be better off somewhere else. he's only a kindergartner. we only knew him for 12 weeks. that's a big thing to say to a mom whose never heard anything like this before. 12 weeks ago she had never heard anything about her kiddo that would remotely explain our decision.

yet we knew it was the right thing. when the class announced they weren't scared of bears because they knew he'd protect us since he's so good at fighting. when parents wanted to know what happened to their kid. when students stiffen when he walks over to them. we couldn't guarantee any one's safety in our room. even with 4 adults in there incidents still happened. the kids knew that.

on friday when we began to put together his things for him to take with him some of the kids overheard us. two of them gave him the drawings they'd been working on. he stared at those drawings and whispered, "is this for me?" for the next 20 minutes until he left for the day he clutched those pieces of paper. it was one of the first times we'd seen him connect with others like this. as we gathered on the rug to say goodbye one of our little ones announced, "goodbye recess queen! don't forget to be a good citizen!"

i love how the class, despite their fear, have embraced him as a part of our community. i love this kindergarten class and i'm hoping that if we can restructure they'll start to relax knowing some one's not going to come up behind them and throw them down for no reason.

today will be strange though without him. i don't think we'll ever get past the question of 'what happened to get to this point? what could we have done better?'

Sunday, November 9, 2008


this morning's metro section of the washington post has an article about the violence in a dc middle school. on first read i found myself clutching my coffee cup in horror and thinking, wow, this makes me believe in the voucher program.
except that, sure, parents should have the right to take their kids out of that school, but that doesn't solve the problem. that doesn't mean your neighbors' kids aren't going to be stuck at that school, learning to defend themselves from violence, and bringing their new knowledge back to your neighborhood. even if i got my 14 year old out of that school, i'd want to know my neighbor's 14 year old wasn't going to come home with a gun one day. we can't hand out vouchers and then close our eyes to the problem of why the vouchers were needed in the first place.
part of the problem, the article says, is that another school was closed for low attendance and was combined with this middle school. at first i believed in the closure of the small schools for financial reasons. dc needs to make the best financial choices they can. but small schools promote community and safety, particularly in middle school when children are beginning to go through the teenage angst stage of life. when you know all the teachers and recognize most of the students you are less likely to be lost in the shuffle. you know you can't get away wtih as much as you'd like to.
the school in the article has also been "restructured" under nclb, but it sounds as though the restructuring has created more problems than it solved. putting in place "good on paper" administrators seems like a great choice, but this school needs an administrator who can deal with angry parents and angry teenagers. i'm not sure there is much at wharton business school, or even in some admin masters programs that prepares administrators for this kind of violence. you need administrators who can guarantee a safe learning environment. period. test scores mean nothing if your students do not feel safe to learn.
my junior high was fairly violent my first year there. i learned my own subtle version of 'self defense'. my friends and i would carry our violins around with us every day to have something to "accidentally" hit people with if they tried to mess with us. without it i remember being picked up by a large 9th grader and 'tossed' across the hallway. we learned to keep use our instruments to keep a 'bubble' around us so someone couldn't come up behind us and yank us down by our book bags. so yes, good kids can go wrong at a bad school. safety first.
luckily there wasn't violence in our classrooms and i was still able to learn. but no one can learn when they are worried about being hit by marbles in the back of the head. when you are worried about being attacked your blood pressure goes up, your muscles become tense, and your body moves to being on-alert. your brain is not available for learning- it's ready to protect you- it is not going to let you relax and process new information. without a guarantee of safety for students all the good teaching strategies in the world are not going to get through.

my suggestions for dc schools (so that we no longer need vouchers):
-smaller schools, lower teacher/student ratios, administrators who know their communities. make parents feel welcome, let every student know you know their name.
-experienced teachers (offer 'em high pay and steal 'em from the fabulous counties around dc- montgomery, arlington, fairfax. take all their good training and experience with classroom management. then acknowledge that these schools are different- give even these experienced teachers support with classroom management. keep class sizes low. higher less teach for america students, or, give them tons of support. they have no classroom experience, or classroom management experience. good intentions are wonderful, but they are not making our students safer)
-have enough admins per school so they know each student and each parent. admins should be attending parent conferences when needed to prevent attacks and to make the parents feel like someone cares. at my school i know i can call an admin to come sit at a parent conference if i feel the conference may go south (and i'm not worried about being choked). i trust my admin to not turn the meeting around on me (i'm not sure dc teachers feel this way about their admins- particularly after the restructured admins are put in place). i know my admin will "have my back" while helping me build trust with the parent.

the article reminded me that we can live with our pie-in-the-sky dreams for what good teaching is, but without safety nothing is going to happen.
eek... ranting is about to make me late for church. oops.

