Friday, October 31, 2008

character day

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

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

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

Thursday, October 30, 2008


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

these are not the conversations i had growing up.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

interview questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 27, 2008

character day vs. halloween

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

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

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

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

hannah montanna? ugh.

obama update

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

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

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

Thursday, October 23, 2008

obama, huh?

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

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

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

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

did you drive far to see him?

nope, it was at the kmart here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

nonfiction textbooks vs. internet resources


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

try-out week (again)

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


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

today i felt 100% unqualified for this.

connecting over war...

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

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

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

my country in kabul was very weak too!

Monday, October 20, 2008

ahhhh, now it's clear

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

yeah, me too buddy.

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

evil teacher

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Saturday, October 18, 2008

swiss aunt: please come inside and see our house.

14 year old swiss cousin: yes, come see our house. it is older than your country.

very true.

now off to take a midterm after getting in from switzerland at midnight last night.


Thursday, October 9, 2008

october travels

i don't remember if october was my favorite month before i began working at a year-round school, but now i have to admit i find the crisp fall days of october almost holy. however, i suspect it has more to do with the fact that i'm on break and have had a week to sit on the porch wrapped in a warm blanket, sipping coffee and reading for pleasure. in the past week i've done nothing school related (other than grad school work) and it's been fabulous. my stack of school work is tucked away behind the couch- because of course i thought i would get so much done during my time off. not so, but i've taken lots of naps with my cat.
tomorrow my husband and i are off to switzerland. this summer my two brothers, who had just graduated from college, called me and said, "hey, we're going to switzerland in two weeks to meet those relatives we've always heard about. want to come?"
it was my first realization that i am an adult. with a mortgage. and a husband. and grad school classes. who can't just buy international plane tickets on a whim and fly away to meet long-lost relatives. it pained me to tell them no. i spent a good two days trying to make it work, find cheap tickets, convincing myself i could take my grad school final the day we came back, that i really wanted to stay in hostels with my baby brothers and other european tourists. finally, i acknowledge that i was a grown up.
luckily, i didn't acknowledge this before i'd purchased a switzerland guidebook and left it in plain view for my husband to peruse. once he decided he wanted to go we did the adult thing and planned ahead and are now leaving for switzerland tomorrow.
("adult thing" is currently up in the air since the economy is reportedly falling out of the sky and we're off to one of the most expensive countries in europe. but now we've got nonrefundable tickets, so... off we go. )

i explained to my friday morning book club that we would not have book club over intersession since i'd be away. "in my country!" i said proudly, proving that a) i can be as mature as a 4th grader and b) i have international ties just like the kids at my school.

"where you going? let me guess... germany!" one of my book-club members exclaimed.

"nope, switzerland"

"you so look german" what does a 4th grader know about looking german (except that my grandfather's father was german and mother was swiss... so she's right)

whose from there? your mom or your dad? she asked.

"my mother's father's mother" i explained, realizing how silly this sounded.

"come on mrs lipstick, that's not your country. thats too confusing. your american"

again, true point. but for about 2 seconds i wanted to feel cool like allt he other kids who "travel to their countries" during breaks.


the other non-adult thing i did was schedule the trip to return the night before my midterm in my special education assessment class, which is nothing but statistics. perhaps if i fail i can tempt my professors with swiss chocolate...

Monday, October 6, 2008

the educator apple did not fall far from the tree

on saturday afternoon as my husband and i pulled away from my parents' house in the country my husband exclaimed, "hey, look, a turtle!" and sure enough there was a box turtle patiently crossing the semi-gravel road in the quiet neighborhood. my husband's first instinct was "that's cool" and to keep on driving. i however, was raised by my mother, a 2nd grade teacher. i have been taught that everything is a teachable moment, and that anything can be used to teach those pesky testing requirements.
"STOP!" i shouted, jumped out of the car, grabbed the turtle, and went sprinting down the road shouting, "MOM!!" like i was six again.
"want a turtle for your 2nd graders?" i asked, knowing that just last week she had caught a frog and a toad in our front yard and brought to school for the students to practice their observation skills.
without even saying yes she took the turtle happily and went off to make a temporary habitat for him. i'm sure this morning in her second grade classroom her little ones are peering over a box, listening to my mom explain everything she knows about turtles.
if i ever wonder why i do random, crazy things for the children i teach, i have to remember where i came from.

Friday, October 3, 2008

ah, yes,

my previous post being said, the best quotes from parent conferences as of yet:

"you all make him keep his hands to himself? no wonder he's chaffing under his arms. no, i'm serious! all that keeping his hands to himself is hurting him!"

one has to wonder, why the rest of us don't have serious chaffing problems under our arms since we keep our arms to ourselves as well...

"what does your daughter like to do at home? does she like to draw?"

