Saturday, August 30, 2008

it is suppose to be a 3 day weekend, and i can't stop thinking about my kids

in this last week i have been shaken by the amount of anger i've seen in five and six year old children. i work in three different classrooms, and across all three i've watched children try their hardest to control the world any way they can. i've watched them scream, yell, fight with their teachers, cry, and the most effective method~ just absolutely refuse to be compliant. while we're use to having one or two children like this every year this year the anger seems to have seeped into more and more of them. it's disturbing to watch these meltdowns in a five year old. the desperation in their body to control their life in anyway they can, the anger in their little fists, the lost look in their eyes telling us 'it doesn't matter what you do or who you are, you're not going to reach me'.

last year just as the housing crisis began we noticed extreme behavior in some children. we called parents in and found out, sure enough, their family had lost their house. whether they owned the house themselves and had trusted a real estate agent from their country who told them the english documents said something they didn't, or whether they were renting, paying the rent on time, but were told by the bank to leave since the owners of the house had failed to turn the rent over to the bank. it wasn't many children, but enough to notice the trend in the out-of-character behavior that turned out to be linked to becoming homeless.

these little ones, the five year olds just now learning that their parents are not the super-heroes they believed they were, are determined to take control as they watch their life spin out of control in the hands of the world. in a way you have to admire the strength inside their anger. it is a determination that can help them if they learn to use it for good. but it is frightening as an adult who wants to help them, who wants to be trusted, to watch a kindergarten or first grade student say in every way possible without using words, "it doesn't matter what you do, i know better than to trust you".

i had two conferences this past week where it turned out the parent did not ever speak to their child, because their child spoke english and they spoke spanish. can you imagine being five and not being able to speak to your primary caregiver? never being able to be reassured that life will be ok? never hearing a story read aloud, or hearing about mom's life as a child? having only your needs met, all but the emotional piece that allows for healthy development? i admire the parents determination that their child will speak english and do well in american schools, but their child has to learn spanish as well. i'm not sure how they'll do well in life if they can only communicate with teachers and not their parents. i'd rather them struggle for their first few years in school than to go home and not be able to tell their parents what they learned.

this weekend i've got my stack of books from my emotional disabilities graduate class out so that i can review good strategies to use. i've got another stack of books out that i've found helpful over the years. i'm determined to find strategies that will let these children feel safe inside our school. maybe then i can sleep at night.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

oh goodness

i sat down to do a running record with a little one in first grade. "let's read this book together!" i said excitedly with the materials (book and running record recording sheet) in my hand. it wasn't until i'd opened the book in my lap that i realized i'd given her the running record sheet and the pen and i'd taken the book as though she was going to do a running record on me. i must be really, really tired.

maybe i'm just wishing i was home reading on this rainy day.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

the future potus

i fully believe i have taught the future president of the united states. it was 4 years ago during the last election when i was a first grade classroom teacher. i can no longer remember what year this little boy hopes to take office, but he has it all planned out. 4 years ago he was set to be the first african-american president. (last year he emailed me with a dilemma. how could he vote for obama if he wanted to be the first african-american president himself?)

this little one is a child i'll remember for the rest of my life. my friends printed his emails out and put them up on their work bulletin boards because if a 6 year old out there believed in our country then they could to. he also showed me what passion and interest could do for a student.
he came into the class as a low to average reader. he did ok in math, but not overly great. but he was a happy six year old with a sharp curiosity about the way the world worked... and then we started covering the election and suddenly he exploded. his reading and math soared. his passion for learning about government took over our entire room, creating the most natural community i've ever had in a class.

he was obsessed with politics. people use to smile and say, "his parents must be telling him all of this" but his parents were coming to me, begging me to get him interested in something else- anything other than politics. "i've tried sports!" his father explained, "but he doesn't care! all he talks about are presidents and senators!"

he wrote a book explaining the senate to my class. he wrote another book about how ted kennedy was his favorite senator. (i know, i know, but i wasn't about to steer him one way or the other. i let him enjoy his opinions). later, when he'd moved away to another state he sent me an email saying he was writing a new book for his class on why the white house would look better without george w. bush. he had moved to a southern state where i fear this book was most likely not well received. i wish he'd sent me a copy though.

his best friend (the only caucasian child in the class) became a stanch bush supporter. the two would get into political arguments constantly. on the playground a teacher ran up to me and said, "um, there are two kids in a fight over there, but one is yelling 'lame duck' and the other is yelling 'nixon lover' ". yes, that would be my class.

we had to come up with some class rules. if you were going to say something negative about george w. bush (he was still our president after all- i don't care who you wanted to win) you had to have a reason. you could not say, "he is a big fat dummy" or "he is so dumb he could be in headstart". you had to say, "i do not like him because..." and give a reason for why you did not like him. this solved the problem for one day because they couldn't think of any good reasons. the next day this rule lead us into an engaging debate about reaganomics and the trickle-down theory. i was just trying to teach addition, i swear.

