Friday, February 27, 2009

sick juice in the nose

our kiddos are experts at finding a way to say what they want to say if they don't know the english word for it. i love listening to their round-about descriptions that get across exactly what they mean. sometimes they do such a good job of it you don't realize they actually have weak english skills. you just think they're naturally descriptive children. :)

one girl i read with is very much like this. she's become so good at talking around what she wants to say that most of the time i forget her english is very limited. today though, she looked at me and said, "i have sick juice in my nose that is going squeeshy squeeshy"

i think she wanted to tell me that she needed a tissue, or just that she had snot in her nose that was bothering her. but squeeshy squeeshy sick juice certainly got the point across.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

that crazy mrs. lipstick

it's been a long week. there isn't much more to say than that. all of the special ed meetings have had me wishing to run in any direction that doesn't involve sitting in a meeting with adults. (i don't know how you "real people" do it... working with adults all day. i love my coworkers individually, but, i wont lie, too many adults in my world starts to give me a headache).

today i was already tired and demoralized when i brought my bff and friends upstairs for writing workshop. my bff and i had actually already had a fabulous interactive-writing experience earlier in the day so he was already pretty worn out- and so was i. i was trying to get him and the two other girls to do their writing but my bff was pretty determined to pop out of his seat every other second. at one point he grabbed some puppets i used last year with one of my social groups. they have faces drawn by past first graders (who were working on their fine motor skills so they are kind of hard to tell they are people). there also happens to be a mrs. lipstick version in the stack.

my bff took two of the puppets to his seat and had them talking to each other when he began to get a bit loud and was distracting the other girls. so, being a full believer in 'if you can't win the battle don't lose the war' i put on the mrs. lipstick puppet and instructed his puppets to get to work writing.

his puppets paused for a moment, turned and looked at me, and then turned back toward each other.

"that mrs. lipstick is crazy!" one said to the other. "crazy mrs. lipstick!"
"she's not crazy, you! she just wants you to read and write!"
"no, she's crazy!"
"get to work! do i have to say it again?"
"i don't want to listen to the crazy lady"
"i said get to work"
and the puppets had a 'battle' that ended with my bff placing the puppet who believed i was crazy in his basket, picking up a pen with the puppet who defended me, and started writing.

*never in my life have i witnessed two puppets controlled by the same person argue about my sanity right in front of me. i had flashes of the musical avenue Q, along with the awkward feeling i was eavesdropping on a conversation i shouldn't have heard. who knew my bff had such conflicting thoughts fighting in his head.

*** *** ***
on the way downstairs the 'good' puppet clearly won out because my bff decided to follow my rules to the letter (something he has NEVER done before). he stayed behind the line leader (there are only three of them in the group but i try to keep them in line to prevent my bff from running off- which usually is what happens.) on the way back to class he practically hugged the girl in front of him to demonstrate to me he was "behind the line leader". suddenly he stopped and said to our line leader, "hey, you know friend, your hair smells. you need to shower."
i was horrified because this little one is coming off the worst month of her life. she took it well as i gave my bff a lecture on being nice. "oh!" he said, "but i wanted to be nice" he explained, implying he'd been doing a favor in recommending that she wash her hair. "but i want to be a nice friend, ok, now, i don't say that and now i pat your shoulder, ok friend?"

even if he does think i'm crazy i still love this kid.

Monday, February 23, 2009

no running- especially not in really fabulous new red shoes

this weekend i decided that i had a bad week last week and that this week something had to change. yet this week i have 3 ieps, a re-evaluation meeting, an eligibility meeting, a local screening meeting, and a staffing. so it didn't look like much was set up to make life any better.

so i went shoe shopping. because, as kindergarten chaos believes, wearing your happy shoes is a guaranteed way to improve your day.

i bought two pairs. one is a comfy brown pair, not very fashionable, but an improvement from my old scuffed brown pair. i look forward to wearing them and squishing down the hallway like i'm walking on marshmallows.

the other is a bright red super pointy toed pair. not something i would have ever picked out- i've never owned a pair of red shoes, and never had a pair of pointed toed shoes.

when i was chatting with another teacher in the bus line today fifth graders got off the bus screaming, "oh my god! i love your shoes mrs. lipstick!"