Friday, November 7, 2008

more fun

we've had some trouble with a little one in one of my first grade classes not coming in on time from recess. when pressed about why she hasn't come in with the class she honestly told her teacher, "i wanted to have more fun" you have to give her credit for honesty. she is about 2 feet tall and the tiniest thing you've ever seen, so when you first meet her you immediately underestimate her. (she is the little one who last week told me "i don't know why you want people to vote for duck for president. you know people are just going to vote for charlie brown") She was also a part of my lunch bunch last year.

yesterday most of the school was out of the building for katie wood ray (hooray!!!) and there were substitutes everywhere. somehow the substitute in this particular first grade class forgot to pick them up from recess. the only reason anyone realized this was that our little friend brought herself in with another class. she's been getting in trouble so much for not coming in with her class that she decided that she'd better go ahead and come in with any class. it never occurred to her that the kids she was walking in with were not in her class. apparently she was really surprised when she realized this.

we joke all the time about how she is smarter than we give her credit for, but that... i don't know. i wonder if she's just using her attitude to cover up the fact she gets confused and forgetful. still, i give her major credit from bringing herself in from recess. the other child in the class who also knew when the recess time was up was, of course, my bff. he kept our clinic aid company until she went crazy and started asking where the class was. i don't think anyone ever figured out where the substitute was. oh well.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


outside of election-madness today was not without incident:

on our walk through the woods on kindergarten fall fun day one of my kiddos became very concerned about bears.

"don't worry!" the kid behind him announced. "if there is a bear the recess queen will get him!"

"yah" another girl chimed in, "he's such a good fighter!"

while i think they are terrified of him most of the time, at least they found something positive about his fighting ability. go classroom community!

~~ ~~ ~~ ~~

at the end of the day one of my kiddos had been in the bathroom a LONG time. so i went to see what was wrong and he explained to me in his limited speech that he was waiting for someone to come wipe him.
now how do you write a note home to mom saying, "just a quick note to say r. had a great day today, but hasn't seemed to learn how to wipe himself. can you practice this at home for homework?"

goose bumps

today was a whirlwind of a day. i'm not sure anyone i work with got much sleep, and it turns out the kids didn't get much sleep either. the kindergartners came in excitedly talking about how this bark brama, or barack baracka, or backabackabacka guy won. one explained to me in an excited, rushed voice, how he'd had a slumber party with his family last night so they could stay up and watch the speeches. (for the record, i couldn't stay up that late, and at first i couldn't believe their parents let them stay up. but then again, if you came to this country for hope and a better life, well, this election is probably more meaningful to you than i can possibly understand).

i got goosebumps listening to a table packed of kindergartners chattering on about obama, how he won, how he got the most votes, how he's the man. when pressed they truthfully knew very little about what any of it meant, but they could feel the excitement in the air at their houses. they didn't know why, but they knew last night was big.

later in the day the first graders (who actually know about the election process and understand what's going on) chatted about their election day experiences. one little one (who is african american) described in detail what it was like when she went into the voting booth with her mom and her mom let her fill in the circle for barack obama. i can imagine the goosebumps this mom must have felt, allowing her six year old to fill in the circle to vote for an african american for president. this mom is fighting hard and is one of those parents i consider a hero. that moment of watching her daughter vote for an african american- can you think of a better wish she's ever had for her daughter? to grow up not questioning whether or not she can be president?