"yeah, she likes to color. on the table and the walls."

ok, well, great lead into discussing the behavior we're seeing at school. and now we assume you wont be shocked...

i love these meetings.


yesterday was a very long day of parent conferences. i love when our building is full of parents because, while the kids may be americanized, watching their parents reminds us of exactly how wonderfully diverse our school is. the halls are filled with a hundred different accents, some different traditional dress, and different languages (i'm sure if i spoke all these languages i'd be able to hear "toddler, come back here!" being shouted to the babies escaping down our hallway).

talking with parents reminded me why i teach. maybe it was the lack of sleep, or the stress i've been feeling, but my eyes got watery as one mom told us in spanish that her daughter looks up to her cousin, whose in med school. we listened to how hard the parents work, what life was like in their countries, and how much they want their child to succeed.

and there it was. the reminder that even if i go on and get my phd, find a job that gives me the control i'm seeking, i'll be putting myself farther away where having the control matters. there is no where else i'd rather be than teaching these kids and working with these parents.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

unknown frustrations and personal journeys

today i had a meeting that i can't get out of my head. i can't put my finger on what i feel went wrong, or why i'm frustrated, but something just isn't sitting well.
i think the greatest problem is that the meeting was for a little one who isn't on my caseload. she happens to be in the general education where i work, and i've been spending quite a bit of time working with her lately even though she's not officially "mine". she's the one whose sent me into researching reactive attachment disorder (and thank you so much for all of your recommendations and comments on rad. i've taken what you've said to heart and did more research based on your thoughts). we've all been wracking our brains and digging up every resource possible to decide find ways to help her. she's consumed a lot of my brain power recently.
i heard somewhere that it's recommended in the business field that you should never go into a meeting where you don't know what you want the outcome to be. perhaps that was the problem today. i wasn't sure where i wanted it to go, other than the meeting was suppose to be a stepping stone. and i think, in the long run, that's what was accomplished.
but at the meeting i began to realize that i'd done a lot of work i hadn't needed to do. she's not on my case load. it's not my job to do the research and come up with a diagnosis. i'm trying to be the doctor when i've only been hired to be the nurse.
and so, once again i've made it about me. in the long run today's meeting most likely helped our little one, which is what matters. i've just got to check my professional ego at the door. if i go to a meeting and don't get to say everything i intended to say, or make every point i felt was important, it is ok if the outcome is still the same. so why do i feel uneasy about the whole thing?
and i need to examine, what is really my role in all this? what have i been making my role into, and what is it meant to be?
one of my biggest pet peeves is when people complain and say, 'that isn't my job!' in a school, especially a school like mine, i see everyone working together. we help each other out, and if we're able give assistance, we do it. but today i felt like i would have felt better if i was one of the "i only do my job" people. kind of a 'coloring inside the lines' attitude. i've been coloring wildly outside the lines, and exerting a lot of energy that i didn't necessarily need to exert. and now i'm frustrated that the unneeded energy isn't amounting to anything. when it wasn't my job in the first place.

but i'm not sure i'm the type of person that can step back and stay inside the lines. i don't think i just want to be the nurse, i want to be the doctor. which makes me realize that i might not be settled in my career. i've been thinking a lot about getting my phd once my masters is complete. would having a phd give me the information and the authority to be the doctor in cases like these? or would it just give me more information that wouldn't necessarily end up benefiting anyone but my own curiosity? i wanted to do special education because i wanted to really work with specific children helping them to meet specific needs instead of working on the more broad curriculum. but maybe what i'm looking for in a career isn't in special education. did i just go into teaching because it seemed easier than going into psychology?
as an intro to 'don't let the pigeon stay up late' my amazing co-teacher asked the children to tell us their 'bed time routines'- you know, not the ones their parents put in place but what they do to avoid going to bed, much like the pigeon.
it was fascinating to hear their schemes, but more importantly, to hear about the role their parents played in all this (or didn't play). it was a fascinating little glimpse into their lives and i don't think i'll ever read 'don't let the pigeon stay up late' without asking about their own sleep-withholding-strategies. all good information to know going into parent conferences...

curling up in the fetal position

around 8:15 today i decided it was time to go home. 7 hours later, when it was really time to go home, i had to give myself a pep-talk to even walk to my car. putting one foot in front of the other seemed too overwhelming by 3:10.

today was our last day with the kiddos before our 2 week intersession break. (have i ever mentioned that i love year-round schooling?) the kids were crazy, especially the kindergartners who have never been to intersession before and don't know what to expect. the teachers are overwhelmed with grading, getting report cards ready, scheduling conferences and getting everything in order for the 2 week break. everyone is tired and grouchy.

the recess queen was in full swing today. every time we turned away from him (even if only for a minute) he managed to do something completely off the wall and out of control. at one point when i redirected him away from the playdough center at free choice he shouted, "but i want the playdough!" and started shovelling pieces of it into his mouth as if to prove to me that he would get the playdough no matter what i did. at least it's nontoxic.

later, when the class was lining up to go home (i mean, we were almost finished with the day... we were so close) he decided he had to be the line leader. he ran up and pushed the other students out of the way and threw his body against the door. when i finally got him to sit back down he shouted, "ok! but you can't be the line leader!" on his way to his seat he got into a tussle with the kindergarten aide and he ended up shouting "you're not my friend!" at her. i couldn't help it, i burst out laughing. sometimes all you can do is laugh. sadly he continued to fight to be line leader, which involved a lot of screaming and and pushing the kindergarten aide. we don't pay them enough. and i have a headache.

i can't even put my finger on all the ways today completely overwhelmed me, but it did. tomorrow and friday we have all day parent conferences so i'm busy preparing my notes and hoping that i manage to speak coherently when talking to parents.