Thursday, July 31, 2008

social skills training

a little one leaned over as i was reading him the riot act and placed his fingers on my forehead. slowly he traced my furrowed brow and asked what was happening to my head.

ah, to have just turned 5 and live in a me-centered world where you have not yet learned to read others' emotions on their faces. welcome to school. next time my forehead gets like this you'll know what it means. this time though, let me make myself very, very clear while you're in the thinking-spot.

full of self-pity, don't read unless you want to wallow with me

i'm serious, ms. anonymous who always comments about what a stress-ball i am, don't bother to read this. why read something that will bother you? blogging is therapeutic for me, so today is word-vomit. go read someone else's happy blog.

i am exhausted. i was kind of worried i would fall asleep as i drove my car to grad school today. and i got to leave school at 1! i wasn't even staying the whole day.

i have a final tomorrow in class but have no idea when i'm going to study (yes, i could be studying now instead of blogging. thanks for pointing it out) i have not exactly paid attention in class the last 2 weeks. this is unlike me. i'm usually attentive and organized in grad school. i usually keep very organized and detailed notes. today i'm not sure i can tell you anything we studied over our 3 weeks of class. nor can i find it in the mess of papers at the bottom of my bag. what was wrong with me?

i'm working on not caring that i might not do well on the final. that's not a skill i'm good at. i mean, it doesn't matter, right? what really matters is how i perform at my job, not my grades in grad school. what i want to be able to do is say, ok mrs lipstick, its ok to not do well on the final. nobody cares about your grades in grad school. its ok to just get by. its more important to be well-rested for working with the kids tomorrow, and more important to work on actual school stuff than study for a test that has nothing to do with anything i want to do in life.

but my mind is really saying "what are you thinking, not studying? are you crazy? what if you don't do well? what will the professor think? and you have to have 2 more classes with her! she's your advisor! how can you sit down at a test and not study? you're already doomed since you didn't start yesterday!"

i have never not studied. (that's not true. i did not study for my ap history test in 11th grade. i got a 4. my college only gave students credit if they got a 5. so not studying forced me to take history in college, which put a serious dent in my gpa because even though i studied for that class i still didn't do so good.)

but i don't really feel i'm performing my best at my job either. i am going to need to do a lot of brainstorming for one of my kiddos this year and i'm feeling pretty lost on how to help him. usually ideas form in my head throughout the day, but right now i'm focused on staying awake and not bursting into tears. (i warned you about the self-pity). i feel like i'm letting my co-teachers down, as well as the kids i work with. i haven't had time to chat with teachers and hear the ins and outs of the day so i feel like i'm unprepared to be in classrooms.

i suppose that is enough procrastination. i will go study a bit. just enough to get by at least.

are you serious?

as we were learning what to do during a fire drill my new friend spotted a grate in the field.
"hey! is this a sewer? oh no! hey everybody, there are crocodiles in there!"
(at least it was just a practice fire-drill...)

another friend who is enjoying his 2nd round of kindergarten whispered,
"hey, mrs lipstick, is this intersession? what are we doing here?"

and another friend from africa said

"mrs lipstick, the hair on your arm is getting kinda long. maybe you should cut it"

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

time to learn to care...

leading kindergartners down the hallway we frequently remind them "walk on the silver line"

today the 4 teachers that happened to be walking with the line must have said it over and over again because finally, my new friend who is learning how to be in school shouted out


i don't blame him.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

me, hitting head into wall.

the kindergarten class i am in is awesome, but is full of little boys who have never been in any sort of school setting before. i'm not sure they've ever had to comply with an adult before, nor has anyone broken the news to them that the rest of their lives is going to be about following rules.

of course that means we, the fearless teachers, are in charge of delivering this message and making them know we actually mean it.

which isn't going so well.

our kiddos were on the playground, practicing lining up when the whistle blew. one of my new favorite friends just absolutely refused to line up on each practice, causing us to have to go and physically lead him to the line.

so, after the 2nd time practicing he had to sit in time out while the class played on the playground.

