Friday, May 29, 2009

grouchy ladybug

mrs. lipstick?


remember the fire drill when we were really bad and we rolled down the hill?


and you got really, really mad?


you sounded like the grouchy ladybug.

yes, i guess i did, huh?

but when you read the grouchy ladybug to us today, you didn't use that mean BIG voice. next time, use your voice from the fire drill.

don't know what to think that this little one clearly hears my 'this is serious' voice as the voice of mean, evil characters in fictional books.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

black eyes and may flowers

may punched me in the face.


stole my lunch money and stepped on the back of my heels in line.

may was the bully i tell my students not to be.

it threw its first punches the first week when we held all of our remaining ieps in one week so we would be done before the state testing started. (i do not recommend doing this. i think if someone suggests that we do this again we may claw their eyes out. it seemed like a good idea at the time. it wasn't). 6 punches that week. bam, bam, bam. iep after iep.

and then may snuck in two more ieps in the remaining weeks, just for kicks. like shoving me from behind when the fight was suppose to be over.

of course may brought testing- state testing or district testing, either way i've spent my days asking children to read books, identify letters, point to numbers, or fill in bubbles on standardized tests. the letters from children asking me to come back and teach them- give them new books to read is growing larger and large. i'm surprised they remember my name.

and with testing, may in its sneaky way, brings the lack of recess. beautiful days where children are trapped inside because it would be too disruptive for the test takers for us to go outside and play. of course, just to really knock the wind out of us, on the days we can take the kids out for recess it rains.

then may said, "hey, sorry about that, let's be friends. want to play mercy?" and so i was suckered into these events that sounded like a great idea- hey, we can be friends, right may? the field trip with the jump rope team. the girls on the run race. presenting at teacher research. volunteering to hold a brain breakfast for my math club. these things i did voluntarily. that were awesome and fun and enjoyable and i wouldn't take back. but may doesn't play for fun. anything for fun came at a cost. one broken finger at a time.

may stole my lunch money with the kindergarten field trip. on picture day it knocked me off the slide into the mud. and laughed the whole time.

may. everyone thinks of it as flowers and happiness. it hides it well. i am covered in bruises. i have black eyes, broken fingers. may was fight club.

one more day. oh june, with your long lists of how to close out the year. with your report cards and final reports and filing and cleaning and saying goodbye. with your hot, tiring field days, your end of year picnics, the packing up of the classroom. june, i welcome you. thank you for bringing us hope. for being short. for releasing us for 5 short weeks of summer.

may can only hurt me for so much longer.

Friday, May 22, 2009

spring recess

I took my bff outside to retell the story of the little red hen using sidewalk chalk. Soon after we'd started his class came out to play since the school was finally released from being held hostage by the state testing. (We don't go out to recess during testing because the sounds from the playground would be too distracting to the test takers). After being pent up all day I thought his friends would just sprint past us- instead they stopped, checked out what we were doing, took the chalk from us, and continued retelling our story. (Which was perfect because my bff had totally lost interest). A little less than half the class worked together to write the story of the Little Red Hen using sidewalk chalk. I was shocked at their excitment of retelling via this new medium. I loved how one girl decided to add extra characters to help narrate the story, and how they worked together with so little adult prompts "Hey! I'll do this- why don't you write the words!" And I loved watching them work together to spell the harder words.

Yesterday we went back outside and 3 little girls wanted to continue the story so I stayed with them and the chalk. They added a twist (the Little Red Hen makes a wish on a shooting star that her friends will help her). Again I loved listening to their excitment and their collaboration as they decided what would come next. We didn't finish but I thought I'd give them the camera in the end and let them record themselves reading it. It got a little goofy but I think they had fun.

Who knew that giving them sidewalk chalk & a bit of guided "let's write about the little red hen!" during outdoor recess would actually result in their doing work during recess...

