Monday, September 29, 2008

the A store

one of my friends proudly showed me his brand new shoes this morning. "look mrs. lipstick! check out my new shoes!"
"wow!!" i said, gathering my things and heading for the door to be off to my next classroom.
"they have an A on them!" he pointed out proudly, drawing my attention to the large gold A's on the top of each shoe.
"they do, don't they?"
"yeah, my dad went to the A store so he got me A shoes" he explained.

i couldn't help myself. i put down my things and went to go check out exactly where these 'A store' brand shoes came from. airwalks... yes, i suppose the A logo there would be considered the A store. if my little friend wasn't at the store with his dad, what else does he think they sell at the A store?

best friend

my bff threw his arms around me today (during a reading lesson when he really should have been paying attention) and said in his most dramatic voice, "mrs. lipstick, you are my best friend, aren't you?"
i was feeling pretty touched until about an hour later when i asked him to go get his back pack. he retrieved it quickly and set it down in front of me. suddenly overcome with emotion he threw his arms around his sponge bob square pants book bag and exclaimed, "book bag, you are my best friend, aren't you?"

Friday, September 26, 2008

small tokens

today i loaned out 3 stuffed animals to morning book club members since it was stuffed animal day at school. i instructed them to bring them back at the end of the day so that none of the kindergartners' stuffed animals would be lost.
when i returned to my desk after a day of team planning i found only one had returned their animal. my smart cookie had sent it to me with another teacher, along with a clemontine decorated in black felt-tip pen. i can just picture her with her wild hair and fast moving eyes explaining to another teacher the importance of returning it to my desk by the end of the day, and the other teacher- i'm sure not fully following my smart cookie's logic, being very confused about why on earth she had to leave a small animal and a decorated clemontine on my desk.
to be honest i hadn't expected to see the animal again when i loaned it to her. this is the same little one who 10 minutes into book club today exclaimed in mixed horror and confusion, "oh no! i left my book bag in the bathroom!" and ran out of the room.
it's so silly to be touched by her returning her borrowed animal with the additional small gift, but i know how forgetful my smart cookie can be. for it to be important enough to her to return the animal to me along with a small present... when none of the other, 'more responsible' girls remembered. and i can't help but smile at the clemontine, since that is the name her new third grade teacher has bestowed on her. she's such a truly unique little one.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

today was all kinds of awful, in all kinds of ways. i will say though that throughout the entire day my principal continued to show up in ways which continue to confirm how awesome she is. it might have been the only thing that kept me from crying. there is a lot going on right now at my school that is out of our control, and i can't say i would handle life as reasonably and as calmly as my principal has if i was principal. it is incredible what positive leadership- that puts trust in us- can do for a school.

how many times do i have to say it?

stop hitting your children!!!

belts are for keeping your pants up, not putting your kids down.

kick soccer balls when you're frustrated, not your kid. in fact, even better: play soccer with your kid. but i wont get too picky.

i want to write about funny stories. i want to be frustrated with your kiddo's funny sayings. i'm tired of being frustrated with you. i know life is hard right now. i know the economy sucks, and getting jobs is hard. and that your kids are acting up because they can sense the tension in the house.

but please, please stop hitting them!! i don't know how much more i can take of this emotionally, and i'm not the one getting hit. imagine how you're kid feels?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

k observations

"mrs lipstick, tell e. to go to bed early tonight. he didn't get much sleep last night!"

really, how do you know that?

because he's sleeping on the bus right now.

so impressed with the inferring skills there...

apples everywhere

we survived our first kindergarten field trip. there were times i thought they'd have to leave me there at the apple orchard, but in the end we all managed to make it back to the bus, alive, with minimal damage.
as we boarded the bus this morning i noticed one little girl practically doing back-flips. she is usually too-cool-for-school and this was honestly the first time i'd seen genuine childhood excitement in her eyes. "This is SO cool!" she kept squealing, her body shaking with excitement. turns out she'd never ridden a bus before. she kept staring out the window exclaiming, "WOW! look! there's a house!"

the little boys in the class were equally excited. despite having been on a bus before they'd never been on a bus in rush hour traffic. i was a little worried when we were passed by two tractor trailers~ one on each side of the bus, that the little ones would wet their pants from the amazement of it all. there were lots of little hand and nose marks left on the windows. we even got to drive past a construction zone! and then we were passed by a fire truck. it doesn't get better than that.

because of how far away the apple orchard was and our wonky schedule we had to eat the minute we got off the bus, and even then we really only had 15 minutes to shove food down the children's throats. as we got them to throw away their trash and line up to begin the presentations they all started saying, "that was the best field trip ever!" "are we going home now?" the bus ride and the picnic lunch alone would have been enough excitement for them apparently. so why did we pay $8 a person?!

the actual presentation at the apple orchard was fabulous and the kids got a lot out of it. however, i think the apple-orchard farmers may have been relieved to see us leave. my group began with some apple relay races, which would have been fabulous if our kiddos had any clue what a relay race was. our guide gave fairly good directions (just left out the whole visual modeling part) and then said, "Ok, one, two, three, go!" and all of the kids began sprinting toward the apple-baskets, except one who was determined to throw her apple. receptive language not being our strongest skill, they all missed the point about what a relay race is and so 'go' meant go as fast as you can and push down those kids lined up in front of you.

i was useless getting them back in line because i was laughing so hard. the kids looked confused about why we were yelling at them, but eventually they got the idea that they had to wait. now, if receptive language is not our #1 strength, waiting our turn is... let's just call it what it is, a great big weakness. so... the kiddos would be standing there so proudly, waiting in line, waiting, waiting, waiting, and then suddenly would burst from their spot in line and run circles around the group. waiting is hard.
"if you're happy hold up your apple!"

overall it was a fabulous field trip and the best part was it didn't require much from us teachers other than running crowd control. the kids came home happy, we came home exhausted, and we'll all sleep well tonight.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

the 'i'm sorry letter'

this is a letter one of my kindergarten kiddos gave me. it says,

"iacre, icre, icacre, iacre, iacre, iacre, i acre"

which reads (or i assume), "dear mrs lipstick, i am sorry for looking up your skirt again after you told me not to look up your skirt"

i wish i could drive home and put on pants.