it may be shallow, but what a way to start the day.

regardless, my bff was having a pretty awful day (clearly he forgot his happy shoes at home). normally when he runs down the hallway i restrain myself from chasing him since at times it makes him run faster and turns it into a really fun game of cat and mouse. today, however, i went ahead and sprinted after him, my new red heels click clacking and interrupting all the classes in the hallway.

my bff stopped running and turned around in horror. "mrs lipstick!" he scolded "THERE IS NO RUNNING IN THE HALLWAY"

it doesn't matter that i was chasing after him because he himself had been running. yet he stopped and waited for me to catch up. that never would have happened if it wasn't for the clicky shoes. kindergarten chaos is SO right.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

the think tank

one of my awesome co-teachers, jenny, went to educon this year and came back with a lab coat from the school she visited (i'm bitterly jealous that she went to educon and am currently saving my pennies so i can go next year). i love that she wears the lab coat (not just for the ridiculously convenient pockets) but because it reminds me that as teachers we're more like scientists. we don't have the answers because every child in every situation is different. instead we are forming hypothesis, testing them, analyzing, reflecting, re-examining, and then trying something new. sometimes we hit gold early on in this process and find the 'right' answer for one student. and sometimes it takes a lot longer.

and we can't do it alone.

which is why i love my think tank of a school. we don't have a culture where you are expected to find the answers alone. everyone has a co-teacher for their literacy block, but beyond the fact they are there for literacy they also serve as someone to bounce ideas off of, analyze behavior, develop theories, laugh at mistakes, and collaborate on 'what-if' questions. beyond the co-teacher we have three literacy coaches in the building and two math coaches who are available for the 'i don't think they're getting this... what else can i do?' questions. what i love about them is that they don't give you a text book answer. they come in, watch, add some 'what if' questions, try something with you, watch again, and help you think. it's not about someone knowing more than someone else, or someone being right and someone else being wrong. it's about putting our heads together to find methods that work best for our kids.

beyond the academic coaches we've got two guidance counselors, many special ed teachers, a school psych, and others who will come into your room if you'd ask them, observe and offer their thoughts. again, they don't come up with the end all, be all answer- because there are none. instead they offer a discussion of ideas which can be picked apart and analyzed to again find the best method for a particular student.

it takes a lot to be comfortable in this culture. it's hard as a new teacher, i'm sure, to come to the understanding that someone is not judging you when they ask, "what if...". new teachers, or even student-teachers (at our school they are called interns, which i think adds to our think-tankedness) can be intimidated by the thought of asking for help. they want to show they know everything, have all the answers, and prove that they are GOOD teachers worthy of being in front of the classroom. we've all been there- we all started out with those thoughts, myself included (except maybe my kindergarten co-teacher who was my intern my last year in the classroom. she never went through the 'i know the answers' stage- i've never known a new teacher to be so reflective. which is part of what makes her the phenomenal teacher she is).

the thing new teacher's don't always understand is that being a good teacher is not having all the answers, or proving that you're able to handle your students and solve life's problems. it's about listening, reflecting, putting your head together with someone else, hypothesizing, and attempting to find solutions.

i just did a survey for a research project for my grad work on how teachers at my school develop behavior plans for individual students. i was impressed with how many people who responded to the survey make behavior plans through collaborating with someone else. i was equally amazed that of the people who said they did not use their co-teacher to develop a behavior plan only one of those people felt the behavior plan worked.

most likely, it's not because the teacher who developed the plan created a faulty plan. the teachers at my school are awesome and knowledgeable. it's most likely because behavior varies from student to student, and when you work with your co-teacher to develop a plan you're more likely to discover patterns in a particular child's behavior which allow you to create a plan specifically targeting that child's needs. two heads are always better than one.

i get into the 'i have all the answers' rut myself, despite all i shout from the rooftops about collaboration. there is nothing like someone making an off-hand comment about what i should be doing with my bff to send me home in a funk. and it's something i need to get over, and something that is hard for me to do. i know i'd rather read the answer in a book than have someone who doesn't really know the situation tell me what i should be doing. but in all honesty, it's because i don't know if what i'm doing with him is the right thing or not, and that's threatening. it shows my weakness in working with him, and i'm terrified to find out that all this time i've been working with him i've been wrong. but that doesn't help him, or help me.