one day i lost it in the hallway because two kids wouldn't stop talking. when i went over to give them the 'teacher of death' look i realized they were in a very heated debate over who was the better president, george w bush or abraham lincoln. and they were giving reasons for their opinions. we had a quick talk about appropriate places to have such discussions, but how could i yell at 6 year olds for such high-level thinking?

during morning meeting my future potus would bring in the front page of the newspaper to share. he'd want to go over the headlines and discuss the state of the nation. (the most unfortunate side of this was when michael jackson was on the cover... he wanted to discuss if he was a boy or a girl)

he was really obsessed with john edwards. kerry was ok, because he was a democrat, but edwards was his man. he knew everything about him (i am heartbroken that edwards has become just another politician... my future potus based his world around edwards).

i'd come home with stories about what the future potus was writing in writing workshop and my husband (boyfriend at the time) would get so upset and tell me facts i could take back to potus to encourage debate. i'd have to remind him that the future potus was only 6. we had to be amazed he even knew what the senate was.

he wore a 'suit' once a week. black pants and a navy-blue blazer, and his john kerry pin, even in march, long after the election. he knew he would be president, he needed to start dressing the part now. he knew what it took to be president- you had to a citizen born in this country. he was aware that he was a citizen born in this country and would discuss that frequently. this started discussions on who in our class could be president and who could not. we stopped that discussion quickly (or tried to, i'd find them discussing it during free time)since at my school few children are eligible for president under such rules.

after he'd moved away he would email me whenever ground-breaking political news occurred. he told me when rehnquist died, and emailed me to tell me all about scooter libby.

it was amazing this child who had entered the classroom as an average learner became such a leader in the class. he raised every one's critical thinking skills just by asking them their opinions and engaging them in debate.

listening to the convention coverage on the radio i'm getting nostalgic for my own classroom community. i want to do election activities with students. i want to do first-grade debates and have more long classroom meetings about, "well, what do you think? why?" i want to have another year where i'll have to explain to the librarian why all my children want to check out books on presidents ("any president but nixon, he's SOOOOO bad").

but i know a class like that doesn't come along every day. my little one proved to be quite a leader, a passionate individual who could state what he believed, stand up for what he thought was right, and worked hard even though some things didn't come as naturally to him as they did for other children. if he is not president one day, (and i know he will be) i'm sure he'll be using all of these leaderships skills to make our world better.

** i did ask him that if he becomes president, could i be the secretary of education? he said, "oh miss l, you don't want to just be a secretary!"

the 2 teacher voices

yesterday i used the evil-teacher voice for the first time this year. the viola-swamp-has-nothing-on-me-don't-even-think-about-talking-while-i'm-talking voice.

the kids were so shocked that when i was finished one asked in a whisper, "what happened?"

today is a teacher workday, but hopefully thursday will be better and the voice can stay hidden where it belongs.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

loving them

today was one of those days where you want to put each child in the classroom in your pocket and slip them out the door with you, where you can promise to feed them, put them to bed on time, wake them up on time, feed them again, and give them the love that children require to develop into emotionally healthy adults.

so many of the children i work with, in special education or not, come to school with so much going on in their lives. and it's not that their parents don't try or don't work hard, it's that in their corner of the world life is hard. God bless these children. the backgrounds i have learned about my new friends this year haunt me. i took the children home this weekend in the way teachers do, every moment thinking about them, wondering how they were doing with two days off, and how we can help them at school. can we even begin to teach them reading and writing if they are so hidden inside themselves, hidden beneath anger, confusion, and mistrust. how can we rebuild what other adults have torn down? how can we show them they can trust us, even if other adults in their lives have let them down? how do we tell them it's ok to sit back and relax in school, when at home life is chaotic and they wonder when dad will work again, or whether or not their parent will be home that night. how can we get them to take down their walls in school when they are putting their walls up for protection?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

fiction v. nonfiction debate

on friday our literacy collaborative co-teacher was out of the room so the classroom teacher and i found ourselves in a literacy-dilemma. we had a little girl who was writing a story about a bear coming to her house. hmmmm.... clearly this did not really happen and so far we've been prompting the kiddos to write about their own lives. this little one would be well-served by sharing with the class and she was asking to share, but we didn't want to end up with a whole bunch of bear stories.
she had done so many good things with her text though. she had a sequential story that made sense. (the bear came to her house and her mom said "oh my gosh!" and she said, "oh no!". on the next page the bear left her a reading book. next page: she decided to follow the bear to his house where he made her cookies and then took her out for ice cream ~each event on a separate page). she was so engaged in writing the words that she wasn't even drawing the pictures. the only reason the story stopped when it did was that it was time to end writing workshop. we'll be able to walk her through ending her story naturally on monday. she was really listening to the sounds in her words and was working so hard on remembering her word wall words from last year (so impressive!!) we even had to staple another book onto her first book because she ran out of pages.