Monday, September 22, 2008

mondays are difficult

my bff came in this morning with his hair standing on end. i couldn't decide if it had been blow-dried on purpose like that, or if this was the just-got-out-of-bed look. after getting a "grrummph" when i said good morning i decided it had to be a sign that the morning at home hadn't gone so well. he was also dressed in a striped shirt and plaid pants, which is unusual for him. last year it came out during a conference that he is a very picky dresser and always chooses his own clothes. we were shocked, because he always matches perfectly. he, at 5, could be a host on one of those make-over shows. i mean, i've never seen a kid come to school day after day in such perfect outfits.
but not today. which most likely meant there was a big fight this morning. maybe laundry wasn't done. maybe they woke up late. whatever happened my bff hadn't forgotten by the time he made it to school.

20 minutes after school started the kindergarten aid told me that my bff was standing outside our kindergarten room (he's in first grade) talking into his hand. i went out and there he was, leaning against the wall with his hand cupped from his ear to his mouth. "mom!" he was saying, "i don't like it here! i'm getting sick! come take me home! oh... ok... well.... fine! i'll see you later!" and he "hung up" his imaginary phone. he looked at me and announced, "i don't like this". clearly his mother had just told him through this imaginary phone conversation that he had to stay in school.

eventually he settled down and by the afternoon he was patting my head like normal.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

how reactive attachment disorder consumed my thoughts this weekend

as a student teacher i had a little one in my class diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder. she had been adopted from a romanian orphanage at the age of 3 by a caring, well-meaning family who quickly became torn apart by this little one. they went to family therapy and the little one went to foster care until the grandparents of her original family agreed to raise her, which is what brought her to our tiny town.
she arrived in the class not long before i did. when i began my stint as a student teacher everyone was still walking around wide-eyed, wondering how to approach this charming, beautiful, yet thoroughly puzzling little one who could become violent or manipulative at the drop of a hat.
during my independent teaching she held scissors to a clump of my hair when i leaned down to help her with her work, threatening to chop it all off. there were pencil-dart throwing incidents, as well as some chair and desk shoving. i absolutely fell in love with her, yet also fully acknowledged that i had no way to help her. when my student-teaching time was over i was left with one final 6 weeks of my senior year (my college was on a trimester system). instead of taking a class that would have allowed me to join my fellow seniors at the river 4 days a week, i convinced my education advisor to let me do an independent study on reactive attachment disorder.
i talked to the professors in the psych department, ordered text-books for attachment-disorder graduate classes, and got busy trying to understand exactly what RAD is, and what it meant for the little one who had just consumed my senior year of college.
her 3 years in the romanian orphanage were to blame, according to my research, as the neurological connections had not been made to allow her to ever believe adults would provide and care for her needs. we were there to be controlled and manipulated, but not to help her. her perspective of relationships was that people controlled one another, she had no understanding of love or empathy as an emotion.
but what do you do about it? i found a list of books recommended to use with children diagnosed with RAD, such as the velveteen rabbit. i made a packet the little one could work through that went back and looked at her childhood memories. i am still haunted by her responses. throughout these interactions she drew herself as a baby hatching out of an egg, because, while others may have come from mommies, she knew she had not. she had no mommy. when i asked her to show me how to take care of a baby when it's crying she yelled, "shut up you stupid baby!"
then there was the day the class was writing about where they would go if they were flat stanley. she wrote that she would go to romania to feed the babies, because there were too many babies there. and she began drawing the babies on her paper. the more she drew the harder the lines became. it was watching a child in a trance, as she just whispered, "too many babies, too many babies". the paper was covered, front and back, with circles representing the babies where she was born.
all of this research was interesting but i was, and still am, acutely aware that i wasn't sure how much good any of it did. i am not a therapist, but a student who read a few books. she became better at explaining her emotions, and better at relating with her classmates, but i couldn't help wonder if i had only helped her learn to manipulate others through emotions, or if i was really helping her to understand herself.

this year i am working with a little one who reminds me so much of my original romanian baby. her hair hangs the same way down her face, her body language, her demeanor, her attempts at pushing people away all bring me back. yet this little one was not like this last year. last year she was happy, a bit shy, a bit sad, but overall a typically developing kindergartner. i feel like we are watching a train wreck and have no way of stopping it. she is slipping from the 'typically developing' side of the attachment chart to the 'attachment disorder' side.

i'm reading, rereading, and rethinking, everything i did back then. those old text books are out, i'm taking new notes, remembering old ones, desperate for some clue. part of what i've read has been reaffirming. we're doing the right things, we're on the right track. we react to her violent behavior in the right ways. part of the reading makes me frustrated because i am not a therapist, and if i was, the chances i would work with a child whose family does not have insurance to pay for mental health would be very slim. i'd rather work with her everyday in school, yet that means we're limited by our role as "teacher" instead of "therapist". some of the reading gives me hope, but much just scares me. unlike my other little one whose neurological brain map had been formed years ahead, i fear we are watching the re-mapping. we're watching her working internal model of herself change from positive to negative. how do we jump on the tracks and stop the coming wreck?

Friday, September 19, 2008

friday celebrations- some weeks you have to remind yourself what went well

things we can celebrate from this week:

~ writing workshop in kindergarten has been amazing! us stepping back and teaching them how to listen to stories has just been incredible for their development as writers. kiddos who couldn't draw a picture on a single topic a few weeks ago are putting together 3 page stories on one topic! and re-telling them over and over again! with details! i had no idea they could learn to organize their thoughts like that so quickly!

