Monday, August 31, 2009

it's a hard life

today is fabulous friend's fifth birthday.

it's really, REALLY hard to sit quietly on the rug on your 5th birthday.

it's really hard to not call out to help the teacher on your 5th birthday.

it's going to be a long day for all of us.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

whatever happened to 'the angels are bowling?'

loud claps of thunder announced that the skies were about to open up yesterday during our independent reading time in my first grade classroom. i was settling in to have a reading conference with one of the little ones i've worked with for three years now. he has both learning and emotional disabilities, but we've made a lot of progress in the last two years. the last burst of thunder made him whisper,
"rain is 'cause god wants to water the flowers"

"i like that" i said, "that makes me like the thunderstorm and not be scared"

"my mommy told me that"

"she's a smart woman"

the little girl sitting beside us looked up from her book. she sat with perfect posture, her braided pigtails slowly swayed on either side of her head, her hands were crossed in front of the henry and mudge book she had been engrossed in. she looked like a model first grader.

"thunder is from the devil" she explained, matter-of-factly.

"the devil use to be an angel but he wanted god's power. so he took god's bad powers and went to hell. when jesus comes again we don't know if we will go with jesus, or with the devil. i think the devil gave us thunder to scare us."

my little one with learning disabilities looked at her with wide-eyes.

"god wanted to water the flowers?" "he said again, this time filled with doubt.

how did a thunderstorm become a theological discussion within the span of 3 minutes?

Friday, August 28, 2009

saying goodbye to good books & an old friend

this makes me so sad.

so sad that i can't even put into words everything that is wrong with why they are ending reading rainbow.

anyone in education knows the magic word these days is balanced literacy.

sure phonics is important, but why bothering learning the phonics? because reading brings us meaning! trust me- against a world of nintendo games, tv, movies, and anything you want at your finger tips on the internet- us kindergarten and first grade teachers don't stand a prayer unless we convince our little ones that they'll actually love reading once they can do it.

the article states:
Research has directed programming toward phonics and reading fundamentals as the front line of the literacy fight. Reading Rainbow occupied a more luxurious space — the show operated on the assumption that kids already had basic reading skills and instead focused on fostering a love of books.

i was a struggling reader. if i hadn't realized how much i would love books i don't think i ever would have learned to read. i didn't have those basic phonics and reading fundamental skills-but i was determined to be able to read- and part of that is from reading rainbow. i have such distinct memories of watching books open up worlds for me during the show (and being bitterly jealous of the kids who got to book talk their favorite books on tv).

grant it, my parents lied to us and told us we only got pbs and the news on the tv in our house (and we had no remote to prove them otherwise), so i watched more pbs than the average child.

i'd argue that a love of books is the first important reading skill before we can even begin to teach phonics. how else will children understand that print contains meaning, that we read books left to read, that print reads left to right, and that all those letters put together make up words, and those letters put together with spaces in between them make up sentences?

this morning at my friday morning book club i sat with three fourth graders who adore reading. they gasped with excitement at the idea of re-reading because of winn dixie. that excitement of the book itself is what reading rainbow brought us. i would understand cancelling the show because of a drop in ratings- but to drop it because of the idea it teaches a love of stories instead of phonics- i feel physical pain.

i'm in mourning.

in the show's memory i'm off to read a book for pleasure.

b is for books, and...

on wednesday i treated myself to a new pair of jeans, because after 3 1/2 weeks of school i felt i deserved a treat. this morning when i put my new jeans on i realized i'd been a little ambitious about the size of the jeans and denim's ability to stretch out. but they were new, and i really wanted to wear them. they may be a tad lower than i'd normally wear to school but i wore my 'think' tshirt and figured i would be ok.

at the end of the day a little boy with a slight speech impediment called me over.

"i can see your b" he whispered. i immediately tugged my shirt.

"when i saw on the carpet, i can see your b. you have a LOT of bs"

i was mortified.

then i listened to him again.

"lots of books hiding by your desk!"

yes, i do have lots of books hiding at my desk.

deep breath.

i'm glad it's friday.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

itchy itchy

as i walked one of my kindergartners down the hallway she happily skipped along telling me a charming story in a singsong voice.

"i have eggs in my head! eggs in my head! and they are going to break and when they break- here come the bugs! and when the bugs come they will jump on your head! and your head! and your head!" she sang, pointing at everyone in our group.


"lovely. maybe you can write about that in writing workshop" i suggested, trying to keep my hands from creeping up to scratch my own head that had instantly started to itch.


we spent the day looking at the tops of their heads during read alouds and sending them to the clinic "just to check". the very lovely clinic aid tried not to give me a look of death every time i brought in another group of little girls with eggs. to be fair we only brought up one little one who did not turn out to have lice- but still- we looked a little pathetic with our constant parade of paranoia. it was the poor woman's first day. i hope she comes back tomorrow. or that i can get to know her outside of pointing to a child's head and saying, "i swear, i saw a nit. it was right there. there! see! no! that's not dandruff- i promise" as she placates me by looking again, just to be sure. "nope. just dandruff".

did you know that lice have grown immune to the medical shampoo?
they've evolved.
they are winning the war.

frankly, i just want to win the battle. the one being fought in our kindergarten room.

mr. lipstick and i were driving home from our last softball game of the season. it was a lovely evening- we'd won our game as the sun set behind the washington monument. we were in such good spirits that i thought he'd find the adventures of my day amusing, so i told him this story- and waited for the snicker about the first lice victim's song.

there was silence.

and then

"i'm pulling into the harris teeter parking lot and will wait in the car while you go buy lice shampoo. "

i laughed.