so, do we accept her fictional account of her bear or encourage her to write about something that really happened next time?
in already ready katie wood ray brings up several questions about composition. she asks,
  • is the child's book about something?
  • how has the child organized the book?
  • when the child reads it, does it sound like a book?
  • does the child read the book basically the same way every time?
  • is the book being made in the manner of other picture books?
  • what in the book shows the child understands genre?
  • how is the child representing meaning?
  • is the child intentional about what is being represented on the pages?
  • does the child engage in revision while composing?
  • is there any evidence the child is thinking ahead about what to write?
  • does the child exhibit a willingness to solve problems while writing?

she goes on with other questions, all of which i think our kiddo was doing. i learned a lot about this little girl as a writer from my conference with her. and i think her story showed that she did understand the concept of a story and it reflected books we read in the classroom (and books she is reading in guided reading~ simple texts at her level).

in chip wood's book yardsticks he lists the developmental characteristics of children at particular levels. one of the characteristics for the late-5 year old child is being more of a 'story-teller' and having a more difficult time differentiating between reality and fiction. is there a developmental stage where fiction is easier for children than non-fiction? i remember something about this from piaget, but i'll need to go check my notes to be sure.

we decided to let her share, but instead of her reading her book to the class i did it quickly and just pointed out that she used word wall words and that we stapled 2 books together because she kept going and going. we'll see what our lc coach recommends on monday!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

writing conference

me: so what are you writing about today?

him: visiting my uncle.

me: really? where are you? from your picture it looks like bars are around you and your uncle.

him: we're in jail. i visit my uncle in jail.

me: oh. my. (long pause.) ok, should we label your picture? what do you want to say?

him: i'll write uncle here. and then jail here. /j/ /l/. now i'll write my name here. see here i am behind these bars, and there's my uncle behind those bars.

me: wow. you did a great job listening to the sounds in jail. you didn't just stop with the /j/ sound. you listened to see what you'd hear next. so what's on the next page?

him: this is his girlfriend, the police found her and threw her in jail too. see, she's having a baby in her tummy. so i'm going to write baby right here so you'll know.

me: ok. wow. (another long pause.) great idea about writing baby right there, you're right, otherwise i wouldn't know she was having a baby. what other words can you put on this page?

him: ummmm.... maybe uncle girlfriend. /u-c-l/ /grlfndf/.

me: great job listening to those sounds! look at all the sounds you heard in 'girlfriend'. so what happens next?

him: (turns the page) this is my dad asking the police man to let my uncle out of jail. but the police man said no.

I always hit the point where i think i must sound like an idiot focusing on those sounds and on story sequence when the kiddo is telling me that he visits his uncle and his uncle's baby mama in jail. but it's his life, it's his schema, and it's his story to tell. we take what they bring into the classroom. this kiddo doesn't have a story about going to the pool or going to kings dominion. he has a story about jail, so that's what we're writing about.

two of my other children (in another class) wrote equally distressing stories. one was about watching an old woman get run over by a truck on halloween when he was suppose to be trick-or-treating. another was about the gruesome details of her cat getting run over by a car. sometimes i feel kind of evil taking advantage of these stories to capitalize on writing conferences, but these tend to be the most meaningful stories to the kids, and the ones where they are more likely to attend to your lesson. then i just want to take them all home and protect them from anything that doesn't involve lollipops and rainbows.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

moving on over

i decided i didn't want to take up room on organized chaos by taking notes on my mini-teacher research project on house keeping. so instead i'm moving over to: to keep my notes and reflect on how it's going. this way if you're not interested in my project at all you don't have to read about it. however, if you are i'd love your comments! part of my project is to hear about what works for others out there and get ideas from you all. Please comment and give me your ideas!

um.... no

as i was redirecting a student on the carpet today, reminding him to keep his hands to himself and to put his eyes on the teacher he leaned in as close as he could get to me. i instinctively pulled away and he said, "hey! i want to smell your mouth!"


"i want to smell your mouth. it smells like my mommy's mouth. mmmm"

ok, clearly mommy also drinks coffee and eats goldfish, neither of which i associate as good smells. secondly, does nothing flash through your head that you are currently in trouble right now and that it might not be a good time to try to smell your teacher's mouth?? or is this all diversionary tactics used so well by magicians.

still, ew.

today will be better

today will be better.
today i will be patient with the children.
today i know what to expect so i will know how to balance my time between moving and teaching.
today i am wearing tennis shoes so that i wont be moving heavy boxes in my super cute mary janes.
today i will say positive things when talking with my coworkers, instead of just mumbling 'today sucks'.
today i will be flexible, flexible, flexible, and will laugh in the face of challenges.
yesterday was a pass at being positive. yesterday i could be grumpy. excuse my grumpiness on the blog. thanks for putting up with it.
goodbye grumpiness.
as kindergarten chaos put it, today we're all going to wear our happy shoes.