~ some of my first graders are really starting to apply reading strategies~ they're self-monitoring and self-correcting. what more can you ask?

~today was talk like a pirate day, which my fabulous co-teacher celebrated by diving into great pirate books. and watching first graders walk and talk like pirates cracked me up. as did saying, "if you can hear my voice put your hand over your eye like an eye patch" instead of the generic "touch your ears" etc.

~fabulous co-teacher and fabulous literacy collaborative coach had a writing celebration today where they put a mirror in the bottom of a tissue box and told each child to look in the box to "meet the author". i missed the initial introduction, but i did get to observe the kiddos sneaking back over to the boxes to peak in and confirm that yes, they are the author inside.

~and greatest celebration of all? october intersession is right around the corner!!!

control, control, control

i found out today that another of my little ones has a very rough home life. my first instinct when getting this information continues to be kicking. i never act on it, but usually i'm picturing myself kicking the hell out of anything near me while i listen to just how bad it really is at home. it makes me so angry when i find out about children who are being beaten.

i'm not a psychologist, or an expert on the impact of hitting your children when they are young, but these are my thoughts on what happens to children who get hit frequently based on my emotional disabilities grad class, my research on attachment disorders, and observations. because kicking doesn't help and i feel powerless in every other way, i'm writing so that i don't explode. these are only my thoughts...
when children are hit by adults it shows them at first that they are not in control, the adult is irrationally in control. depending on their developmental stage this can disturb their world-view, making them unsure of cause/effect relationships. do they trust their care giver? if they aren't in control, if their parent is, then why put effort into life? why try?
then, slowly, the children start to realize that they do have control... they may not be able to control not getting hit, but they can control when they get hit. in an effort to grab control, any kind of control, some kids act out until they are hit to reaffirm that they do have some power, even if it is the power to make bad things happen to them. they learn they can control adults, they learn how to push buttons and watch how they can magically make their parent so angry that they can predict what will happen next. it's almost comforting for them to know these sorts of patterns.

then they come to school. the slightest redirection from teachers seems to send them over the edge. they fight to gain the control they have with their parent- how angry can they make their teacher? can they have the power over their friends that their parents have over them? they use their world-view, based on their relationship with their family to define their new school environment. they push and pull to see what will happen, do they fit in the same manner at school they fit at home? what's their role? and this whole time, this searching for validation and control, they aren't available for learning. they can't relax and listen to the story because relaxing means they might do something a five year old does all the time, which at home ends up being hit. they can't trust adults so they are on edge, scared to attempt work. it's easier to mess up on purpose than to try and fail. if you mess up on purpose you're in control, you know what will happen. if you try your stomach becomes tight with anxiety, what will happen if you didn't succeed?

watching these kindergartners enter school for the first time in their 5 years of life has been surprisingly depressing this year. we've seen so much anger, so much desperation for any sort of control. and every time we're stumped it comes back to abuse, however minor it may be. there need to be more parenting programs out there, and it needs to be more socially acceptable to go to them. i'm not a parent yet but when i think about what some of my families go through day in and day out with their multiple jobs, their families overseas, their tight budgets, it almost doesn't surprise me their children end up being hit. and then they come to parent conferences with us and we tell them another way their life isn't working out as planned. i can imagine how frustrated i'd be if some 20 something teacher without children suggested i take parenting classes to learn "better strategies". i don't know how we make these programs more socially acceptable, more available, and more common, but everyday i see how essential good parenting really is.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

decisions, decisions...

we have a first grade opening at my school, but at the moment haven't found anyone to take it. (at the moment as in when i left school an hour early today... things could have changed by now). i'm tempted to take it and switch back to the classroom. i walk past the empty room and feel it calling me, whispering about the classroom community we could have inside it. i think about my favorite parts of being a classroom teacher, dream of putting my classroom library back together, and begin to plan lessons on the smart board. on my drive home from my parents house tonight i started thinking about how i would start my first week with a new class, the read alouds i would do, how i'd introduce our rules, how i'd run math workshop.
but i love special education. i love working with the kiddos on my case load. i even like the iep process because we are looking at one specific child's needs. i love sitting down at a child centered meeting and discussing where we envision that child being a year from the meeting's date. i love researching strategies to use with these children, analyzing what works and what doesn't, testing hypothesis, and trying again.
could i give up guided reading with my bff (who hugged me again mid-danny book to thank me for reading with him)? could i walk away from my kindergarten kiddos who (despite what it may look like) are really making crazy progress? i love co-teaching. i love the 3 different classes i'm in. i love that i don't have to walk a class full of hyper kiddos down the hallway two times a day.
i miss doing read alouds whenever i want, but is that worth coming into a classroom mid-year? with a mix of kids who already started in another classroom?
me taking the position would help out my team. i know the curriculum by heart, i could even take the special education students because legally i would be meeting their hours as a classroom teacher.

then again, i just returned from the dentist where we discussed how incredible it is that my teeth grinding at night stopped when i left the classroom. hmmmmm....