"what are you going to do when the whistle blows?" i asked, trying to turn time-out into a learning opportunity.
"i don't want to hear the whistle anymore" he announced.
"i'm sorry, we have to hear the whistle. what are you going to do when you hear it?"
"not hear it"
"you will hear it. what will you do when the other children run to line up?"
"excuse me, can i go play?"
"point to where you'll go when the whistle blows"
"but, but, i don't WANT TO LINE UP!"

writing workshop, day 2 of kindergarten

today my fearless and fabulous co teacher and i dove head first into our new plans for writing workshop based on the book Already Ready, and the work we're doing with our reading coaches.

yesterday (the first day of school) my co-teacher started writing workshop by telling a story about how a taxi-cab she was in this summer ran out of gas. the kids loved it, although they were so fidgety i wasn't sure they really were attending. turns out they were...

today i started writing workshop by asking them what they remembered from writing time yesterday. they all practically re-told her story. (i was so impressed with their oral language, their recall of details, and their sequential description of the story!) so then i launched into my own story from the summer. once i'd told it orally i drew the story on 3 pages in a booklet. even though there were not any words every time i came to a certain part of the story (i re-told it a few times) the kids were "reading" with me, "no frogs!" they'd yell together.
then it was their turn...
we pulled out a writer's story telling stool and called on a little girl to come up. at first i was worried she would whisper her story or would get scared, but she was just taking a few moments to compose herself. she took a deep breath, leaned forward to talk to the class, and began telling her story with great expression and details. it was awesome.

to be honest it was about right here when we lost them. (it was only the 2nd day of school). but, (not wisely) i so impressed with her story-telling that i took out a 3 page booklet and asked her to tell me where she would put the pictures of her story. she re-told it again, and again on the pages. the kids were rocking on the carpet to tell their own stories.

and so, equipped with their own 3 page book they hurried back to their seats. some got it and immediately launched into their worldless yet exciting stories, adding lots of details in their pictures to show what is going on. one boy wrote about being at Koran school and 'reading, reading, reading'. (page 1) "then it started to rain" (page 2) "it rained and rained and rained" (page 3) "the sun came out and we could go home" (page 4).

another started his with a picture of him and his mom on the way to chuck-e-cheese, then page 2 showed him and his mom in chuck-e-cheese. he was sadly interrupted before he could go on to his story, but i was excited to see him understand that we tell a sequential story this way.

others put the same 'characters' on each page, but they did not follow a consecutive story. one boy had "a bird", "bird and bug", "bird and tree". he beamed proudly as he and i turned the pages of his book, reading the pictures over and over again. another boy drew his monster on each page. his excitement overwhelmed me and i gave up trying to get him to tell 1 story. it will come. i'm just happy all of his pages were on 1 character.

we're not sure when we're going to give them paper again in writing workshop. i think we'll go back to oral story-telling for a bit. hmmm... maybe we could take videos of their stories and re-play it on the smartboard...
it was really exciting to see what the kids would do across 3 pages. we did not get the usually 'i go to the park' stories. or the pictures with the butterflies and rainbows that don't really have anything to do with anything.

they are already ready to be story tellers, and i can't wait to continue.

Monday, July 28, 2008

things i heard myself saying today...

~we don't pick our noses in school. it will get germs everywhere. please take your finger out of your nose.

~thank you for taking your finger out of your nose! now, please go wash your hands.

~please sit down... you don't want to?... um, i'm sorry, its time to sit down. n o w.

~please sit where your name tag is. that's emily's name, you may not take her name. you have your own name. give emily back her name. no, do not take erin's name either. please go back to your own name.

~where are you going? no, you're not going home right now. i'm sorry your bored, but you may not go home yet. SIT.

~i'm glad you like school but no, you may not stay here all night. even the teachers have to go home. really, we do.

i love my job

although there are days that sometimes makes me wonder about my own sanity.

i love kindergartners who have never been in any sort of preschool program before. they have no idea what it means to stand in line, wait their turn, or that they supposedly have to immediately comply with every command an adult gives them, even if the adult doesn't give a reason.

as we finally had all our kiddos rounded up this morning and were walking in line toward the classroom one little boy just kept darting all over the hallway. it didn't matter how many times i took his hand and led him back in line, or how many times i said, "stay on the silver line behind this boy's book bag. " i even explained what behind meant. he'd nod knowingly, and then see something interesting and dart away, looking confused when i brought him back in line.