*** Mmm... having trouble uploading the video the kids took... hopefully I'll get it up in a moment. It's much more fun than the silent one above****

Thursday, May 21, 2009

head banging observations from the week

- State testing + county testing + kindergarten field trip + beautiful weather with children not allowed out at recess = one grumpy Mrs. Lipstick

-Nothing is worse than watching a child take a state test and hearing him say, "Hey! I know this, you taught me this!" and then watching him mark the wrong answer

-Except hearing a child look at his ruler after the test and say, "Wonder why we had this ruler? We didn't even need it on the test!" when, well, they did.

-The county-wide reading assessment requires us to ask the question, "What kind of books do you like?" and "Why did you like that part?". Anytime my bff is asked about what he likes he replies in song, "I like to move it, move it. I like to move it, move it".

-Even if a company sends red ants in a vile intended to be dropped in an ant farm, it does not guarantee that the top will not come off the vile full of biting ants in the mail so that when you open it you find a fed-ex envelope full of ants. However, if this happens, a whole lot of Off will kill the whole bunch. Then you just need to borrow another teacher's ant farm. (God bless my awesome co-teacher for having to deal with that one alone!)

-I have a problem when someone at church asked to meet at night on the last day of school and I replied, "Oh, I wont be busy, but I plan to have had lots of margaritas by then". Now I'm a bad teacher AND a bad Presbyterian.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

don't let the kindergartener drive the bus

On the way to the field trip I noticed one of my friends was pretending to drive the bus the entire trip. Eyes on the road he turned the wheel with every curve, keeping his right foot at a 45 degree angle that occasionally slammed to the floor when we stopped. Every once and awhile he'd turn around and tell some imaginary person to sit down and be quiet. As we got off the bus he commented to the bus driver, "I like your bus, but you made a mistake".

On the way back I let him join my car sick friend with me in the front seat. He quickly explained to the bus driver, "My friend gets sick when you drive your bus". Some bus drivers may be offended, or simply ignore him, but this one embraced it. As we waited for the other class to join us on the bus my friends started asking the bus driver questions. "How many miles you got?" "How do you stop?" "How do you shut the door?"

Before I knew it she had both of my friends practically in her lap. She explained how the brakes work (not something I knew before), the windshield wipers, the blinkers, the door, etc. If it was safe for them to push a button she let them. They even got to honk the horn. Their faces glowed with wonder and she walked them through the ins and outs of bus driving. It was better than Santa Claus. The entire ride back she narrated what she was doing. "See that sign? That's a snake sign- that means the road is windy like snake." My friends replied in hushed wonder "WOW".

You would have to pay me a lot of money to drive a bus, and even then, I'm not sure I'd agree to it. And driving a bus of overly excited kindergarten students through a windy country road would be my own personal hell. I am truly in awe of this woman's upbeat and excited attitude, along with the patience and enthusiasm she displayed for my little friends.

My friends asked her name so they could write her letters. Then they asked her to spell it and repeated it over and over again until I told them it was ok, I'd help them spell it when the time came.

For me, tired and grouchy, this was the perfect way to end the trip. This was the reason for field trips- the hands on learning- the real world experience the kids can draw from later.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

we don't get paid enough for this

Today was the kindergarten field trip. And I think this anecdote sums up the experience quite nicely:

One little friend, who'd been having a rough morning, finally ran out the door of the nature center, across the path, past the picnic tables, headed into a field of weeds (and possibly poison ivy), and down toward the parking lot. His response to my attempts to get him to come back (first rational, then stern) was "I don't want to be near those bad boys and bad girls!"

All I could think was "you're not the only one, my friend".

*** *** *** ***
But let's start at the beginning when we were boarding the one bus that had been sent for 4 classes with 20 students in each class, two-three teachers & four parents per class. Squished to the back of the bus my co-teachers and I were trying to convince ourselves it was going to be perfectly safe to stuff the kids 4 to a seat, with us sitting on the floor.
Finally the bus driver did the math and called for back-up, which thank the Lord came quickly.

And we were off. Other than our initial panic over the bus we were off to a fairly good start. The children squealed with excitement at every truck that drove by us and couldn't take their eyes off the machinery doing roadwork along the interstate. As our drive turned into the country shouts of, "horses! horses!" filled the bus, along with a few "DEER!"