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

defining funny

i have to admit, i adore my bff. my awesome co-teacher and i frequently find ourselves trying not to giggle while we observe his antics during lessons. yesterday he stretched his arms out around us while we were standing on either side of him and gave us a big group hug. he's taken to patting me on the head and saying, "thank you mrs. lipstick!" during lessons.

his new thing these days is keeping track of what is funny and what's not funny. whenever someone laughs he asks, "what's funny?" and so i try to take a moment to explain it to him. my bff has autism and so is very self-aware that other people have decided something is "funny" so they laugh. i'm not sure he understands what "funny" is, but he's trying his best to make sense out of it so he can laugh along with the rest of us.
yesterday our administrative intern was in the room and our literacy-collaborative coach/phenomenal co-teacher was teaching a lesson from handwriting-without-tears. she made a mistake with the b/d pieces and so the three of us laughed, knowing that's something the kids do all the time, why not us too? my bff of course said, "what's so funny?" i whispered that ms. w had made a mistake. "THAT'S NOT FUNNY" he announced. "don't laugh!" true, smart boy, we don't laugh at people who make mistakes.

today during a particular funny read aloud one little girl just kept giggling. she was the only one and in truth she was making a show out of laughing. my bff did not like this at all. "mrs lipstick! tell m it's not funny! we are quiet and she is laughing, it's not funny!" i'm kind of impressed he recognized that if only one person is laughing then maybe it's not funny.

he's also taken to identifying what is funny and what is not funny in our guided reading books. we have the fabulous danny book series, small square books featuring a yellow lab and all his funny antics. kids LOVE these books, but my bff becomes overwhelmed with the excitement of a new danny book. "oh DANNY!" he sings, and swoons his body into me. "thank you! thank you!" the first time reading a book he'll find particular pages and ask, "is that funny?" if i say yes from then on out he'll overwhelm himself with giggles every time we come to that page. on days i wasn't paying attention and said "yes" on a particularly mundane page i sentence myself to daily independent reading giggles of laughing at danny sitting on the steps. oops.
i love that he's so dedicated to his research project of making sense of this laughter thing.

when guided reading turns into 20 minutes of agony

maybe it was my book choice today, maybe it was my book introduction, but guided reading made me want to hit my head into a wall. i could feel my teeth grinding, my breath shortening, my muscles tightening. the desire to just explode, "are you even looking at the words? how could the word I possibly be the word look? Does that possibly make sense?"
of course, exploding on a guided reading group would be the opposite of a solution. i could tell that my kiddos were reading my frustration as hard as i tried to keep it hidden and were responding in their own frustrated ways.
it's a vicious cycle of me being frustrated, making them frustrated, making me more frustrated, making them more frustrated, continuing to wind itself up inside me.
deep breaths.
if only i'd stopped the group, pulled the books and said, "oops! my mistake. i took the wrong book. i'll get a better one tomorrow!" i think we'd all be in a lot less pain right now.

Monday, September 15, 2008

new ways to say no

my bff's new favorite book is green eggs and ham. which of course means he is making phrases from the book a part of his daily vocabulary. so now, after simple one step directions, i was met with:
"no! i would not, could not, mrs lipstick!"

very loudly.

all day.

we're back!

we're so excited to be a jump rope for heart team for 2008-2009! we're thrilled to be working with the american heart association again and know how much the kids will benefit from being a demo team again!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

a book lover's roots

even when i was little i was an avid reader, despite having struggled learning to read (and spell, which one can debate i never really learned to do). i read anything i could find. i have vivid memories of my birthday dinners, my family being part way through cake when my uncle barged through our back door, staggering in with my present. it was usually a large box, obviously heavy if a grown man would struggle to get it through the door. he'd plop it down on the floor and prompt me to open it right then- not waiting for the family to finish their cake. he'd put his hands in his pockets and lean back, apologizing for not finding the right gift, but hoping i would like it.

i'd rip into the girly pink paper, the kind i associated with girls that weren't myself. it was clearly wrapped by a bachelor, the pink paper not quite covering the cardboard box underneath. the paper and wrapping didn't matter though. i knew what was waiting for me: books. books, books, and more books. opening the large shipping box would unveil stacks of books. it was in one of these boxes i got my first copy of the secret garden. a paperback copy of little women, one i could read outside and not worry about getting dirty. tom sawyers, huck fin, wuthering heights. classics, new books, old books, dahl, kipling, collections of stories my uncle thought i might like. harriet the spy. some were books i may have picked up in the library myself, but others were ones i don't think anyone other than my uncle would have thought appropriate to give me. and i loved them. some would be far above my reading level but i'd struggle through, learning new words, engrossed in the world of oliver twist.

my mother would sigh, telling my uncle he'd overdone himself again. spoiling me, he was, making it seem books were cheap. but to a girl with baby twin brothers who lived in the country away from the library, whose friends lived 20-30 minutes away, these books were my summers. of course, after dinner was over i'd have to return to homework and the books would get shelved, waiting for me to discover them again in due time.

i remember sitting on the swing set at my house, ignoring my little brother trying to get my attention, fully involved in the secret garden. i remember being curled up in a corner of my room by the bookshelf, reading right there in the place i discovered one book, not even hearing my mother call me to dinner. reading wuthering heights on my back porch on a summer evening.

my uncle passed away last night. last sunday, when we saw him at my great aunt's memorial service (she was 107 when she passed away), we chatted about horse racing, the middleburg country side, nothing of any importance. i'd see him again at our new family gathering.

i'm sure when i was 10, 11, 12, if i wrote a thank you note for my books it didn't do justice to what a treasure a box of books truly is. i don't think i ever told my uncle how happy he made my childhood in that way. how he encouraged my love of reading when i could have easily been swayed by those other childhood temptations. how he encouraged me to read outside my comfort zone, how receiving boxes of books will continue to be one of my favorite childhood memories, and all-time favorite gifts.

thank you.

Friday, September 12, 2008

friday morning book club

this morning i held my friday morning book club for past students. over the years we've picked up some members who just wandered into the club somehow. i'm not sure how they found their way to us on friday mornings, but they've become an equally important part of our reading adventures. the group today consisted of four third graders, one from argentina, one from el salvador, one from ethiopia, one from vietnam, and one from afghanistan, along with two fourth graders, one from bolivia and one from afghanistan.

this morning i finished the chapter and asked them what they thought of the book.
"well, it has an interestinglead" a fourth grader responded.
"what? it's interesting?"
"no... an interestinglead. how do you say that? interestinglead." finally out of frustration she wrote it down.
"OH... you mean, an interesting lead" i clarify, impressed she is using the terminology and equally amused she assumesd it's a new vocabulary word.