Monday, August 18, 2008


part of today meant going through a huge cart of my old posters and poems and deciding what to throw away, what to give to other teachers, and what to hide under the bed in our brand new but very small house where mr. lipstick wont see.

i found some things that put a huge smile on my face and made me miss the classroom. (at the moment i can't figure out how to make these pictures turn, but when mr lipstick gets home i'm sure he'll help)

this is an interactive writing poster i did with my first graders. we made a list of things that plants need, and then a list of things first graders need. i love it because i find it so true.

it reads: *books, books, books homework *teachers *writing *good role models *good friends *running *reading *someone to care for them. this is the interactive reading strategy chart one of my classes made. i loved making my own posters for my classroom. plus the kids loved illustrating the strategies we were working on.

another thing i use to do (which totally lables me a pack rat) was save great art work from past kiddos. a lot of my kids would tell me that if they took their art home their moms would just throw them away so instead i'd put it up in the classroom. these are from my first year of teaching. i thought they were so beautiful i used them to decorate my classroom every year before i had new artwork to put up. i have no idea what to do with them now. they are beautiful, but obviously there is not much point in keeping art work that is not my own child's.

the art teacher was also a first year teacher and she joked that her talent was knowing when to take the art away from the children. they would never be "done" but she'd decide that any more would ruin their work. she did have a great eye for when to stop them!

every year i would have a huge writing celebration at the end of august so we could tell the world that we are authors. i know that the experts say not to make your first writing celebration your biggest, but i loved starting the year with the huge celebration of our first month's work. it made the kids excited to keep writing as the year went on. plus, i used it to squeeze in as many lessons as i could. we would make cupcakes, which of course meant planning the ingredients, writing a shopping list for mrs lipstick, reading the instructions on the recipe, baking the cupcakes using math skills and team work, decorating them, and finally eating them. i did this because so many of our kids have trouble sequencing information and they especially have trouble with planning ahead and self-talk. below are the sentence strips i made one year for the children to use at a center in order to practice putting something in sequential order. everyone loves remembering good food, right?

and then there was the year i went to china to teach for 2 weeks during intersession and decided to try interactive writing there. turns out in china they learn words as whole parts. the teachers i was working with were really confused by the idea of phonics, as were the kids. it was one of the oddest interactive writing experiences of my life. 50 kids, 1 teacher, 1 pen. it says, "we live in Xian China. We like jump rope and football. Love," and then they signed their english and chinese names.

yes, i kept a lot of stuff over the years. and it is probably good to get rid of it now. i just would have liked more of a warning.

today sucked

there really is no other word for today. tomorrow will be better.

on a positive note: a little kindergarten girl with no english patted my stomach today and said a word. then she giggled said it again adding 'ito' to the end. when i asked another child to translate the girl turned bright red. "it means tiny tummy" she said.

i so, so needed that today.

fighting back tears

my car is packed with my personal classroom library. the fabulous room we've previously been able to pull kids into for extra learning groups is gone. our school is bursting at the seams and we need any and all classroom space we can get. we're adding another teacher, which is fabulous for the school. we wouldn't want it any other way, but it does mean that groups of us are running around today moving rooms. and what we've lost is our kid work space. so all of my personal things i've bought to work with kids over the years are in my car. who knows where they'll end up... they certainly don't fit in my new house.
it's hot and i've been running back and forth trying to "be a trooper" and quickly pack my things up. i'm not the only one in this boat and it just sucks.
my kids are falling apart too, but i can't be with them today. my ia just stopped me to tell me all the terrible things that are happening in the classroom without me. i've left my teachers in a pinch since i was suppose to teach lessons today. i am sitting criss-cross applesauce at my desk because i've just piled things under it and now there is no leg room. i'm trying to think what to do next, but i have no idea what is the next productive move. (currently i'm the only adult in a room with a child throwing a tantrum, so for a few minutes i can't do much but sit here.)
today just sucks. it's ok that we have to move, it's great for the school. i'm just overwhelmed, panicked about where things will go in my house, overwhelmed with how to help my kids and organize a new room.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