My friend, (the same one who began our story) looked at the deer and said, "yeah, I killed one once". (note- where I student-taught this was common. The boys all got rifles for the 6th Christmas. In my current suburban location, with these little city children- not so much). "yeah, I hit it a bunch of times" he went on explaining in gory detail about the deer even though I'm pretty sure he was making this all up.

Behind us I heard my co-teacher asking a child if they needed a bag and the unmistakable sounds of gagging. My deer-slayer went on with his story as I tried to zone out both the story of blood and the coughing sounds behind me as we weaved our way over the winding roads. Turning around I could see our car-sick friend with big tears rolling down his usually happy cheeks. "I hate field trips" he announced. Looking for something to distract him I told him to push on his wrists on the pressure points. (I have no idea if this works or not but it gave him something to do other than gag).

So, we arrived- one friend clutching his wrists, another curled up in the fetal position while begging for the bathroom, and the deer slayer still mumbling. Off the bus I wrapped my arm around my car-sick friend to comfort him and put my hand right on the damp sleeve of his shirt, covered with little specks of something.
"Friend, did you get sick?" I asked and he shook his head. "What's this?" "Nothing" "Can we take your top shirt off?" "NOOOOOO"


And then the very nice nature center leaders asked us to line up and quietly walk to the nature center, being very careful to stay on the sidewalk so that we wouldn't disturb the ant hills they were going to teach us about later. The first class managed to follow these directions perfectly, leaving ant hills undisturbed for the pure educational experience we'd driven out to the country for. Our class. Not so much. There was no line. It wasn't quiet. And maybe three children stayed on the sidewalk.

With the ant hills crushed and dead ants along the path I prayed they had something else to share with us on the trip. I think they did- at least, it looked like they were putting in effort to teach us other things, but I'm not sure any of us picked up on it. We were too busy leading the escaping children back to the group. They tried to play games with us- our kids ran about the room, ignoring the five adults giving directions, ignoring the rules of the game and of course only punishing the three children who actually followed directions and were trying to play the game the correct way.

Grant it, I missed a large amount of the trip following the deer slayer who attempted a jail break numerous times, once announcing he was going back to school and headed for the parking lot. Another time, when I said I was going to have to call the principal he looked at me and smiled, "You don't have a phone".

D*** I didn't.

We survived, with my sick friend clutching his wrists, one teacher with a firm grip on the deer slayer, more than a few dead ants, and me, using my very ugly Ms. Viola Swamp voice in front of a whole bunch of parents and a volunteer.

In retrospect I wonder if it was as bad as I think it was. Did they really do that? Did they really run away from us and ignore directions? Or did I make it worse in my head? Was I imagining things?

We're in the midst of our state testing as well as our county assessments. Our schedules will be upside down for the next few weeks and teaching is out the window while we give test after test. The tension is high, especially for a school that didn't make AYP last year (we missed it by 2%). Perhaps it's my own anxiety that's rubbing off on the children. Perhaps I'm making it worse.

I'm considering taking a page out of the deer slayer's book and just staying as far away from those kids as I can tomorrow. Really, I think he was the only smart one there.

Monday, May 18, 2009

monday morning

my fabulous kindergarten co-teacher said to the class, "put your hands in the air!" as she was getting them into line.

without missing a beat one little friend said,

"like you just don't care"
as he shook his shoulders in a bogey-on-down style.

where does a five year old from ethiopia learn that song?

Saturday, May 16, 2009


my bff and i were reading a book in the hallway when my kindergarten class walked by. and of course, in the true nature of kindergarten, each and every one had to say hello to me as though they hadn't seen me since i left their room 30 minutes before.

my bff stood up, threw his body in front of me, arms stretched out as though he was protecting me from sometime awful.

no! he yelled. my mrs. lipstick. mine! go away!