"the book is about middle school kids, and i forgot that" i explained, "it is going to have boyfriends and girlfriends in it, and i want to know what you think about that." hoping they'll say they don't like it so we can pick a new book.

the interestinglead fourth grader put her hands over her ears, "i'm too young" she moaned. "i can't hear about that!" a third grader interjected happily that she was excited to read the book, and couldn't wait to find out what happened next. the fourth grader from afghanistan looked at her, "really?" she asked, "why do you want to know about boyfriends? why would anyone have a boyfriend? they'll just hit you." she demonstrates this by waving her hands in the air. her third grade sister replied, "yeah, i'm staying single!"
"i'm not! i want to get married and i want to have babies" a third grader from ethiopia announced.
"but your husband might hit you!" the fourth grader made the hitting motions in the air again.

i decided to try and step in, "you'll just be careful and marry someone who wont hit you"
"but you have to marry someone from your country" she replied.
"what?" the interestinglead fourth grader from bolivia asked with distress, "but my mom's from bolivia and my dad's from argentia" you could see her mind spinning...did her parents break some international code?
i jumped in and tried to explain that some countries are different. the third grade sister from afghanistan cut me off with the announcement that would solve it all, "well, i'm just staying single!"
sadly, it was time for them to head to their classes before we could continue on the conversation. i was fascinated by the cross-cultural conversation and expectations elementary school students have on their life ahead of them.

why do we feel compelled to go in when we're sick?

yes, going in proved to be a bad idea. i was out the door by 10am. being there for 3 hours did give me a chance to (other than spread my germs) work with the recess queen on how to make good choices today. i was optimistic when he remembered so many good choices we talked about yesterday. it was a fleeting feeling though, since within 10 minutes of entering the classroom he had flattened a classmate out cops-style, knee in back, elbow on shoulder, hand pushing head down. it wasn't pretty.

i felt guilty emailing my coteachers telling them i was leaving, even more guilty going into a class and whispering to the teacher that i'd be leaving and wouldn't be teaching the lesson today. guilt continued to spread while the kids asked, "but where are you going?" luckily, i've been sleeping since i came home, which has limited conscious guilt. (i'm not even catholic)

mental note: next time stay home from the beginning, keep germs to myself, allow my teachers to plan for me being out instead of getting emails mid-teaching.

to go or not to go?

ah, the great dilemma of the teacher cold.

my throat is scratchy, i'm developing a nasty cough, my head is achy, i can feel a cold sitting in my chest. i've felt it forming all week, but told myself, get through today, you can stay home friday. so now it's friday, and i'm here on my couch, fully ready for the day, wondering if i really get in my car or not.

the thing is, the recess queen will be back in the classroom today and i want to help my coteacher with his transition back to the room. i want to be able to follow up on our cause/effect lessons from yesterday, because consistency is everything. there are the children i have plans for today, plans that involve consistency and follow-through.

memories of being sneezed on yesterday by my bff linger in my head, (is that yucky? he asked. that's not yucky! that's just water! no, no, my bff, it is definitely yucky.) the kindergartners with their runny noses they haven't yet learned to stop before they drip.

it's just a cold, nothing much, i will be able to make it through the day. but will i be productive through the day, or would a day of sleep put my cold to rest? or really, is it the fact that i have a stack of books i want to read, grad school work to do, and a very comfy couch ideal for napping? hmmm.... checking motivation.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

today i laugh

snapshots of today

episode 1:
me in hallway in main office with kiddo who created quite a rumble on the playground yesterday.
"why are you in the office today?"
"because i'm sorry to my friends."
"no, what did you do to your friends?"
"i said i'm sorry"

"why did you say i'm sorry"
"you're sorry? why?"

"what did m do to his friends yesterday on the playground?"
"mmmm... the principal is mad at me. this is the principals office. i don't want to go to the principal's office! don't make me go! hey, wanna color?"

i could go on, but it's too painful. we did end up identifying the incident (which involved mulch throwing, friend throwing, hitting friends in the head with a lunch box, and the list goes on. have you ever read mean jean, the recess queen? there is a picture of mean jean terrorizing the playground. it was kind of like that.)

episode 2:
me in hallway with one friend who is throwing a tantrum. two children walk by v e r y s l o w l y. "wow, look at you walking so quietly! but i bet you can go faster than that!" i say, as i am looking for anyone to talk to so tantrum child does not think she is winning my attention by having a tantrum (which of course she is).
"no, we can't" the little girl said. "he's... hurt"
"oh no! what happened?" i asked. "is there something wrong with his leg?"
the little boy slowly shook his head and pointed to his crotch.
"oh... ok, well, be careful then!" i said wondering if he have a bathroom accident and was trying to hold it in?
about 2 minutes later the boy is still about 4 feet from me (giving my tantrum friend something to watch) and another teacher comes out. same question i asked, same answer. when the little one finally turned the corner you could hear teachers up and down the hall asking him to walk faster and then presumably getting the same response- frantic pointing at the crotch.
a chat with his classroom teacher led to finding out that the poor first grader had just been circumcised. ow!! not only was he in pain, but every teacher now knew. poor kiddo.

episode 3:
"everyone but m. and my bff need to sit down!" i announce. "now!"
m. sits down. "hey! wait, but i'm m.!!" she suddenly realizes and jumps back up. i was wondering how long it would take her to realize...

episode 4:
i did not actually witness this, but heard the story from our assistant principal. one of my first grade kiddos was also sent to the office after recess today, putting him in the narrow main office hallway with my kindergarten recess queen. the two kiddos could not be more different, but probably cause equal amounts of grey hair on their young teachers.
the first grader, a very bright boy, called out of nowhere, "when i grow up i want to be an astronaut"
my kindergartner called back, "when i grow up, i want to be a spaceship"

episode 5:
during writing workshop i was working with my bff to stretch out his words. (he has such a photographic memory that this is a hard concept for him to understand). we're working on the word 'holding' and have finally gotten down the h, o, and l. time for the d. i say the word slowly, taking time to say /d//d//d/. "Oh!" my bff exclaims and writes down the. in the end his page read: he holtheing flag.
i've seen the written as d many times in first grade, but never the other way around.