he kept trying to talk to me and i kept saying, "i'd love to hear that, but we can't talk in the hallway"

"really?" he almost yelled. "why not? hey, i wonder if the classroom is going to be scary. because, you know, monsters don't like me very much"

I am so in love with this kid.

in fact, i'm so in love with all of them.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

new markers, new folders, and a new cast of characters

it's the first-day-of-school-eve and now, a few years into teaching and not even a classroom teacher i am filled with the first-day jitters. this morning in church thoughts of the first day snuck into my head and i haven't shaken them. the excitement of new friends, the chaos of matching children to classrooms, the brand new markers, tissue boxes, folders, kindergarten moms leaving their babies for the first time, brand new fifth graders enjoying the beginning of their reign as 'the oldest in the school'.
i have no memory of the first day of school last year, or for that matter, any of my first days from my teaching career. snippets come back to me occasionally~ my first day my first year staring at the little ones staring back at me on the rug and realizing this is it, i'm in charge.
or last year, my first day in special ed, helping my new charges find their way to the kindergarten rooms. and that's where my memory stops. no recollection of how on earth the fabulous kindergarten teachers managed to teach their children to walk down the hallway, sit quietly, or go through the lunch line. all in one day! i wish i could be more help this year, wish i could anticipate the problems, foresee what lessons that will need to be taught before others, remember the important aspects of kindergarten. but i don't.
and so my stomach has the same butterflies it has every year, knowing i'm about to go into something i'm not fully prepared for, something i can't quite remember, something i know i've survived before, and will survive again.

the night before my cousin began her very first year teaching she opened a fortune cookie which read "a cast of characters awaits you". i laughed when i saw it, because i knew the first graders she was going to meet the next day would fit the requirement. i always think of that fortune before a school year full of new kiddos starts and wonder what sort of cast is awaiting us tomorrow.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

teacher website

i stumbled upon this great website and thought it was share-worthy.

great graphic organizers you can download and print, including a fabulous already-made bingo board.

it also has a program that lets you put in words to make your own word searches.

the magic of my smart cookie

we realized the other day that when my smart cookie was in kindergarten her teacher got engaged. then, in first grade, i got engaged. in second grade... her teacher got engaged.

this year her fabulous teacher is already married. hmmmmm.... maybe something equally fantastic and magical will happen instead.

we all knew she was a fabulous kid, but i don't think we realized she has that kind of power!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

battle of the rewards: internal v. extrernal

i've always been an intrinsic reward person. i ran cross country in high school and college, which is really a 100% intrinsic sport, unless your the one person in a 300 person race who is the winner. the only person you run cross country for is you. i've always taken the harder paths, knowing that while i may not get the best grades at least i'd enjoy a challenge.

so when i decided to join a new gym program last year and i found out its extensive extrinsic reward plan i laughed. why would i care about counting how many times i go to the gym? i thought. i mean, i'll go because i love working out, not because if i go 150 times during the year i will receive a gold purse with the gym's name on it. (200 times and its the matching coin purse!) and i'll have a star on the wall of the gym with my name on it. and i get to go to the 'fit club' party. who cares about those things?

except now i do. every 25 classes they give you 3 chocolate kisses. this summer, if you went 30 times in june and july you got a water bottle. i don't need a water bottle. i don't need 3 chocolate kisses. i don't need a gold purse or a star with my name on it.

yet now that it's there, i want it. and i find myself thinking, i could go for a run, but then i wont get credit at the gym. i play tennis? i feel like i should get credit for it at the gym, i mean, that's an athletic activity, right?

now that i've been immersed in external rewards there seems to be no going back. i finally had to tell myself that it is ok if i don't get a water bottle. it doesn't mean i am life-long failure. it means i know how to rationalize my time.

it really made me think about rewards in the classroom. the fact that years and years of working out for the mere pleasure of working out was erased in 7 months of doing a rewards based program, makes me finally understand what giving prizes in the classroom does to children's conception of rewards. until i began prized-crazed myself, i didn't understand how the reward could possibly override the internal feelings of satisfaction.