a few weeks ago our new librarian (tree- who developed the think tank tag line for this blog) made some suggestions and observations about one of my kindergarten kiddos. we collaborated with her and the speech teacher (four heads together for one little girl who can scream very loudly) and developed a behavior plan. it works (knock on wood). so far it's been an amazing change- even to the point of the other day when she stomped her foot at me in her beginning of a 'i'm going to throw the biggest tantrum you've ever seen' and then she stopped and complied with my direction. we've been amazed at the change in her behavior. it shows you what four heads can do.

i love my school because we are a think tank. nobody has all the answers because we know we find answers working together. the what if questions are what drive us to be better teachers.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

i want to live here

seriously? this is mo willem's dining room.

i love that it's the dining room so meals = creative family time.

oh mr. lipstick... i have a new idea for decorating our house....

maybe we'll wait 'til we have kids so we can slightly justify it.

what do you have?

a child today crept up behind me and asked, "excuse me, mrs. lipstick, do you have a mr. lipstick?"

"um, yes, i do have a mr. lipstick."

"oh, then you shouldn't say you just have a cat when i ask if you have children. you don't just have a cat. you have a cat and a mr. lipstick"

yes, yes i do.

rough stuff

i could feel my eyes welling with tears on the way to work today. i took deep breaths at every stop light, telling myself it was going to be ok, i can do this. we can get through this.

it has been a rough week. i've tried to stay positive and not let my emotions follow me home, tried not to let what feels like depression fall over to the blog. but then, on my very long run in the cold today i realized- it's my blog, so i need to stop protecting readers from my darker thoughts. you are smart enough to make your own choices in what to read, right? don't feel like depression- come back tomorrow.

this week has been a very long reminder of just how powerless we really are in the lives of our kids. we've got a couple kindergartners whose lives are upside down. i can't imagine being five and seeing the world through their eyes. i can't begin to understand what they believe are the unquestionable truths about the world. one has suppressed everything that has gone wrong in his life into a batman movie- but also believes that all the bad men in his life are stronger than even batman. because while the evil men are always evil, batman can be convinced to be bad sometimes too. nobody in this boy's view of the world is fully good. we can all be pulled away from him to be evil at any time, so who can he trust, really?

another child so full of anger that we're at a loss at how to begin to teach him his alphabet. and very well-meaning people this week told us we were doing the best we can and they didn't really see what else we could do. we felt even more helpless than we did before. yes, we're just teachers. we've just been asked to teach the children when they need to move on to the next grade. but that's the hardest thing to be reminded when you see a child screaming for help every minute of the day. it's like watching someone drowing and not being able to throw them a lifeboat. we are dying to help this child but we're out of ideas. so now we're suppose to sit back and watch him struggle to stay above water?

yesterday we found out a pretty horrible situation with another child in another class. i think this situation put me over the edge. i came home and slept for hours only to be woken up by my husband coming home. i was barely able to carry on a conversation the rest of the evening. all day i haven't had much to say- can barely engage people in conversation. people ask me how i am and i've forgotten how to answer.

i realized on my run i was mad at myself for caring so much. i was trying to put up a fence- keep school problems at school and protect my happy life at home. i'm jealous of people that can do that, but i think i need to accept the fact that i can't. sometimes i need to cry- i need to kick things and get angry at the world.

i need to let myself be pissed at parents who hit their kids, be furious at the lack of police enforcement in the nearby city, outraged by the lack of available resources to our kids. i need to just generally hate the evil people in this world who hurt my children. (not the parents who hit from misguided anger- the truly evil people who infringe on our kids' rights).

how dare you hurt one of my kids? do you know what lovely children they are? do you know how much they trust you- you being an adult, and them just being a child? they shouldn't- you don't deserve it, but they do. they even try their hardest to please you because they don't get enough attention elsewhere in their lives. their lives are hard enough without you. yet while they should feel safe inside their own worlds you've shaken that out of them. and that will never go away. no well meaning teacher, no amount of hugs, no amount of counseling will ever change what you've done. nothing will ever make that innocent smile return to how it was before you. you can't even imaginie how much i hate you- how angry i am.