today was long but now it is over. i can sit back and laugh, sip my wine, and wonder what tomorrow will bring.

has the obama campaign been reading our meme of the 5 things policy makers should know?

i am a huge dork. i say this frequently, but i don't think you realize exactly what kind of huge dork i am. on my xm radio i listen to the potus08 station... 24/7 coverage of the presidential election. and i've listened to it for a year now, when it started covering the early days of running. i'm fascinated by presidential politics (needless to say west wing is my all-time favorite tv show).

so, these days, whenever i'm in my car i'm listening to a campaign speech from one candidate or another. there are things i agree with each of them on, and things i don't agree with each of them on. but this is an education-focused blog so i'm only going to write about what i heard about education yesterday.

i was listening to obama's speech yesterday, i believe the one he gave in norfolk, va. i found myself hitting my legs, clapping my hands, and waving my fists in the air. people at stoplights rubber-necked to see what was wrong with the crazy lady in the car next to them.

all us education bloggers have been writing on the meme the 5 things we wished policy makers would know. well, obama hit on some key points i was surprised to hear come from any politician's mouth and not a seasoned educator.

1) children readiness matters (yes, we've all heard this one, but wait for it, he went on...) children need certain skills to be successful in kindergarten, including... the skill of how to sit still and listen to a story. did i not blog on this two days ago? is this not essential knowledge children need if we're going to teach anything in kindergarten? it sound so small, but it makes a huge difference in the classroom. to know what a story is and to already know how to listen to one before you walk in the doors of kindergarten is huge.
2) the special education debate over inclusion vs pull-out, etc comes down to looking at what works for each child. essentially, trusting teachers that they are going to do what works for each child based on data. (did he go to my special education grad classes? some policy maker must have). of course he didn't use the words "trusting teachers" because we never hear politicians say that, but essentially what he said would have amounted to giving teachers the respect that we will make informed decisions for each child, and that there is not a fix-all answer for all children. what? each child is not the same? when have we ever heard that implied??
3) to attrach more males to education we need to pay teachers competitive salaries that will attract more people in general to the profession. in society pay=respect. (ok, that is one we have heard politicians say, but it is something we all wish for).

obviously he said all this with more polish than i can recount and i have not really done it justice. plus, now i'm late for school...

for my republican family members that read my blog, i'm not endorsing any candidate, but i was excited to hear my beliefs brought up on the campaign trail. i have other opinions about other policies that can be debated in another place at another time. :)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

this is all i'm going to say about this

this is on the 2nd page of our school newsletter this month.

"we have just learned that according to the no child left behind requirements and standards, our school has met benchmark or annual measurable objectives for 28 out of 29 objectives. our school missed making overall ayp or adequately yearly progress by just 2.35% in one area of math. this means that we did not make it in one out of 29 reporting areas. most statistical data has range, but this law does not allow for margin of error. i want to remind you that each year, the expected passing rate is increased and all schools in the united states are expected to make 100% in each objective area by the year 2014. we are fully credited by the state of ______. our students, families and staff have all worked hard to support our students academically but more importantly to encourage our students to believe in themselves, take pride in school and to take risks, to problem solve and to think and be accountable to doing their best as students"

i love the positive spin my principal has put on us not making ayp. it kills me that we missed it by 2.35% in one area. even though we kicked butt in some categories and scored much higher than ayp required, we are still on the list as a school that didn't make ayp. i hate that outside of our school all our hard work is overshadowed by 2.35% in one small category.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

hey man

my bff threw a carpet rectangle at a kiddo today and said, "hey man, here you go!" i was confused about why my bff had suddenly crossed the room, picked up a carpet rectangle and then tossed it at another child, until i remembered earlier i had gotten on him about pulling the carpet rectangle out from under this little one. my bff, an hour later, was trying his best to make up for it. i don't know where he got "hey man!" from, but i couldn't help but crack a smile. 6 going on 26.

getting them ready

a few weeks ago my incredible kindergarten co-teacher and i decided to take a step back with writing workshop. although we were excited about what the kids were producing, they weren't really doing a great job sitting and listening to one anothers' stories, which meant they were missing out on the actual learning portion. while it was awesome to see what they put down on paper we felt like we weren't really doing any teaching. some of the kids, we realized, needed a much better concept of what a story is. many of the children in our class did not have any sort of school experience before walking in our doors in july. their parents work long hours at multiple jobs and so we're willing to guess they aren't hearing many stories read aloud at home either.
so, in the terms used my special ed grad class, my co-teacher and i sat down and looked at the required skills kids need to have in order to be ready to learn about oral story telling, and we decided it was time to teach those skills first.
the first skill they needed was the ability to sit on the carpet for an extended period of time while listening to someone else speak. and what prerequisite skill is needed for a student sitting on the carpet for an extended period of time? the understanding that stories are fun and that if you sit quietly you get to hear a fun story. we needed to first teach them the concept of story in order to give them the motivation to sit quietly and listen to more stories, so that (one day) we could teach them more about stories. we hated taking a break from the oral story telling, especially when we had kids who were so into it, but we wanted to back-track to make sure the rest of the year would be productive for all of the children.
so, we began by shorting time on the carpet to literally no more than 5 minutes. it was really impressive. my co-teacher had loads of activities stacked up so we could have kids on the carpet, then up at their seats, then back at the carpet again. quick transitions with lots of activities so we could slowly build up their stamina. in those 5 minutes on the carpet we read fun big books like mrs. wishy washy, got up, did an activity, read the story again, did another activity, read the story again while doing hand motions. we could tell the kids were buying the fun story element of it all when we heard them repeating lines from the stories at their tables.
then my awesome co-teacher started in on a mini-unit of the three billy goats gruff. the kids read the big book, and re-read it until most knew it. (during this time we were slowly increasing the time on the carpet). then she added puppets. today she divided them into groups and each group had a noise to make for their character in the story. i just about died laughing watching one girl's face as she roared as the troll. she is one we initially placed in our writing group that needed to learn about the concept of story.