but the book says it's true

yesterday my husband and i found ourselves in my mom's second grade classroom helping her with various tasks to get her room ready for the start of the school year. (working at a year-round school makes me forget that most of the schools have not started yet. it seemed weird to stand in an unprepared classroom after we've been working away for 3 weeks. of course, it will seem so, so sweet to have 2 weeks off in october whent he rest of the world is slaving away...)
as my mother and i debated desk placement and where to put the 'thinking spot' my husband perused a brand new history text book my mother's county ordered for all their 2nd grades. the book was made just for virginia schools to hit all of our SOL (standards of learning) testing requirements. my mother was excited to have a book that covered all of the standards she is expected to teach, but she hadn't had a chance to read the book yet.
in the middle of my mother and i debating the best place to put an extra desk my husband started to laugh. "they use the same stock photo of an indian woman-excuse me, first american woman, for all the different first american tribes".
my mother grabbed the book and realized it was true. the image of the pueblo first-american (the term our test uses. not native american, but first american) was the same as the navajo woman. just in case our children thought it was important to understand the differences between the two tribes, the book has decided to point out that it's really not. in reality they're all the same, so much so the company didn't want to purchase any extra stock-photography to correctly illustrate the differences. (it should also be noted that the picture of the woman as a pueblo first-american is actually historically inaccurate based on what she has in the picture).

the text book companies are the biggest lobbyists for no child left behind. standard testing makes it easier for them to choose content to put in their texts, and every time the state changes the tests it means they get to make new text books to sell to the school districts. it's quite a money-making scheme. which might be fine if they put effort into making their texts historically accurate. i love it when people find ways to capitalize off the public school system.

Friday, August 15, 2008

friday celebrations

i'm exhausted, but feel there is a lot to celebrate today.

most importantly, in writing workshop we've been dividing the kids into 3 groups based on their current instructional needs. my fabulous co-teacher takes one group, i take another, and the kindergarten aide takes another. so far its been working pretty well. today the kindergarten aide told us that during her lunch duty one of the children in her group raised his hand, which at lunch usually means the child needs a straw or help opening those annoying ketchup packets. this little one though said, "ms s. i have a story to tell"
she told him to put it in his pocket and save it for monday. now we can't wait to hear it. hooray for writing workshop creeping into lunch time.

on smaller notes:
my running-man friend ran out of the classroom significantly less today, and when he did he stayed much closer to the classroom and did not run down the hallway.

his new behavior plan worked so well that when i went over to give him a frowny-face for throwing his books i noticed there was already a frowny-face there. he had given it to himself after he threw the books.

later, when i said, "we do not spit in school" he said, "do you have a book on that? on spitting? a book that says no spitting in school?"
he is asking for his own social stories now... at least he knows what he needs.

in kindergarten i was excited about writing workshop today and the stories our kiddos produced, and, more importantly, they actually stayed on their bottoms and listened to each other's stories.

happy friday! today gave us the hint of a promise that our hard work is going to pay off.

i'm an idiot

my friend who previously fired me has taken to running out of the classroom and into the hallway. he also loves sprinting down the first grade hallway whenever he rounds the corner. so of course i made a simple social story on walking in school and how we all walk in the hallway.

it wasn't working. the running continued.

yesterday when we were walking in the hallway he looked at me and said, "where is this?"


"where we are?"

"this is the hallway"

"oh. the hallway. we don't run in the hallway!"

all this time he knew not to run in the hallway, i just forgot to tell him what the hallway was.
time to step back and be literal with everything.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


i was totally fired today. by my friend with autism who was furious with me for singing a song with the class. yesterday i took him to my principals and had him watch as my principals told me that i have to work with all of the children, not just him. i felt ridiculous asking my principals to scold me in front of a student, but i wanted him to have a visual memory to put with what i tell him everyday.

so today when he threw a fit and went into the corner i went over to get him and reminded him of what my bosses said.

"your fired mrs lipstick!" he yelled at me as he threw a block. "fired!"

trying not to laugh all i could say was, "i'm sorry you fired me, but now we are going to clean up the blocks."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

adventures in housekeeping 2

*i am going to be reflecting on my mini-teacher-research project on my blog over the next couple months. the posts 'adventures in housekeeping' may not prove to be exciting or interesting, but writing it out here will help me organize my thoughts as i explore how we can add literacy in house keeping.*

today i scrambled to get my writing paper and markers ready for the 4 children in the housekeeping center. i had no idea what would happen when i suggested, "wow, is this a restaurant, we need a sign!" frankly i expected them to ignore me. "yeah!" one girl said. "we'll call it the 'grown-ups only cafe'"
and so we did.

so we got the markers and paper and i introduced the small group to interactive writing as we made our sign. then it was back to playing restaurant, until one little boy announced, "now we're closed!!"

"really?" i asked. "maybe we need another sign..." (would they fall for it again?)