these are the first graders who were all born after 9/11. they don't know what it's like to live in our country and not be scared of horrible terrosts acts. yet now, they wont ever fully understand why this election was such a big deal. this belief, that anyone can be president, will follow them throughout life. when they're in their high school history classes they'll talk about what they were doing in first grade when the first african american was elected president. they'll know it was an important day, but wont fully know why. this is a generation who will grow up believing in the possibilities of life, instead of the limits.

i know we may not all agree on who should be our 44th president, but to take this moment and watch six year olds experience this event- goosebumps.

republican-mr. lipstick's friend charles mitchell wrote an incredible post today which i think sums up the meaning of this day for my kids, their parents, and our country.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


dilemmas, dilemmas

election night and i'm jittery with excitement (i can't help it, i get this way with every election). i don't think i'll be able to sleep 'til it's over.

of course, we have kindergarten fall fun day tomorrow, which will involve running around outside after the little ones on a treasure hunt for signs of fall.

and there is about a 95% chance the recess queen is going to have a new baby as of today, so he'll be off the wall more than usual, considering the fall fun day, the new baby, and a day off of school.

tomorrow will be a starbucks morning.

Monday, November 3, 2008

monday morning

put your hands behind your back.

i don't got any hands.

*** *** ***
we didn't celebrate halloween because we're with god.
did you go to church?
no, we... interupted by little boy on her right
i don't ever go to church
that's cause your not with god
i'm not with god (with dramatic disgust in voice) i'm with allah
hey! i'm with all-of god too.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

you want me to put my hand where?

halloween presents a wonderful opportunity in kindergarten for predicting what's inside things you can't see... and then proving it, and getting wonderfully messy in the process. one of my kiddos predicted there would be pumpkin pie inside the pumpkin. poor thing, i think he was a tad disappointed with what he saw.
everyone had the chance to stick their hands in and get gooey. we listed the words they came up to describe the ooze on a chart. the kids who wouldn't touch it amazed me. some of our most hands-on little boys had no desire to stick their hand into a big pumpkin full of guts. the little girls though didn't even wait to roll up their sleeves before sticking their hand into the pile of seeds. what i love about science in the early grades is that you get to watch as they experience the world around them.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

growing and changing

awhile ago we discovered one of our fabulous kiddos had an old iep file. we were surprised, but assumed that perhaps she had some mild early developmental delays she grew out of (she's in first grade now) so we flipped through it to discover that actually she'd been quite the proverbial holy terror.
nothing we were reading made any sense. the papers described angry, defiant, violent behavior but the little one in our class was one of the sweetest, most compliant kiddos in our community. how was it possible she had changed so much? we had to have the wrong file. or medication? perhaps she's heavily medicated now.
a check in with mom confirmed that yes, it was all true, but there was no medication she had just grown out of it.

what hope it gave to hear that with the right support these violent, defiant and angry kindergarten kiddos i'm working with this year can grow up to be compliant, happy, hard-working students. it's possible.

kids change drastically as they develop but i think that's something we tend to forget in school. we like answers and like firm definitions so we meet a kid and file away the information on him. "in kindergarten he bit the principal, his mom is a mess, he had to repeat kindergarten," so when he gets to first grade the teachers are ready. it's not out of hating kids that we do this, it's just that we like to know what's up inside their little heads, we like to be ready (and with some kids being ready is the best thing for them) but not for others. (once again, wouldn't life be easier if there was a formula we could follow for all kids?)
(i personally believe it's really important to know the background facts but be able to withhold judgement. i know there are many camps on this issue though)

as a classroom teacher i had a little girl who was known as "a mess" in kindergarten and preschool. by the end of the year i was pretty proud of myself. i had worked hard with her and you couldn't tell she did the crazy out-of-control things she had done in kindergarten. her kindergarten teacher shook her head and wondered "what could i have done better?"
the next year in second grade she had teachers who were fairly new to our school and hadn't known her crazy behavior in kindergarten. they hadn't seen how far she'd come, and wondered why i'd let her get away with everything i did. i watched her grow in there and wondered, just like her kindergarten teacher, "what could i have done better? i must have really screwed up if she is able to be this fabulous in 2nd grade"

but this little one kept changing and growing up. her kindergarten teacher did all the right things to make it so i could do all the right things, which let her second and third grade teachers do all the right things. if you'd told us when she was in kindergarten what she'd be like in 3rd grade we wouldn't have believed you.

it's hope for the kindergartners i work with now. they are not destined to a life of ignoring teachers and being violent. they'll grow up.

but it's also a reminder to me that we can't judge the teachers from the years before. it's so easy to see the change and think, "wow, there was no reason for him to be a mess last year!" when really the kiddo grew up, developmentally changed, and with the support of the teacher slowly turned into the fabulous kiddo in his new class.