today we had them draw pictures of their favorite part from the story and we placed them on a chart "Beginning, Middle, End". i was a bit worried about whether or not they'd be able to classify their picture in one of the categories, but they all did it with very little prompting. this (hopefully) will all tie into our oral story telling lessons on how we tell stories across pages- stories with a beginning, middle, and end.

so while we're really excited about how we've increased their story listening stamina, and their understanding of how stories work, we're also noticing that they are bursting at the seams to tell stories. (well, some of them at least). so we set up a board in the room where they can ask to move their name to the "i have a story to tell" side. then when i have a chance (like during their snack time, or during one of their table activities) i pull children to tell their stories across the pages. working with two-three children at a time is rewarding in itself, and it gives some of our needier kiddos the love they are dying for, while completing academic work. and, almost more importantly, letting us see into their lives bit by bit so we can understand where they are coming from.

it's been interesting to go back and see what we needed to teach for the children to be successful. part of me worried we were betraying already ready and the oral story telling we were so excited about. isn't the premise of katie wood ray's book that children are already ready and already have the skills in place to be authors? then again, when they couldn't sit quietly and listen to a story we couldn't use mentor texts, and we couldn't sit quietly and listen to a story because we didn't speak english and didn't appreciate that stories can be engaging and fun. so instead my co-teacher and i became story advocates, selling a love of reading to the masses.

this little boy begged to share the story of how he got a boo-boo over the weekend. after shhhing him many times on the rug i finally waited for a moment when he was on-task and suggested that he tell his exciting story with me, on paper.
it "reads": once upon a time m. was on his scooter. my scooter is much faster than my sister's. she's really slow. we were going to the park. i put my leg down on the ground to go faster. then (next page) i fell off my scooter. i cried (these are the tears). my sister didn't stop and she ran into me. then i got back on my scooter and went to the playground. i hit more rocks but i didn't fall. my sister was slow.

this was his work a few weeks ago: it was a one page story about a mosquito that made his whole family bleed. it took a very long conference to pull the story out and get him to add any sort of detail (note the red blood drawn elaborately merely to please me with his "detail"). on the story above he added detail spontaneously.

this little one saw a car accident this week. here is his family in the car (picture 1) going to his cousin's house. the next picture is him outside his house listening to his i-pod when the accident happened. he described the accident in detail, and then the third page is his dad coming out to say, "who did this?" and his mom (who is now listening to the i-pod) says, "not me!" he added tons of detail here, which was exciting because that was one of our goals- to get them to add more details to their pictures. adding the details took no prompting!
This is his writing workshop work a couple weeks ago. It is a picture of him and spiderman.

so, i think our reflections, our long hours after school of going through our exact wording to keep our lessons so short, our intense planning for small 5 minutes paid off. we're slowly getting there. hooray for victories!
hi mrs. lipstick. tomorrow i'm going to get a cold.

Monday, September 8, 2008

there's no place like my school... there's no place like my school

heel clicking and channelling judy garlin...

in grad class tonight we were asked to share what sort of expectations of us in the way of lesson plans. those who raised their hands to say they had to turn in their lesson plans early got our pity. then one said, "i don't know why. last thursday we got an email from the person who has been our ap for years announcing that by next thursday she expected all of our lesson plans for the week on her desk. from now on she would always expect our lesson plans by thursday."

no reasons given for why the change in policy, not even a staff meeting on what was expected. i can't imagine working at a school with such little respect from the administration toward the teachers.

i love my school.

another blurted out in frustration, "you're telling me to put all these elements in my lesson plans, but my school requires us to follow this text book, and we cannot deviate from it. our principal expects to come in and know what we were doing based on the book."

i love that my principal trusts me to teach without a teacher's manual, since i know my students' needs, and the teacher's manual has never actually met them.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

my special education hero

when i first discovered torey hayden books i was probably still in elementary school. i found a stack of large-print readers digest condensed books from my grandparents in the back of a closet at my house. i was one of those kids who read anything and everything she came across, and i remember the excitement of finding the new books and deciding the only story that looked interesting in the stack was torey hayden's just another kid. in my memory i read it almost all in one day, curled up on the floor beside the closet i'd found the books in. throughout the years i re-read it until i discovered that she'd written many other books about her experiences as a special education teacher.

most likely hayden is who lead me down the path of special education, who taught me to look at children in a different way, and helped me look at the process of teaching in a different light.
every year i re-read a few of her books. i own them all, and last week i stared at my book shelf dedicated to torey deciding which of my broken-spine copies was going to be my therapy for the start of the school year. reading hayden becomes like taking a hot bath. somehow stories of chaos surround me, inspire me, relax yet energize me.

when i think things are out of control with my own children her books remind me that it could be worse, but also am reminded that the chaos can lead to finding solutions that help our little ones. re-reading hayden's little vignettes in the classroom makes me realize that i've copied her methods, memorized them, and made them my own. years of reading the books for enjoyment must have embedded her theories and her classroom activities in my head so that i use them daily.

in my advanced methods graduate class our only text book is one of hayden's books (somebody else's kids). it's not my favorite hayden book and i'm nervous about sharing hayden with others. part of me is thrilled to finally discuss her classroom methods and techniques with someone other than my mom, but part of me feels timid about sharing her. what if others don't agree with her ways of teaching? am i going to have to sit and listen to her being analyzed and discredited. usually i love debate (i am married to a republican) but perhaps i've become too close to hayden. too much of my own identity is tied up in her.

my mother has always seen through my obsession with hayden in that i want to be a torey hayden. she used this to attempt to convince me not to go teach in nyc (which is a story for another time, but it ended up not happening), and has used this to help me work through professional woes. she perhaps sees this more than i see it myself.

as the electricity flickers on and off i'm curled up with 'beautiful child', laughing out loud at the children in the classroom, and getting mental inspiration for ways to help my own kiddos on monday.