but then again, without the rewards i wouldn't be going to the gym nearly as much. i love that it made me get up in the morning and work out instead of sleeping in during the summer. i love that i've been lifting weights, when before i wouldn't have dared. so the final outcome of the rewards system is great. so does the end justify the means? is that the balance we have to walk in the classroom? and what happens when i decide to quit the gym and go back to running on my own? will i motivate myself the old way, or will i have to reward myself with treats to maintain my work out schedule?


the wave of panic hit yesterday as i went to open my word documents to pull up the paper for grad school i'd worked diligently on last week. despite having my sister and brother-in-law in town i rudely locked myself in my office and forced myself to work on my many papers that are due this week and last week for the various classes.

so why wasn't my paper there, sitting quietly in it's sub-folder, waiting to be revised and checked one last time for proper apa format?

panic. it wasn't there. everything else i worked on sunday was in its proper place, but not this one. it wasn't in recent documents. it wasn't in my recycled items. the search option pulled up nothing. i restarted my computer. nothing. i logged into my school's network to see if it had landed itself there. nope. nothing.

and no, i had not saved it on a thumb drive, or emailed it to myself, or printed a version of it, as friends asked over google chat while i was freaking out. no, nothing that smart. but if i had, i wouldn't be panicking, would i?

i started to sweat. after a day of moving boxes, tables, and computers and then sprinting to grad school class for 3 hours i was slightly exhausted. and a bit overwhelmed with everything i have looming in front of me for grad school this week when all i really want to do is make pretty visual schedules for my kiddos, organize my files, and plan with my co-teachers. i do not want to re-write a paper i've already spent hours on.

how can it just disappear? i honestly started looking under the couch cushions as though it remarkably printed itself and then hid itself somewhere in the house. i was tempted to tear the computer apart, like the male-models in zoolander, looking for files 'in the computer'.

eventually, around 10pm last night, my husband and i tried yet another set of variables in the search files. with the right key word, specific date (not the actual dates), and asking it to look in 'hidden files'. i didn't know my computer had 'hidden files'. why does it hide its files from me? however computer, while you may have found the hide-and-seek game funny, we beat you. we found it. i almost cried.

i'm a tad worried about the next two weeks. i didn't handle the 'losing the paper' ordeal well. this back-to-school week with grad school every day might not be setting me up for success. i apologize in advance for any snarky posts, or if you see me in school sprinting down the hallway rudely. i'm going to my best, but i'm not sure i have it in me.

and i suspect my computer is protesting from too much use this summer. i think its out to get me.

and did i mention 5:40 is early??

Monday, July 21, 2008

5:40 is early

i changed my mind.

i don't want to go back to work today.

even my cat is looking at me strangely, like, what are you thinking getting up this early? come on, don't you really want one more hour of sleep?

yes, i do.

and then i want to sit on my porch reading a novel, eating a leisurely breakfast.

i can't even remember my old morning routine. it's too bad we have house guests right now and i can't loudly stomp my feet in protest. or slam cabinet doors.


can't i have one more week? just one?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

well, this is it.

the last day of summer '08. the washington post this morning announced that tomorrow, july 21st, is typically the hottest day in washington. it's fitting really that we'll be going back to work on the hottest day of the year.

yesterday i took a final, bringing me down to only 2 grad classes. i'm ready to be back around kids again. i'm ready to do something other than write papers, read text books and research. but i'm never really be ready to give up spending all day on my porch, occasionally sneaking in reading for fun and eating a refreshing bowl of ice cream between grad-school work.

Friday, July 18, 2008

teachers and toilet paper

as i was leaving school today (teacher workdays start monday, the joys of year-round schooling) my sister-in-law texted to let me know we were out of toilet paper. without thinking i drove to the safeway nearby my school to run in and grab the needed toiletry.

i clutched the large package of toilet paper close to my chest and i hurried toward the front of the store. out of the corner of my eye i caught one of my kiddos from last year.

"Hi F!" I called happily, "How is your summer?"

his big eyes looked at me curiously, but he said nothing. Thinking that was odd since he's quite a talkative and fearless little boy i kept talking.