Friday, October 31, 2008

character day

today during my friday morning book club i showed my club the book 'duck for president' and told them this is who i wanted to be today. then i gave them construction paper and markers and asked them to help me with my costume.
note the fabulous: 'f. brown: 6, duck, 20' vote counts.

the tissue box is because one girl made me a ballot box. i believe she may have taken the tissues out of it and stuffed them into another box, but i can't prove it.

this little one made a list of my campaign promises if i was duck. i love that her first thought was 'lower gas prices' and her next one was 'anyone can vote'. i think she was referring to the fact her parents can't vote, but it could be that she would like voting rights as a 3rd grader.
i was rather pleased with my throw-together costume but at the end of the day one of my lunch-bunch kiddos from last year walked by and said, "you know, most people will vote for charlie brown"
the nerve.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


one of my jump ropers came bounding over to me today full of energy.

"mrs lipstick!" she exclaimed, "are you a citizen?"

for a minute i was confused. no one has ever asked me that before. i look pretty american, but i suppose when some of the adults in your world are citizens and some aren't you might think it's up in the air for all adults. it took me a minute, but i answered.

"ahhhhh, so you can vote!" she squealed. "who are you voting for?"

her friend came up to join in the discussion. "my parents are voting for obama" she explained.
"they're citizens?" my first friend looked indignent. how could her best friends' parents be allowed to vote and not hers?

"mmmhhhh" the friend nodded, "they got their cards a long time ago"

"man, my parents are still waiting on theirs. "

these are not the conversations i had growing up.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

interview questions

i have been blessed with an unbelievable principal the last 5 years. i admire her and our ap's leadership and most of all appreciate the trust they put in the staff to do our best at what they hired us to do.

i know what it's like to not have a good administration though and know that i never want to repeat that. at times, in grad school or in teacher-circles i hear the horror stories of those micro-managing principals, or the ones without backbones, or the ones who don't know how to control their temper. i plan on never experiencing those, and if i feel that my current principal is the only good one left, well, i'll actually study for those l-sats i've put off all these years.

so, to make sure i never end up at a school with one of those principals i've been composing the list of interview questions that i can ask when i'm interviewing at a school. questions that will let me know if i will be a good fit at that school. these are hard because of course you don't want to say, "walk me through how you micro-manage your teachers" in case they black list you from any school in that district. so you have to figure out a way to pose these questions to be respectful while giving yourself enough information to read between the lines.

1. what is your policy for how the students may access the internet?
if they (like a principal in my class last night) go on and on about how the teacher has to approve any site used in class by the administration, or if they say the teacher must check every link on that website and the links on the links to make sure the students do not end up on something inappropriate... well, moving on.

2. what kind of collaboration goes on at this school? and how do you facilitate collaboration between teachers in your school?
and if they go on and on about plc (professional learning communities) and how their teachers get trained in how to have meetings in order to learn how to communicate with one another, well... no.

3. what expectations do you set on teachers for planning?
i think i may be ok with having lesson plans on my desk for the admin to drop in and see. when i was a classroom teacher i usually had plans for that day, and could have told you the SOL i was meeting, even if i didn't write it down. however, while i plan for monday, tuesday, and wed in depth, thursday and friday always came based on the work i saw from the kids. if they didn't get what i taught on tuesday, well, i wasn't teaching something new on thursday. my wednesday plans were bumped, etc. i usually had detailed lesson plans, i just didn't always put times and dates with them. i want a principal who respects that the flexibility is always student-driven.