i'm not sure i know how to begin to get past this week. the walls of these children's lives are closing in. sometimes i do have thick skin, i can shutter at the stories i hear and keep going. this week their little lives have seeped into every moment of my day and ring in my ears when i'm trying to move on.

i'm going to go take a long bath and then watch law and order svu so i can believe in the police out there catching the people i hate.

b/d confusions

yesterday and today i made the wrong guided reading book choice. i pulled a book about kids at the beach who are digging a ditch.

in first grade kids still have b/d confusion. so when they are stretching out their words they may try the /b/ sound with the word itch before they try the /d/ sound.

plus, since they are all esol children they're not familiar with the word ditch, but if you add the /b/ sound it is one they've heard before.

*sigh* always a way to make the day more exciting.

** ** ** **

as i was writing this post a kindergartner came up to me and grabbed the scissors sitting beside me. "hey!" he said, "can i use these?"
"no, please go find your own scissors"
"but i have apple stuck in my teeth and i need to get it out!"

ewww... you wont use your own but you were just going to stick my scissors in your mouth!?!?


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

practice testing

this week our school is doing the practice state standardized tests so we've changed schedules around, cancelled recess so their shouts of fun don't distract test-takers, and re-arranged our building so we have rooms for all of our small groups. as organized as it is, it turns the school into chaos.

i am lucky enough to get to test my smart cookie who was in my class 2 years ago. i realized at the end of the test my face hurt from smiling/trying not to laugh the entire 2 hours we were in the room together. giving the test is actually a fairly painful experience, much like watching paint dry, or grass grow, especially if you are only giving it to one child. you can read the problems over their shoulder to answer them yourself (while making them paranoid) but there really isn't much else to do.

luckily i get to test my smart cookie, who i feel may appreciate my boredom and goes out of her way to keep me entertained. i'd love for the state to put a tape recorder in her testing room when they give her the final test.

"i know, i know, you have to read those directions every time even though i know them. i don't have to listen though"

"how the hell am i suppose to know this?"

"who names their kid _____?"

"hey! remember two years ago when i was in your class and you had that ugly doll on your desk?"

"why would anyone split their pizza this way?"

"hey! we both have glasses. we're a pair!"

"opps i farted"

"opps i burped"

"opps i farted again"

along with the small pictures she draws in her testing booklet to just add detail to the boring drawings already there.

i've found it's best if i don't really acknowledge her randomness but just let it spill out as she tests because she'll usually shrug her shoulders and get back to work. thank goodness there is no one else in the room though.

when she finished we made cootie-catchers (she'd taught herself to do them that morning from a model) but turned them into dragons instead of fortune-telling devices. dragons are so much more fun than predicting who you're going to marry.

reading emotions

during guided reading today pixie could not concentrate on the book. she made up the words, skipped around on the page and became engrossed in the pictures. finally she leaned in and peered into my face.

"ok, let's see. am i making you angry or sad? angry or sad? angry or sad?"

pixie has a visual/perceptual integration learning disability, so in reality she has a more difficult time reading people's facial expressions than the rest of us. as this tiny girl leaned in to read my face i couldn't help but crack a smile.

"oh good! you're happy! you're not angry or sad! you're always happy!"

*sigh* in all these years of teaching my evil teacher look is being tripped up by pixie, cutest-child-ever, who takes so long to register the emotions on my face that she totally misses evil-teacher and only finds 'teacher trying not to burst into giggles'. no wonder she's always so happy.