1) we really have to work on sharing
2) we have to start prepping for next year when we'll no longer be bffs.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

accountable for what?

tonight i slipped on the republican pearls and headed out with my husband to a fundraising event for a candidate for governor. i was having a very pleasant time sipping my wine and being thankful for the fabulous weather when the speech slipped into discussing education reform. he hit the party key words 'charter schools' and 'teacher accountability', which are great terms to throw around but i'm always very skeptical until i hear exactly how it will be implemented. then he transitioned into improving our higher education institutions and how we have to start graduating more creative problem solvers to compete in this global world.

yes. yes we do. but do you know why we're not? because we're spending all of our time getting our children to memorize facts and learn how to take a test instead of teaching them problem solving skills and stretching their minds with creative thinking. that great 'teacher accountability' buzz term is getting in the way of actually teaching our children.

it was all i could do not to tell him i knew the solution to this, and that he could find it for himself at 21st century thinker.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


in kindergarten we're studying the five senses so i spent today helping my friends with autism complete a 5 senses sort. until we sat down to work i hadn't thought much about the different ways my friend perceives the world, and that the senses he uses for some objects might not be the ones a typically developing child uses.

the sort came with 20 simple pictures that had clear (or somewhat clear) answers. the sun goes under the 'see' category, the rose under the 'smell', the trumpet under the 'hear'.

we were doing ok with just some some simple confusions (he put the rose under see. yes, you do see the rose. can't really argue there...)

we came to a picture of a small rug. i pointed to the little rug the teacher has outside the door to the bathroom.
"oh" he said, and put it under "smell". i didn't want to test his theory, but, for a child so attentive to smells in general, he is probably right. it probably smells after some years hanging out right outside the bathroom of a kindergarten room.

for the picture of the crayon he pointed to the hearing column.
"can you hear a crayon?" i teased, and held the crayon up to his ear.

"yes!" he argued. he took the crayon from my hand and banged it loudly on the table.

and that was when i decided it was a stupid activity and i'd stop trying to convince him to perceive the world the same way the rest of us do.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


in the midst of my iep-crazy week (5 ieps plus two other special ed-related meetings) i got a letter from a kindergartner that reads,
"dear mrs. lipstick, wen are we gooing to rede chapter 2?"

because i started a book with him three weeks ago and we haven't read chapter two yet.

feeling like i'm letting down my co-teachers, and even worse, really letting down the kids.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

*say cheese*

today was class picture day. to sum it up i will quote jenny's tweet: When picture day falls during Teacher Appreciation Week there should really be margaritas in the teachers' lounge.


at 8:40 this morning i was standing in the gym with 18 kindergartners lined up from tallest to shortest. this in itself was a feat. there are the children who are completing 'kindergarten take 2' and so are very tall. obviously they're at the front, sticking out as the obvious, lovable, yet slightly out of it line-leaders. at the back we have the tiny little one, who the substitute ia yelled, "you're last because you're so small!" who is pouting at not only being short, but being forced to be the caboose. (a headstart teacher told me all of her children at the back of the line were upset because they didn't want to be called short.)

so we make it from the classroom to the gym staying in the order we lined them up, a miracle in itself. the photographer began to place them on the bleachers, which involved asking them to follow one step directions. not a strength for us. there was lots of repeating, prompting, modeling, and hands in the air for almost each and every child in order to the photographer to put them in the proper place.
then, he turned to walk back to his camera. that was his mistake.

feet move, bunny ears, pushing on the bleachers, falling on the bleachers, kicking, slouching, hand twirling, hands over ears, hands over eyes, frowning, teachers scowling.

so he came back to reposition us. and then turned his back to walk back to the camera.



every time he took a picture he'd let out a frustrated burst, "there's an arm up!" or "he wasn't looking" "put your arms down!"

i can't imagine what the final picture will look like. i am picturing three angry looking teachers giving the evil eye to some cute, feisty 6 year olds who are looking everywhere but straight ahead.

but it's not over.

i returned to the gym with one of my first grade classes to find my bff's class lined up on the bleachers.
"oh thank god, mrs. lipstick!" i heard someone exclaim. and i thought, how nice, they wanted me to be in the picture. and then i looked.