4. what sort of reading program do you use?
if the word basal or anthology comes to their lips we're moving on, unless they say, "the basal readers are in the room for you to access, but we encourage teachers to use developmentally appropriate texts based on each individual reader's ability"

5. do your classes have a writing workshop?
i asked this on an interview at a school north carolina years ago. the principal said that if i felt i was having problems with my writing i could show him all my work and he would edit it for me.

then there are the questions i can't figure out how to form nicely, but really want to know:

1. say my best friend elopes with some random guy and gets married in vegas and i have to fly out there to knock sense into her. what kind of warning/leave do i have to give you? is getting a sub and leaving detailed sub plans enough, or will you want to see a death certificate of the 'funeral' i have to lie about. come into my classroom for an observation and my fabulous lesson has just exploded because johnny ate a kiwi at lunch (whole kiwi- skin and all) and threw it up on my equally fabulous shoes. jenny has taken this opportunity to lecture the class about jesus while i'm on the phone arguing with the office about how a custodian still hasn't come down to clean up the mess so we've sprayed axe (you know, the cologne) on it to get rid of the smell. (true story, minus administrator).
would you a) close the door and leave, b) sing songs to get my class's attention away from jenny and the smelly barf, c) lecture me on how i should have been in the cafeteria to make sure johnny didn't eat the whole kiwi and how i should have had the lesson plans so well laid out that jenny could have followed them instead of giving us a Jesus lecture 6-year-old-style?

3. a parent comes to you accusing me discriminating against their child because he's white and saying i refuse to communicate with them on email every thirty minutes like they have asked. i am able to show you the stacks of emails i've had with this parent, (though not every 30 minutes). will you a) offer your support, sit with me and have a meeting with the parent to discuss these issues b) follow a but in the meeting with the parent yell at me for being racist or c) but a letter in my file because i communicated with a parent in email.

so, i could go on and on but i'm really suppose to be working on a paper for grad school. so, more to come, but i'd love your suggestions on how to phrase questions/ questions to ask on an interview. what is your essential administrator question?

Monday, October 27, 2008

character day vs. halloween

i just got stopped in the hallway by a mother wanting to know if her daughter could dress up in her costume on halloween this friday. i tried to explain that it is "character day" which means she can only dress up as a character from a book.
mom looked at my strangely and i realized we had a bit of a language barrier.
"yes! like a book she's read in class. have you read..." trying to think of a book she may have read... "goldilocks?" i say this as i stare at the beautiful hispanic first grader, realizing that may not be who she wants to be. but it is a costume after all.
"goldil" mom asks, still looking confused. "i just wanted to buy her a cinderella costume."

"um, cinderella is a fairy tale, that's in a book! perfect!" i explained.
"book? does she need to buy a book?"
"no, it's just that she is a character in a book."
"she needs to write a book?"
"no, no, cinderella is fine."
a loud sigh came from the first grade between us.
"ugh. i want to be hannah montanna"

"yes, well, hannah montanna is NOT in a book. and if she is, it's not a very good one. cinderella is perfect"

and to think i'd be questioning whether it was ok for her to be cinderella or not.

hannah montanna? ugh.

obama update

for those of you who have been anxiously waiting to hear about my friend and her obama autograph... she "forgot" it on friday, but today pulled out a sticky note with barack obama written in very neat handwriting.

so, our friend either really did see someone at kmart who then nicely printed the name of the presidential candidate, or she decided that if her teachers were really going to believe her about this autograph thing then she'd get some grown-up to write it for her.

i'm just impressed she didn't come in with it written in her own handwriting.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

obama, huh?

today during writing workshop share a little one shared her story about how she met the president last night and asked for his autograph.

i don't mean this the wrong way, but how would a little girl who may or may not live with a family who is here legally, end up meeting president bush, and getting an autograph. she had to be confused.

pressing her made us realize she wasn't talking about president bush, but obama. ok, so he was in our state yesterday, and even in the 'socialist' part of our state, where we live, so maybe her mom took her to see him speak.

i was at kmart, she explained. my mom said we needed to go to kmart, and then we saw the president. so i asked him for his autograph. and he said yes.

did you drive far to see him?

nope, it was at the kmart here.

ok, again... i'm not sure the neighborhood where my school is would draw a presidential candidate. especially to just stop in at the local kmart.

her friends waved their hands wildly. "can you bring it tomorrow?"