Friday, February 13, 2009

the history of valentines day

in one first grade classroom we read a book about the history of valentines day. the book mentioned that st. valentines helped people get married when there was a law that kept people from getting married.

one of our friends called out, "that's because they didn't want people having babies crying and running all over the place"

amused by the rationalization of the no-marriage rule.

love letters (or like letters)

to prepare for valentines day one of my classes had them draw names to write one friendly letter (we've also been studying letter writing). my bff drew pixie (he actually went through the names until he found hers... in the world of 'pick your battles' it was far easier for everyone involved to just let him pick).

the first day he was suppose to write her a valentine he made her elaborate heart masks. they were really quite incredible and fairly detailed. he immediately bounded over to her while she was in reading group and thrust them into her hands. these are suppose to be secret valentines and the children do not reveal who they have until friday. the secret part did not seem to stick with my bff.

pixie immediately looked at the red hearts and said, "oh thank you, but actually, i will only like them if they have lipstick". ???

so my bff, unphased, took them back and distributed them to others in the school.

yesterday i decided we had to actually write a letter to pixie so she wouldn't be left out of the exchange. i set the letter up for my bff (knowing how hard it has been to force him to write friendly letters) leaving blanks for where he could say what he liked about her, ask her what she likes, etc. this is what i gave him:

dear pixie,
do you like ____?
i like how you ______.
your friend,

very simple, but would let pixie have something to take home. i sat down, fearing this would be a long exchange. this is what i got (with very little prompting and the best, the BEST writing i've seen him do all year!!)

dear pixie,
do you like toys?
i like how you very smart.
you love me, right?
i like you.
your friend,

while we wrote this pixie peered over his shoulder, trying to tell him the answers to the questions. (i sent her to her center where she continued to stare at us as we wrote.)
i couldn't believe the spaces he left between his words- the effort he put into listening to the sounds in the words- and how coherent it was. who knew writing a letter to pixie could be so motivating!

we read it to everyone in the world on the way to the copy machine so i'd have one for his files. when we arrived back in the classroom he immediately thrust it into pixie's hands and read it to her. my heart just about burst as i watched pixie and my bff with their heads together, reading the love-like letter.

there was no answer on the 'you love me, right?'

such a typical male- assuming while you may love me, i only like you.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


one of my kindergarten kiddos and i have "talk time" every morning and afternoon so he can have someone to tell his thoughts to. in the beginning this was me, listening to his long list of grievances (think festivas, just twice a day). but it was good for him and we were able to take those anecdotes and walk through what he could do next time, etc. he's been less angry since this started (fingers crossed) so as long as it's working we're keeping up our daily discussions.

today he showed me the valentines he's been working so hard on for the last couple of days. he proudly showed me the hannah montana one he'd picked out for me. i said, "WOW! I love valentines day!"

"i don't" he said begrudgingly.

"why not?"

"because there's this little man who has no clothes but has wings that flies around and shoots you with a shooter!! and it makes you kiss people. and i HATE kissing."

really, for a five year old boy, being shot by a naked man and then being forced to kiss the closest girl... that's got to be scarier than halloween.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

mrs lipstick and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad special ed day

*** the actions of me in this blog are partial dramatized to stay with the theme of the book. please don't think i said some of the things i'm writing.**

today was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad special ed day. not that kind where a kid throws up on you, or has a temper tantrum, or doesn't make it to the toilet.

the kind where you feel like every step you take is two steps backwards from where you want to be. the kind where you know you could be doing a better job if you only had time to do it.

today i woke up and remembered that pixie's moving to kenya- i've always wanted to go to kenya, but i don't want pixie to go to kenya. i stomped my feet and told them not to take pixie. i crossed my arms over my chest and refused to get up out of my seat. it doesn't matter what i did- she still has to move.

when pixie started crying today we had to pretend everything was ok because we don't know if she knows about kenya. so we had to pretend it was all about the painting center. and we knew it wasn't about the painting center.

maybe i'll move to kenya with pixie.

we have two super-special preschool meetings coming up and we were suppose to only have one. i said, we only have time for one. we only have a room to have one. i tried to say that i'd die if we had two.
we have to have two.

maybe i'll move to kenya with pixie. i bet there are no super special preschool meetings in kenya.

i sat down to read alexander and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day with some kiddos and one kid said it reminded him of how he felt when his mom hit him. which reminded me of my other student who said that knuffle bunny reminded him of when he cried because his dad kicked him. and then i tried not to cry.
but really i wanted to punch these parents.
i've tried to say, 'if you hit your child again i quit. i tried to say that 'if you take off your belt one more time and hit your kid i'll hit you with my belt'.

nobody cares.

i think i'll move to kenya with pixie.