"so are you ready for first grade?"

his eyes moved to the package of toilet paper, a look of horror spreading across his face. and that's when it hit me. for the first time in his little life it was occurring to him that yes, teachers use toilet paper. they even go to the bathroom.

his car ended up being parked near mine and so his family and i walked out together, his eyes still staring in horror at my purchase.

"see you soon!" i called, climbing into my car. he waved silently.

i've gone out of my way not to buy alcohol at this safeway (which is a shame because it has a fabulous wine selection), but it never occurred to me not to buy toilet paper there. i guess i forgot that one of the magical elements of being a child is believing your teachers live at school and are only there to serve you.

i once run into a parent while buying a rather large case of beer. (i don't normally buy in bulk, but it was on sale, and they didn't have the kind i wanted in a 6 OR 12 pack). i wasn't even at a store near my school, but one near where i lived at the time, far, far away from where i usually run into kiddos. standing in the line holding the heavy case i heard a laugh. one of my mothers was standing in the line across from me with a HUGE smile on her face. she wasn't a mother who was particularly warm to teachers, and i had just reached the point with her that she would call me by name and not by her child's previous teacher's name. in broken english she said, "good weekend?!" and laughed again. the next time i saw her in school she hugged me and kissed me on both cheeks. maybe i should buy beer at my school's local safeway...

Sunday, July 13, 2008


yesterday in my saturday grad school class my professor announced she was switching careers. she is currently a professor at two different universities in the area and a director of the middle school at a fabulous school for kids with learning disabilities. she is one of the best professors i've had in my masters program, and is clearly fabulous with kids, managing staff, and managing special ed law. why would someone so fabulous and so knowledgeable leave our profession?

being curious, and assuming she had to be doing something so incredible and education-related to want to leave her director position and university teaching positions, we questioned her during our break. when she told us someone laughed loudly and said, "right. no, seriously, what are you doing?"
she is leaving our profession to work for a private company, one that gives her a blackberry, a fabulous pension and retirement, and benefits no school can compete with. for her family it's the best move she could make. for us, and the education world in general, it's a great loss.

it just made me angry. how unfair is it that the great people in our profession can be poached by private companies? we need the best! we deserve the best! yet the best deserve to be paid the best, and there is no way education can compete with that. in a private school i'm sure they have merit-based pay, so i'm sure that's not the answer to this particular situation. but there are some health care plans, retirement plans, and benefit packages no school, private or public, can compete with. i know it's the way the world works. but it still makes me sad. no one should have to go from running a school, helping kids, teachers, parents, and grad students to having to work for corporate america and sit at a desk all day.

perhaps i'm just sad knowing such a great professor wont be out there anymore. or that such a motivated, knowledgeable teacher wont be there to make sure kids are getting the best. i wish the world could pay her what she deserves and what she needs for her family so that the rest of us wont have to suffer.

Friday, July 11, 2008

summer reading~ Welfare Brat

as a way to procrastinate all of my grad school assignments (i'm taking 3 classes... i feel like i'm back in undergrad again) i've been re-reading some of my favorite books. going to the library or buying books would admit that i'm not being a productive student, but re-reading books that are already in my house... somehow that makes it ok...

One that i re-read almost every summer is Welfare Brat by Mary Childers. Every time I re-read it it strikes so close to home. Anyone who works with children from poverty should read Childers' account of growing up on welfare in the Bronx. In a narrative form Childers describes a childhood in poverty better than other fabulous poverty-books, A Framework For Understanding Poverty by Ruby Payne and The Working Poor by David Shipler. I highly recommend both Payne and Shipler's books as well, but everything Childers writes reflects what Shipler and Payne describe, just using her personal narrative which paints such a clear picture.

Childers, who now has a phd, talks about how hard it was as a child to walk the line between fitting-in in her neighborhood and fitting-in with her GT classes, and her after-school jobs. She writes, "Years of practicing walking with books on my head so that I can impress adults with money have trained me to walk straight and stiff. It's maddening that a requirement in one environment is an offense in another. How will I develop character if the world requires me to be a chameleon?" This is something Ruby Payne describes in her book as the 'ability to switch between a former register and an informal register', something that children from poverty have a difficult time achieving. It is something we need to teach and be aware of to help our children be successful.