Friday, September 5, 2008

developmental milestone of compare and contrast, not reached.

a friend rubbed my belly today and said, "hi baby! mrs. lipstick, there is a baby in here"

um.... no.

"no, actually there's not."

"but there is a baby in my other teacher's tummy"

"yes, but teachers are different. there is not a baby in my tummy"

"oh. why?"

reasons i love my school #1,895

the children have real-world experiences i'll never possibly have.

this morning at my friday morning book club for past students plus others who just started to show up, we had a very short conversation about what war does to a country. two girls from afghanistan shared their experiences, talking about it in the way some kids share "last year i went to the zoo". i could only related with "i read that", or, "i studied that in college".

my new bff

last year i had a bff for the first 9 weeks of school. this year the title falls on another child i originally was going to call my running man, but that doesn't do him justice. this is the friend who previously fired me. he is a very gifted child receiving services under autism, who needs a bit of help figuring out how to navigate school.

i've discovered that while social stories don't work for him making a list does. so he has a wall in the classroom where he can keep his 'what do i do?' lists. what do i do if the classroom is too loud? what do i do if someone is bothering me? what do i do at the end of the day?

yesterday during guided reading he stopped mid-page and started making odd noises. from his face (i've begun to notice what some of his facial expressions mean) i could tell he was getting upset about something, but i couldn't figure out what. "what's wrong?" i asked. "use your words"
he leaped out of his chair and sprinted to his list-wall. he pointed to the "what to do if someones bothering me" list and to the icon that shows taking deep breaths (ahhhh... the odd noises were his attempt at deep breaths when he was already really upset). he checked the list, ran his finger along the choice he was going to make, walked back to the friend who was making a noise so quiet i couldn't even hear it, asked him to stop, sat back down at the guided reading table, took one last deep breath, and started reading again.

the whole process had me smiling. i'm glad we've learned what method we can use to help him, and i'm glad he's beginning to learn what to do. it makes me smile to watch him check the list to decide what to do next, solving problems in such a clear, logical manner.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

lesson planning

my advanced methods class for grad school is asking us to bring in material we will use to plan a lesson for the week of september 15th. this is a perfectly reasonable (and very easy) assignment, except that i can't remember the last time i used a teacher's manual or something of the sort to plan.
we plan collaboratively, every lesson being discussed with other teachers in the buildings, whether it is the literacy collaborative coach, a co-teacher, the math specialist, or the speech/language pathologist. we refer to the students' work, look at school-wide rubrics, consider developmental bench marks, consult professional books, and review what we did the year before.
in my early days of teaching i could not plan without fountas and pinnell's guided reading book, (or the more teacher-friendly guided reading: making it work). i have read and re-read debbie miller's book reading with meaning so many times that the pages of my copy are literally falling out. and lucy, of course. i can quote (i'm not even exaggerating), i can literally quote lucy calkins and her units of study. of course now i'm relying heavily on already ready as well as some books on behavior management so i make sure we teach in a way the children can learn.
now that i've taught more i refer to the books for clarification, but to be honest i know them really well. so much of planning is looking at where the students are, thinking about where we want them to be, and deciding the most appropriate method to get each child there.
i suppose, for the assignment i'll bring in my copy of lucy calkins' small moments unit of study book, the book already ready, a copy of my children's writing samples, and the writing rubric my school follows. maybe i could bring in my co-teacher as well for good measure, since i wouldn't begin planning writing without a discussion.
the nature of this assignment serves as a reminder of what an incredible place my school is. a culture of collaboration, research, and child-centered approaches is intuitive in my building. for all my think-tank co-workers, thank you for making this one grad school assignment a little bit harder.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

my name is mrs lipstick, and i'm a book-a-holic

it's a huge problem and i'm trying to deal with it, i promise.

the last 2 weeks the books from my classroom library have been riding around in my car homeless. (to my credit, i actually did run to my car to get books for a lesson a few times. the school library is closer than my car, yes, but not by much, and i knew exactly where the books were in the nicely labeled baskets in my car.)

yesterday i finally broke mr. lipstick down and had him understand that while i may be willing to put fine china in storage, i was not fully comfortable with the idea of dropping my precious children's books in storage so far away from me. i need them for lessons. i need to know they are safe. i need to know that the original eloise is not being eaten by dust.

his original idea was to drive to my parents' house in the country and he would distract them by eating my mom's yummy food while i hauled the books from my car into the barn. while we may or may not have done this with some of my other possessions, i could not bring myself to put click, clack, moo, cows that type in the barn. there are no longer animals in the barn, other than the lone mouse, black snake or squirrel who takes refuge in its shade. how could i leave my collection of classic children's books in spanish for only the black snake to enjoy?

i know. i know. i have a problem.

so yesterday mr. lipstick and i headed out to find the biggest book shelf we could find. and after a day of creative shelving and re-arranging, i *think* most of my classroom books have found a safe home in the room previously known as our "office". it is now a mini-classroom, complete with labeled, categorized books. mr. lipstick gets distracted every time i try to explain the organization to him. he doesn't believe he'll ever wake up in the middle of the night dying to read 'alexander who use to be rich last sunday'.

i know different.

so if you're in the area and want a good book recommendation, or suddenly have the urge to read make way for ducklings, give me a call. i have 3 copies.

why i love kindergarten

after a three day weekend they act as if they have been away from you for an entire year.