i forgot to pack my lunch this morning and already owed the cafeteria money, so all i had was some soup i keep in my desk. it was good soup, but i was hungry. i was still hungry after lunch.

in the afternoon i had a meeting that wasted my time. the presenter knew it wasted our time. she said, "i know you all know this already. it's the same as last year." she did it anyway because that's what we do in special ed.

i thought about calling kenya. maybe in kenya nobody wastes your time with stupid meetings.

today i looked at my schedule and i wont be in my classrooms tomorrow because of meetings. and i hate meetings.

yesterday somebody watched me working with my bff when he was trying to attack me with scissors. today they told me i should be firmer. they don't know how firm i was being before he came after me with scissors. they don't know my bff. and they don't know i was already in a really bad mood and didn't want to talk about being firmer.
if i could make being firmer not send him into a tale spin i would. when i'm firm in the classroom i worry about the other kids getting hurt.

this afternoon i got a 300 page fax from another school. i brought it home to read it. i haven't read it yet. maybe if i move to kenya i wont have to read it.

tonight mr. lipstick has to go to a church meeting. good for mr. lipstick because he wont be able to listen to me rant about my day. but he wont be able to stop me from planning my trip to kenya.

tonight might be a two wine glass night. maybe tomorrow will be better.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~
on the plus side: in guided reading today my kids got really frustrated because the simple guided reading book didn't give them the answers they had about the bugs in the book, so, after realizing i was getting nowhere with making them read the book i stopped and let them ask their questions. then i asked them to write a letter to the librarian asking how they could find the answers to their questions.
they worked SO hard on these letters, which turned out to be such a more meaningful guided writing activity than forcing the guided reading book down their throats.

sometimes following the kids' lead is such a better teaching experience than making them follow my lead.

~~ ~~ ~~

so, maybe today wasn't all that bad, i just left feeling frustrated that there is never time to do enough.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

our school is the best

my coworker walked by me in the hallway while i was working with pixie. we began chatting about her friend's school (the one where obama visited earlier this week) and all the great things that go on there.

finally pixie became very tired of this.

"you know, this school is the best school"

she said, looking up from her work.

so true. glad a first grader can remind me of how lucky i am.

the writing workshop where my head exploded

i have a small group of three kiddos i take to do writing workshop in another room. although they are capable of doing writing workshop in their room it gives one of them personal attention she craves throughout the day, it means i can hold one of them accountable for her work (because otherwise she'll find ways not to do it), and for the third child, my bff, it allows the classroom a break (and means that if i decide today WE ARE WORKING, which usually means he'll yell and throw things at me, i can let him keep throwing knowing it wont bother the entire class)

so, our motley crew tracks upstairs to the special education office every day at 1:15 to spend half an hour of me trying to make them write without a) beating my head on the table, b) laughing hysterically at the ridiculousness of what's going on c) giving up, doing their work for them, and then returning to the classroom quickly.

on thursday my kiddos had already gone through painful standardized testing so they were a little off as it was. by the time we got upstairs (one had to count every stair- 19, just like yesterday, my bff running ahead, the other tiny one talking to herself about princesses and parties) i was already exhausted. so we sit down. my little pixie (previously featured in stories like 'just how is your tv doing?' and, 'i don't know why you bother saying vote for duck, everyone is just going to vote for charlie brown anyway' and in my lunch-bunch episodes from last year) was determined NOT to write. we usually are open-ended with our assignments, but this time she had to write a letter to her mom. this was not what she wanted to do, and so she was determined not to do it.

she decided to encourage herself to keep going by letting herself add a flower to the picture on the back of her paper after every letter she wrote. (and by letter i mean 'a' and 't' not after everytime she completed a full letter). it took her far longer to draw the flowers than it did to stretch out the word, decide which letter made that sound, and write the letter. i'd get her to stop drawing and then turn around to talk to my bff who was drawing elaborate pictures of veggie tales with no intention of adding words to his story and pixie would do it again- paper over and she'd be adding the flowers. my other little one who craves attention is asking me to confirm every letter on her paper although she knows them. finally i decided to ignore those two and focus on pixie, who is the only one in the group who hasn't completed her letter due that afternoon. as i give her my full attention to keep her from flipping the paper over i can hear the other two deep in their own writing workshop worlds.