"yeah!" the boy exclaimed. "i need paper, scissors, and a string please". we got supplies we could find, and problem solved around the ones we couldn't. we completed a fast interactive writing sign (open on one side, closed on the other) and the kids proudly taped it up.

one little girl was interested in the paper but really wasn't ready for letters and signs. she made her own with print-like symbols and proudly taped it up as well. since it is play i went ahead and let her.

right as the bell to end free-choice rang i had one little girl started on making her own menu. we'll see if we can continue the excitement later.

lessons from today: tomorrow i need to bring the alphabet chart to help them remember what certain letters look like!

fire drills will be the death of me

my new best friend after being told many, many times we don't talk during a fire drill:

"can't we just take the batteries out of the fire drill?"

if only

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

i heart first graders: literal and honest

in writing workshop in first grade today we sat down for the first time with our small booklets and let the kids loose to draw their pictures for oral story telling. one of my kiddos in this room has high functioning autism. i absolutely love this kid, but i was a bit worried about how he would handle the open ended assignment. in kindergarten he would usually draw one picture during writing workshop that didn't really give a hint at a story. maybe it was a scene from ET, or the mouse from chuck-e-cheese. we could get him to add words to these so we focused more on his phonological awareness than his concept of story. today i bit my lip as i approached him, wondering how he would deal with the assignment.

it turns out he did quite well. he put the story in detailed order. what happens first, then what happens a second later, and then a second after that...

here is the boy with the house

the boy walks closer to the house

the boy opens the door to the house (what can you say, it is in complete sequential order)

inside the house is a puzzle

kind of makes me think of the story "in the dark, dark woods"

his neighbor told an interesting story as well, which really shown some light into his life.

i hit a car with my bike

it was a police car because my dad hit a car with his car. i didn't know it was a police car. the police man said "get that bike off of my car"

my bike was broken and the wheels came off. i was happy because i had another bike.

later the policeman came to our house. he wanted to see if my dad had something. he was just coming to check. here he is talking to my dad and mom. i'm over here at the other window. he didn't take my dad to jail, he just checked.

new job title

hey, mrs lipstick, are you the teacher that comes around and makes sure all the kids shut up?

goodness gracious! not exactly how i like to think of myself... although 'the enforcer' might be a great title to put on a business card.

the writing lesson that wasn't

yesterday, a monday, the beginning of the third week of kindergarten, after the children's classroom teacher was out sick thursday and friday, i smugly thought i had a great idea for a writing lesson. in my mind it was going to go like this: gather children in circle on rug, using my quiet 'writing is the most exciting thing in the world voice' i would pull the children into the world of story telling by telling a class story of an incident that happened when the substitute was here. the children would become so involved in the story that they would be ready to take turns telling the next part of the story, they would turn the pages of the imaginary book, read with their fingers along the imaginary lines, and repeat the story again and again, proud of themselves for creating this group story.
that's not quite how it went. just getting them to the carpet was a feat in itself. then trying to explain that we were sitting in a circle and not how we normally sit for writing workshop- looking at the easel. this took physically going around and moving them since quite a few are learning english and had no idea what i was saying to the class as i explained the circle. over and over again. but every time we went to a child to show him where to sit in the circle (i should mention we sit in a circle frequently, it wasn't the first time) another child would decide to go wander around the room. we had one child crying quietly and one stubbornly refusing to sit anywhere but on one rather inconvenient spot. great. i decided to start anyway, hoping that as we got going i would pull them into the story and they would forget that at that very moment they really wanted to be talking with their friends.
they didn't.
at first i actually had a few children on board, but we stopped so many times for distractions... at one point i pulled a child onto my lap who was trying to crawl away. i asked one child to go sit with his head down. he looked at me, hurt, and then planted his head into the carpet, bottom in the air. oops. that one needed a bit more explanation. i kept teaching the entire time and expected the kids to keep learning despite the chaos that was clearly ensuing.
silly me.
we even stopped to sing a dr. jean song. they loved the song, but the minute the writing lesson started again, i had lost them.
at the end i asked them to show me a thumbs up if they liked telling class stories this way. i didn't even say 'thumbs down if you didn't like it'. i couldn't. nobody put their thumb up, except the teachers in the room, which i thought was gracious since i certainly hadn't enjoyed the lesson. i got the idea from lucy calkins and while i'm sure it is a great one, and one that i will try again at another time, i think i'm going to have to put a lot of space between this experience and the next class story in an imaginary book. it will happen i'm sure, but just, not this month while we're still learning to be in kindergarten.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

beginning my adventures in house keeping

i've decided that this year i'm going to do a mini-teacher research project on using the house keeping center in kindergarten as a teaching tool. one of our headstart teachers has the most incredible house keeping center i've ever seen, with literacy opportunities hidden inside their play area. i'm obsessed and excited to try it on my own.

the last few days i have just sat beside the house keeping center, accepting the meals cooked for me by the students (yum, yum, yum, a sandwich made of plastic pizza, hamburger bun, and banana) and chatted with them on the play phones. i've brought in take-out menus they give me that i can select my meals from, and a pad of paper they scribble on to take my order. i've also brought in a phone book but this doesn't seem to be catching their interest at all, so it may soon go to give more valuable space elsewhere.