"sure!" she agreed happily. so at least we'll see who gave her this autograph and determine whether or not it is from the candidate, or from a look-alike, flattered to be approached by a first grader.

when she'd finished sharing with the class i took her aside and asked what he looked like.
"well, kind of like those basketball players- once i saw basketball players on tv. he looked like that. with the same kind of hair."

hmmm... i'll keep you posted on how the autograph turns out. the thing is, she isn't the type of girl to make stuff up (which is very, very common in first grade). she seemed just enough confused on her story that it seemed real, since when first graders usually invent stories they are wildy detailed. even if the details change every 2 seconds, they are always confident in the details. hmmmm... and shaking this little one's hand would be a great photo-op for any candidate. but still...

**i love co-teaching with a fellow blogger, but i never want to step on her fabulous blogging toes. esp. since it was her blog that motivated me to start my own. but this story i couldn't pass up. but perhaps she'll give a better recount**

nonfiction textbooks vs. internet resources


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

try-out week (again)

it's try-out week again for our jump rope team and i'm once again hating it. i have many kiddos from previous classes who are trying out this year. and, well, i'm not sure they're going to make it. which kills me. they have been getting ready for this for years, and they're analyzing every jump they make. i've taught them to try their best, always. and it's about to not get them very far. i suppose it's time for the next life-lesson~ what to do when you work as hard as you can, and you didn't quite get what you wanted. so you try something else, or try again.

there is one little girl in 5th grade i've watched try out every year. she comes with a great attitude, stares at us with longing and takes in everything we say. when she found out that she didn't make it in third grade she cried, but she came back and tried again. she didn't make it then, but once again she's back, and trying her best. and i so, so want her to make it. i want all of her hard work to be rewarded, all of that practicing and doing the "right thing" for so many years, i want her to get what she wants. really, what she's earned. but i can't give her the coordination and the strength to make the rope go under her feet without tripping her up.

there are kids who are amazing and who are shining. and many who are didn't make it last year, practiced all year, and are back and are truly, fantastic. i think we'll have a good team, and the kids who make it will have a great experience they wouldn't get otherwise. we just have to get past this week, and perhaps be there for the kids who don't make it, to help them pick themselves up and try again.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


was one of those days that made me question the judgement of the people who trust me to do my job. because if they trust me, there has got to be something wrong with them.

today i felt 100% unqualified for this.

connecting over war...

today i had to give a standardized test to a small group of kiddos. when we finished the test we had time to hang out and wait for their classrooms to be finished. while we waited we colored, and somehow the conversation to their countries.

i didn't go to school in my country, 'cause they're really mean there in kabul and they'd hit you at school. but now there's a war there. and bombs. we had a dog there.

hey! there's a war in my country too! wanna know why? 'cause once upon a time in somalia there was no food and my country was very weak. and then someone brought in lots of food for everyone. then the bad guys came in and wanted all the food so we had war.

my country in kabul was very weak too!

Monday, October 20, 2008

ahhhh, now it's clear

all during break, for over 2 weeks now, i've had a hideous cough. i feel fine except for the occasionally body-shaking cough, which the cab driver informed me sounded like i was 90.
during a reading focus lesson today i heard one of my kiddos cough a body-shaking-sound-like-your-90 cough. into the air, not covered by hand or elbow.
and now i know where i got my cough from.
"sorry" he said, and shrugged. "i've been sick forever".

yeah, me too buddy.

now, remember how i showed you to cover your mouth... let's try that again.

evil teacher

one of my little friends came to tell me that he'd been to the hospital during our break, and was currently in a lot of pain and wanted to go to the clinic.
most people's responses would have been "poor you... what hurts?"

of course, he decided to inform me of this during writing workshop, so my response was, "oh no! so, on the first page you're going to draw your dad picking you up and taking you to the hospital, right?"

the child held his ear in pain as I prompted him through his fabulous 4 page story. and then, when we were finished, and he continued to moan, i asked him if he thought he should go to the clinic.

i'm so mean. but really, it was a great story. his details of him on his couch, with his mom putting drops in his ears.