"but how do you spell 'the'?" my needy-one asks "the- th-e, t-h-a?" (she knows this, she's dropping wrong answers to see if i'll cave.

my bff finally decides to step in. having heard this conversation many times, both directed at her and at him, he begins my usually
"what do you hear? ok? listen to the sounds! ok? say it slowly, what makes that sound? you know it. you know this. don't ask me, ask yourself. say it slowly, ok? grrratwoinpkng"

while he got most of my speech correct, the noises coming out of his mouth to imitate me stretching the word out where in no way correlated with our alphabet. and so, i learned, he still does not fully understand that letters make sounds which when put together make words. he thinks i magically pull sounds out of the sky, he says a letter, and then writes it on paper to magically make a word.

*sigh* for a moment there i thought we were making progress.

~~ ~~ ~~
friday i pulled pixie into the hallway to finish the letter she never did complete the day before. she starts giggling and playing around, although finally says, "i'm just kidding. i'll work now"

"thank goodness!" i say, "i thought my head was going to explode"

"owwwww... what will that be like? how can i make your head explode?"

Thursday, February 5, 2009

THAT girl

on monday night i was THAT girl in my grad school class. the one who doesn't stop talking when the professor is clearly trying to end class- the one that goes on and on when nobody cares anymore. i hate that girl. and there i was- i couldn't close my mouth. i could see the pained looks on my classmates' faces- but it made no difference. i was seeing red and i ranted on and on about teacher preparation, teach for america, education politics, and how i see the whole issue.

we'd had a lecture from a professor on the main campus (excuse me, on grounds)- it was a crazy virtual learning experience- she could see us, we could see her- 2 hours apart by car. i'd really enjoyed her talk, despite finding the whole video thing odd, and thought she'd given really great questions to make us think (she obviously hit a hot button with me). we talked about the articles she'd given us to read on teacher preparation and the research that has discovered the importance of pedagogy in the field of teaching, but how other research from socially conservative foundations disagrees with this.

she utilized that great strategy of 'talk time' we give our kids. and so when it was time to stop talking and rejoin the central discussion- i just didn't rejoin. i kept whispering (again, being one of those people i hate) and then i took my whispering from my small group to announcing it in front of the whole class.

one question she asked was "how should highly qualified be defined?", because, it is currently defined as anyone holding a state license (including provisional license). this led into the discussion of what makes a good educator, and what makes a great educator. i couldn't help but think (and argue with my group) that having a definition is ridiculous in itself. we can argue over the semantics of how to judge highly qualified, but changing the definition does not change the teachers who enter the field. we need to attract good teachers, (and we need to do it in a way that creates career teachers- not 2 year teachers because they didn't get into law school), and so part of attracting teachers is raising the bar as a whole- making teaching more attractive to attract a more competitive group. it should be brutally hard to become a teacher- nobody should say to anyone in college, "oh, you're just going to be a teacher". we HAVE to change that perception before we change anything else.

and what do i think makes a good teacher? the same thing that makes anyone good at anything- an understanding of your trade, practice, experience, and reflection on how to do better.

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the thing is, when i get worked up about something i turn into someone i don't know. i rant. i try to lecture others. i interrupt others when they're talking. and i watch myself as an outsider and cringe. because most of all, when i'm like this i don't make my point. i talk in round-about ways, i have sidebar thoughts, i forget where i was going with a certain thought- as i have with this blog post, and the one before it on charter schools. i started and forgot where i was going.

so i apologize.

but perhaps my confused blog posts will save me from being beat up after class but a bunch of disgruntled graduate students.
this perfectly captures my thoughts.

two of my coworkers were trembling when they got the call that the president was coming to this school (where one of their friends works). they began telling me how wonderful the school is, and all the incredible things they have going on there. and yes, it sounds like an unbelievable place. but i was put off hearing that he was going to this charter school and arguing that it was public (i mean, obama, come to our school- see a real public school be successful).