even though these 20 minutes of house keeping have been uneventful i've been excited about the possibilities that are presenting themselves. my kiddos who tend not to talk much in the classroom, and who have signifigant speech impediments talk wildly on the "phone" to me. when i ask them to clarify something or use their words they don't put their head down and mumble as they may on the carpet. into the phone they repeat themselves with more clarity, making themselves heard so that i know that they want me to cook them a fake pizza.

a few of them love to set up a restaurant and one boy continues to "leave to go to cooking school". next time i want to have paper and markers near by so we can make signs for cooking school and make a sign for the name of the restaurant. we'll see if he lets me interrupt the play for a writing activity...

it has also given me the opportunity to bond with a few children i feel i have done nothing but re-direct since they entered our classroom. sitting on the carpet at story time the little ones impulses do nothing but distract others, but during house keeping they play nicely, sharing and chatting, giving me the opportunity to interact with them without constantly reminding them how we act in kindergarten.

i'm not sure this project will take off, or if it will prove to be much more than 20 minutes of me "eating" fake food 3 times a week, but so far i'm hoping it will give me the opportunity to:

1. create meaningful literacy activities in play
2. coach my children with special needs on their social skills in a meaningful, natural way
3. create play opportunities we can later take back and write about during writing workshop.

we'll see how it goes!

Friday, August 8, 2008

writing workshop

When I first came upon this story in writing workshop I sat down to tell my little one that we don't draw people going to the bathroom in school. Then he started telling me his story.

my brother was on the toilet
and the toilet water started to go up up up and water went everywhere and my brother was stuck!

so my dad came and got fixed it and the water went away.

ok, so maybe we wont share it with the whole class, but he has the concept of creating a story with a beginning, middle, and end across 3 pages.

Then I came across this little one and I immediately assumed she was writing strings of letters. When I sat down to ask her what her letters said she replied, "oh, these letters are so sad! the letter factory is broken! it wont make anymore letters!!"

see, here on the next page this man is yelling, "no more letters! no more letters!"

i'm not done, but the next page the letters start to disappear and all the people are so, so sad.

I think I see the beginning of a children's book... what would happen if all the letters disappeared?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

i heart writing workshop (day 7)

today two quiet children with learning disabilities volunteered to tell their stories in front of the squirmy class during writing workshop. volunteered. to orally tell a simple story from their lives, touching the pages with the teacher as they described in detail a street light outside their window that went out one night, or finding a teddy bear hidden under their covers. such simple stories that became lights into their worlds, letting us work with their language skills using their own language, letting us build classroom community by allowing these shy students to sit on the story telling stool as their classmates watched in awe.

i love it.

someone commented last week about the changes in writing workshop this year and i realized i wasn't very clear in describing why this year is different than others. this year, as a kindergarten team we are trying something new. we are reading Katie Wood Ray's book Already Ready, and are introducing writing workshop through oral story telling. normally we'd start writing workshop in a journal, giving a student one page a day to draw a picture and then write a sentence. the pictures are usually them at the park, or at the pool, and it takes long-drawn out conferences to pull a story out of them. even then, our focus tends to be on their legible writing, the sounds they include in their words, or how they record their high-frequency words.
this year we're teaching how to tell a story first and when we give them paper (which we don't every day) it is a little booklet of 3 pages. we're setting up the expectation from day one that a story is told in multiple pages with a beginning, a middle, and an end, and with lots of details and characters. this is fabulous for their language development (the majority of students at my school are english-language -learners) as well as getting them to practice sequencing information. this is a huge skill for kindergartens, especially those who are growing up in poverty (Ruby Payne's book A Framework for Understanding Poverty does a great job describing why this is.) eventually we'll lead them into labeling their pictures, scaffolding them into writing sentences, listening to sounds in words, and all the other aspects of writing we expect them to do in kindergarten.

but we're starting orally, teaching them their lives have stories in them just waiting to be told. writing workshop has become a magic i can't fully describe and i look forward to it every day.

hissy fits (and library emergencies)

today 5 different children i work with had hissy fits.

one was a silent fit, refusing to move, smiling while she defied me and refused to follow instructions.

one was from being overwhelmed with stimuli, overwhelmed with being in school, and overwhelmed with new routines, new teachers, new kids. it involved sprinting into the hallway and sprinting back into the room, never in danger, but always out of reach of authority.

two were from being denied a chance to go to the house keeping center. one boy silently cried while he was re-directed to another center, but the other, who up until today had been a silent angel, lost it. he cried so hard we were worried he was going to make himself sick. we thrust a trashcan in front of him, tried to distract him with a read-aloud, and tried to calm him and help him understand that he'd have to wait until tomorrow to take his turn. later, when his mom called the classroom teacher, she wanted to know what a turn was. poor boy, and poor mom, confused at the language we're using and wondering why we're being so demanding about this 'turn' concept in kindergarten.