my bff had decided that under no circumstance was he having his picture taken. he was not going to stand on the edge of the bleachers, he was not going to smile, in fact, he was not even going to look at the camera. at all. so we tried me standing beside him. we tried me standing by the camera jumping up and down to get his attention. we tried me holding him in place trying to force his head straight ahead (fabulous that there is a picture record of this- really not ok). we even tried to get him away from the bleachers so the rest of the class could be in the picture. he didn't want to be away from them. finally we gave up. the final picture will have me, sweaty, red-faced with hair standing on ends with my arm around him, and his back facing the camera.


my last year in the classroom i had a similar experience. the picture remains on my fridge to remind me 1) why i love my job 2) to remember to laugh 3) why i left the classroom.

in the first row sits my little friend who believed he was a dog. he refused to take his hood off and barked and growled at the photographer when she tried to take it off of him. finally i told her to give up since it wasn't worth getting bitten. because of the struggle he's glaring down the camera women as though he's giving her a death sentence and kind of looks like the grim reaper.
smack in the middle of the picture sits my happy-go-lucky friend who later tried to poison me by putting germ x in my coke. he's grinning wildly with those excited eyes that make you wonder what's about to happen next.
behind him is my little one with autism giving his forced, fake smile with his plaid tie on top of a plaid shirt that comes only halfway down his chest.
and in the back row are my smart cookie and another special friend who are laughing manically, oblivious to the fact that a picture is being taken. my student-teacher (now my fabulous co-teacher) and i are on either side of the class, looking frazzled and overwhelmed.

the one picture truly captured the spirit of the year. i think i now have two more 'spirit pictures' coming my way.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

checking our own emotions

in my graduate class on working with students with emotional disabilities we focused a lot on ourselves. of course, in a roomful of adults, we acted like this was the stupidest thing ever. why? we complained. we don't need therapy. we don't need emotional counseling. can't we just focus on how to help the kids?

but as my professor explained time and time again, an important aspect of working with children with emotional disabilities is being able to fully control your own emotions. children with ed are experts, he explained, at getting under your skin. they have the ability to project their own emotions onto you. they're not feeling worthy? they'll make you feel unworthy. they want control? they'll make you want control.

if you are able to approach these children calmly and without being pulled into their emotional trap you're far more likely to be successful with them.

this has become my mantra, and i have to say it to myself frequently when i am in the midst of a melting down tiny child who i could easily pick up and say "listen, i'm bigger, smarter, and i am the boss. if i said do it, then do it!" but that of course, plays right into their game. and so, instead, i feel like an idiot as i calmly say "i'm sorry you feel that way" as a child screams he hates me and throws things at my head.

my research for my final paper for grad school came out of this concept. perhaps wanting to know for sure if keeping your own emotions in check was really important, i dove into articles about teacher emotions and student behavior. and yes, my professor had been correct, the research shows that our own emotions dictate how we'll react to a situation. and when we feel threatened, even when it is by a tiny 5 year old, we're much more likely to make the situation worse. one study showed that the majority of the time when teachers are physically hurt by students it is because the teacher interfered with the child's conflict cycle instead of letting him cycle through his own emotions.

today as a five year old kicked the door as hard as she could, i could feel my lungs closing up, my muscles tightening, my head about to explode. i had to channel far back into my memories of hiking the swiss alps to get myself ready to work with her. deep breaths.

after i left her room i went to work with my bff but i could feel that i still hadn't recovered. i'm sure i looked fine on the outside, but as i worked with my bff i could tell he was picking up on my stressed mood. his eyes began darting around quickly, his movements became sudden and jerky, and his attention was fleeting. i could almost see myself giving him my stress.

i know i'm stressed this week with my special ed paperwork, my list of meetings, the students i have to get ready for end of year testing, and all the responsibilities i feel i am falling behind on. the rain, the student behavior, the threat of swine flu... it's all snow-balling inside of me. but i'm going to have to let it go. because if i'm honest with myself, the little girl threw her screaming, kicking tantrum after i reacted too quickly to a problem with an unreasonable solution.

Monday, May 4, 2009

oh yes, the hair paint

mrs lipstick?


did you see my mom today?

i did see her today.

did you see her hair?

yes. (?)

it's red.

yes, it is red.

do you like it?

i do like your mom's red hair. do you like it?

they painted it. the hair cut people. they painted her hair red.