i wondered what was wrong with me, that i couldn't be excited for their friend's school. i really need to get over my frustration with charter schools and teach for america. but this article sums up why the news of his visit left me feeling a bit queasy.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

letter writing magic

two of my classes have been doing letter writing units. i'll admit my mornings are spent frantically typing responses back to these kindergarten and first grade letters (i gave up on handwriting) but it's been totally worth it.

suddenly the kindergartens are understanding that words have meaning, that we write to communicate with others, and that if we leave spaces, so our readers can read our work.

it's been a few weeks now and i'm amazed at how much their writing has improved in just a short time. some of them have gone from strings of letters that had no meaning behind it to writing letters they can point to "re-read" what they wrote. some have even started adding beginning and middle sounds to their words! and some... wow. i just can't explain how much the motivation of getting a letter back has taken their writing to another level.

in kindergarten we've been reading the letters we write back to them out loud to the entire class before writing workshop begins. it is a bit time consuming, but every kid is engaged in hearing the letters, and it makes them all excited to go back to their seats and write letters instead of drawing pictures. plus, we've made a big deal out of when i write a longer letter back to someone because he asked a question (because good letters always have questions!) that little act of reading the letters to the class has created SO much motivation. (stolen idea from co-teacher @

the upside is that i'm really enjoying getting letters from the kiddos. through a series of questions in letters a few first graders and i are writing back and forth about our favorite books- which is so much fun. and one of the kids on my caseload is currently working hard on a letter to our principal asking what her favorite book is.

i love this unit because it is so motivating, and is such a great time to teach the mechanics of writing (how can i read your wonderful words if you forgot your spaces? oh man, you'd better go put spaces in your next letter so i'll be able to read it!)

when i was a classroom teacher i kept my favorite letters from kids and would put them into an album at the end of the year (totally inspired by the book 'first year letters'). i included the best of the apology letters, and the tardy excuse notes (my favorites- i always made them write a quick note about why they were late to school. they come up with the BEST excuses, and it was a great conversation starter with a parent... well, your child says he was late every day this week because you were doing your make up. i know that's not true, but he wrote it right here... ). my old kids LOVE looking through the book to see what they wrote years ago, and new kids loved combing through the old letters to see if we did the same things we did years before. plus, there is nothing more satisfying in june than to sit down to put together the collection of letters and watch their ability grow from the august letters on. you realize you really were teaching them all that time...

i'm selfishly excited that this year i'll be able to make another book of the two classes' letters.

and just how is your tv doing these days?

as i walked down the hall this morning jenny pulled me into her room and said, "go ask m why she wasn't in school yesterday"

so i did.

"because i wanted to see what the tv was doing"


"i didn't come to school yesterday because i had to see how the tv was"

this girl... !!! totally innocent voice, shrug of the shoulders, as though that was a reasonable answer anyone would give. like we would say, "oh, well then, any time. and by the way, how is your tv?"

*again, hate to step on my coteacher's blogging toes, but i've been giggling about this all day.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

obama obsession

my bff saw a picture on teacher's desk of her standing in front of the lincoln memorial. in the picture you can see the lincoln's leg, but that's about it. otherwise it's a picture of three happy girls standing in front of the memomrial

my bff exclaimed, "look! it's obama!"

what? I went to look at the picture- knowing that it didn't make sense, this teacher did not have a picture of obama on her desk.

"obama!" he said excitedly. "obama!"

"oh! that's where obama went to his concert" i tried to explain, "that's the lincoln memorial".

"no! that's obama'!! see, that's his leg" my bff said with a matter-of-fact tone, knowing for sure that statue was of our current president.

and, since i was really focusing on getting him to write a friendly letter to his parents i let this confusion slide and refocused him on his writing. however, now i realize i have totally screwed with his understanding of history. next time he sees the lincoln memorial he'll be even more convinced that the man in the chair is obama. i may never get to teach him the truth.

*sigh* you have to choose your battles everyday, but some days you make the right choice for the moment, but the wrong choice for educating the whole child.

Sunday, February 1, 2009


my cousin teaches saturday school at kipp. one of her students asked her yesterday if white people go to school.

there is something so infinitely sad about that question. something that tells me we're failing these kids in the inner city, failing them even with fancy charter schools, if they still ask those kinds of questions.

but how do we change?