and then there was my new good friend. who wanted to take his library book home but wasn't allowed. his tears came (along with snot running down his face dripping onto my pants) as he pulled and tugged at me, yelling, stomping his feet, pouting, and crying. at one point i leaned into the hallway and called to clairvoy to "go get a librarian!" it was a library emergency! wanting someone with authority to explain to him that he could not take his book home, i was desperate for someone who may distract him from his quest to put HIS book in HIS book bag.

i don't think i've ever called for a librarian in an emergency before, but it was certainly fun to do. we need more emergencies librarians can fix.

i am tired, sipping wine, and wondering about how our little ones will fair tomorrow. hopefully we have to get through the hissy fits just once for them to know they don't work, no amount of tears, stomping or screaming will earn them their desires.

i always think of where the wild things are at this time of year. i just want to laugh and shout, "let the wild rumpus begin!"

Monday, August 4, 2008

on day 6 of kindergarten

one kiddo looked up and asked, "since i'm finished coloring can i work on my writing workshop?"


i think this oral story telling thing might be working!

Sunday, August 3, 2008


or something that looks like it may, one day, be something somewhat like it.

on friday when my co-teacher rang the chime for the students to stop and look they did. hands in the air, one finger over their mouth, eyes on their teacher. not just once, but over and over again.

when i told a child it was time to go to the thinking spot he only argued once. when he returned to the carpet he was quiet.

when we gave instructions to students they didn't turn their heads, stick their tongues out, or say, "i don't want to".

i overheard one friend say, "i'm on the silver line!" when walking down the hallway. and he was! he wasn't trying to run out of line, grab artwork from the walls, or go into another classroom!

my head was not completely pounding when i left for my final.

it took 5 days of consistency, of calm explanation, of silently leading children to time-out, of reviewing rules over and over again, of practicing the rules, the routines, of explaining what we expect. we broke down exactly how to sit on the carpet. step by step. over and over. how to line up. how to put away their backpack. how to be a kindergartner.

but it worked.

not perfect, far from an angelic class of kiddos, but a far cry from monday, or tuesday. i felt like skipping out of school. they are fantastic kids, great personalities, great stories to tell, great ideas to flow out of their heads as we put information in. now that they'll look at us when we ask them to, it is going to be a fabulous year.


my 5

i've been memed by the science goddess at what it's like on the inside to write the 5 things i wish education policy makers understood. what an inspired meme. i'll be interested to read everyone else's thoughts. i've been mulling this over all weekend and perhaps i am brain-dead with back-to-school business. i don't think this is half as coherent as i'd like it to be.

i wish policy makers understood:

~ teachers want the best for the children in their classes. they chose this career to educate, not for the summers, or because they weren't qualified to do anything else. most teachers are dedicated to their jobs despite being underpaid, not having enough materials, and having to answer to multiple 'bosses' (administrators, parents, school board, etc). respect us for that, treat us as partners and not the enemy. the union has made us come across as lazy and anti-children in the eyes of the politicians. look past the unions and reach out to us. we're a smart, resourceful and creative bunch. we might actually help find solutions.

~ every child is a different puzzle. children are not a product we are churning out for the country's gdp, but individual beings with their own thoughts, beliefs, families, and abilities. every child can learn and the fascinating aspect of our job is to discover how to unlock the magic that will allow him to do so. if johnny can't read it's not because his teachers don't care to work hard, it is because they haven't found the right way to bring the information to johnny.

~every time we are told to teach in one particular way, only use one program, one set of books, one and only one curriculum we are limited in the children we can serve. let us be creative, knowledgeable and resourceful researchers who are discovering what elements each child needs. do not be sold by a text-book company swearing their product, and only their product, is the best. do not mandate us to use it. do not demand that all of our bulletin boards look the same, all of our centers be the same, all of our children smile the same way.

~research continues to show how important early intervention is to closing the achievement gap. it's not something that will win votes in an election. it wont immediately lead to higher test scores or a lower crime rate so it is hard for such initiative to benefit a politician's polls. but it is extremely important in closing the achievement gap, if only we'd follow the research and not the politics.

~a home/school connection is vital for success. it's not the teachers fault, it's not the parents fault, it's not the politicians fault (well... ;) ) we have to work together. parents need to come to school, we need to work with the parents. if parents don't read at home with their children it is our job to teach them about how important it is, and it is the parents' job to work with us. putting money into programs that give us time to work with parents will go far in building this partnership.

what i hope the policy makers never find out, but what i suspect they already know:
~i would do this job for free. i deserve to be paid more money and i like having a salary that pays the mortgage, but i, and many others like me, know we could be more respect and more financially well-off in another career. but i love my job.

other thoughts out there?

elementary,my dear?
this must be thursday?
kindergarten chaos?
snippety gibbet?