As she is determined to go to college so that she wont repeat the pattern of the women in her neighborhood her family rejects her and her desires. She talks about how her mom would convince her little brothers and sisters not to go off and leave the family like Mary, and then would praise them for their desires to stay home and skip school. Yet Mary also discusses how much her mom worked for their large family, and how she struggle balancing it all. Mary describes the balance between her love for her mother and her frustration for her drinking and the many men she brings home. It's such a reminder that the parents that frustrate us, who we know aren't making good choices, are making good choices at times we might not be able to see it. And they love their children, despite what we see in the classroom. Our ideas of what is important for children is just different from theirs. Having money in order to not be homeless may override helping with homework, or even changing your children into pajamas before putting them to bed.

I absolutely cannot do the book justice here, and I am just procrastinating from writing papers at the moment, but the book is a must-read for teachers working in an underprivileged population. It explains so much about behavior in school, where our children are coming from, and everything they are up against in their day-to-day lives. Some days it is no wonder that school seems like the least important aspect of their lives~ most likely survival, food, and knowing who will be in your house when you get home is all taking precedent over reading, math, and following the 'school rules'. Sometimes as teachers we academically know what their families are going through, but reading Childers books takes it from the academic level and turns it into a family you love, who you are rooting for yet are also frustrated with. Suddenly you can't believe the clueless teachers, until you realize that they are us.

what else can i say to keep myself from having to go finish my papers... ;)
stupid grad school...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

school for teachers

my afternoon class is packed. 30 teachers in one room. the girls in front of me (not the one wearing a hoodie so the professor wont notice her watching the office during class) were whispering frantically about something or other when the high school teacher sitting in the front row turned around. without thinking he brought his finger to his mouth, made the 'shhh' motion and gave them the evil teacher stare. then he realized that he wasn't teaching high school and that they weren't kids but his peers and his faced turned red. as did theirs.
its funny how those 'teacher instincts' hit us when we're not paying attention.

too cute for time out?

the child stood up in the grocery store cart, stamping his feet and throwing pieces of paper onto the floor. his mother diligently picked the pieces up and handed them back to him, asking him not to throw them again. he threw them to the floor. and mom picked them up. again and again.

my husband caught me before grabbing the little one and asking him to sit down in the cart since he looked like at any moment he would topple over into the cake mixes. and that's when i read his shirt.

too cute for time out

hmmmm... who makes these shirts? and who decides to put their child in it? does that reflect their own parenting strategy? well, we believe in time-out, but our kid is just to darn cute to do that to. perhaps they should also have one for 'too cute to go to bed at a reasonable hour' or 'too cute to be hurt if he falls out of the shopping cart'.

apparently my 3 grad school classes are turning me into a bitter person. ignore me.

Monday, July 7, 2008

on-line learning failure

as i look longingly out the window at the trees and grass and think happy thoughts about the pools in my new neighborhood, i bitterly return to my laptop where i am suffering through an on-line class. i thought i would love on-line classes. i'm not a huge group-work person. i like using the computer, i prefer writing my ideas as opposed to discussing them, i like working at my own pace. writing my thesis in undergrad and then doing an independent study were some of my best learning experiences. on-line learning should be perfect for me, right??

i am miserable. i don't understand the syllabus, or the assignments. i don't like reading other people's comments on the discussion board anymore than i like listening to them in class. actually, in-class is better because you can listen to the natural discussion and then respond. now its a competition to see who can sound the most intelligent on the discussion board.

i am also, for the first time, sick of my computer. i am sick of typing, scrolling, and looking at the screen. i have spent 4 hours this morning suffering through power-points, articles, and writing responses to them.

sadly this class is now only offered on-line and is important for me to get endorsements on my license, so here i am, working hard, during my super-short summer break.

we haven't been given any grades yet, or at least, i haven't. i have no idea if all the work i've done so far is what the professor is looking for, or far off base. without the quick class announcements or chatter among peers its hard to understand exactly what the assignments are. i'm starting to worry that i may not do as well as i need to in order to get credit with the state.

ick. and now i'm off to another class i'm taking this summer, this one with an actual teacher and location, that i now have to get dressed and drive quickly too. eek. perhaps working in pjs wasn't that bad this morning after all...