he didn't.

he pulled into the harris teeter, parked the car and i forced myself to make the long walk into the store. i put aside my pride and even asked where the lice shampoo was kept. i explained that i didn't actually have lice, and that i was just exposed to lice, but the pharmacist looked skeptical as she backed away from me, waving a finger in the general direction of the shampoo.

i now own lice shampoo. this in itself makes me itchy. as though i can catch lice just from holding the box. i had others check my head many times and so far i'm all clear- but i'm ready. i just hope if i get lice i get the weak non-evolved type that will still die when under attack from nix.

perhaps tomorrow should be 'wear your hair net to school' day in our kindergarten class.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

finding a hook

i wont lie- the wii changed my life. before the wii i use to play nintendo games to be social, but i was absolutely horrid at them. all of them. i blame my parents who, when all my friends were getting the original nintendo system, dug out the old atari and tried to tell us that it was the same thing. for those of you who are wondering- it wasn't. when we finally did get a nintendo system my twin brothers monopolized it, never giving me those hours and hours of practice everyone else my age experienced.

so until the wii i was embarrassingly awful at all of these games. but once the wii came out a new world opened up. the wii is the equivalent to differentiated instruction in the world of nintendo. suddenly i actually enjoyed playing the games once i could move the controller and that moved my person (i'm not so good with the buttons) and i no longer had to pretend i was having fun while others worked out their thumbs.

this also meant i recently was introduced to the cast of characters from mario brothers. as a new convert to this world i'm still learning, but i'm also trying to catch up for lost time. i have my husband explain the ends and outs of each character and try to follow along with which character is from which game. and then i quickly forget what he said and i choose whoever is cutest.

this is all to say that last week i was working one on one with one of my little ones. this is my second year with her and we've been working on hearing initial sounds in words since may. we're making slow but steady progress.

on thursday afternoon i was wracking my brain to think of items that started with the letter m when i blurted out "mushroom". this clearly triggered something in her brain because she exploded into a long monologue of mushrooms in mariocart as well as all the other characters in the game. i tried to follow as much as i could, and silently thanked my husband for exposing me to these characters, and the makers of nintendo wii for making it possible for even me to enjoy playing the games.

as she chatted on and on about her favorite characters a thought began to form- why am i trying so hard to make her listen to the beginning sounds in random words that mean nothing to her? so, after listening to her undying love for princess peach i asked what letter princess peach started with. her eyes lit up as she worked hard at listening to the sound. "P" she exclaimed as she jumped into the air. so i tried more, "mario, lugi, toad," and she took a turn, saying their names and asking me to help her determine their initial sound.

what had three minutes before been a painstaking process was slowly turning into the most animated lesson i've had with her.

that afternoon i spent time on google images finding pictures of each of these characters and printing them out onto cards for us to use in our lessons. when she saw this she just about died of happiness.

today, still on her mario-love streak she asked me to work with her in writing workshop. until today she spent writing workshop writing strings of letters with occasional high frequency words thrown in. she didn't seem to have the concept that what we put on paper has meaning and that the letter sounds are important for making meaning. any attempts to teach her or guide her toward these concepts were painstaking. i'd been working away at it, but it was going slowly.

until today.

she filled three pages writing about mario- mario getting married, dancing with peach, giving her a ring and a kiss, having a baby toad, going to bed, then waking up and going to work. if class hadn't ended i'm not sure how long she would have gone on. for the first time i watched her work at listening to the sounds in her words and slowly she began to understand that writers don't just write down any letter that looks good- they write down letters that have meaning.

as i watched this light bulb turn on she became more confident and more independent with her work in one day. a lesson i've tried to teach since the beginning of last year was learned quickly because she'd truly chosen a topic that she cared about writing perfectly.

who knew mario was so inspiring? i'm so glad i listened to her chat away about her love of mario- so glad i ran with it- and even happier that my wasted hours of playing the wii have paid off professionally.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

because my job isn't hard enough

dear book bag producers,

i know that you are enjoying making the super trendy high school musical book bags, or sparkly hannah montana totes. i don't heart them, but it's ok whatever gives my little ones the desire to bring their homework to and from school is worth it. but now you are beginning to make new fancy bookbags that do not actually do what they say they will do. this is hard to do, with a book bag, since the requirements of a book bag include:

1) open
2) hold stuff
3) close
4) be easily carried- either on the back or on the side of a child

not difficult. you have been making these for years.

but now, something has gone terribly wrong. your new bags appear to be regular size bookbags, but you smartly put a zipper down the side in a new "wow, isn't this cool" style. every kid this year, it seems, HAS to have a bookbag with a trendy fake zipper.

a zipper whose angle actually makes it impossible to insert anything close to the size of say, oh, a homework folder. so that every piece of paper sent home is required to be smashed into a ball and shoved into the bookbag as though one is stuffing a scarecrow with newspaper.

if these bags are really such a money maker for you i ask you to come and show me how you'd like me to help 5 year olds (who are being taught to be independent) to pack up at the end of the day and stuff their lunch box, homework folder, and jacket through the small hole you provide.

i am beginning to suspect you are in cahoots with the testing companies. if our children's homework is too crumpled to actually be completed then maybe they wont do it, so they wont learn, keeping test scores low, and forcing us to take more tests. ok, maybe i'm stretching it a bit, but seriously- what could possibly be the reason for making a product that does not do what people are buying it for?

thank you,
mrs. lipstick

Monday, August 24, 2009


look! fabulous friend shrieked this morning when she came into the classroom in her zebra-print shirt.

don't you love my shirt? it's zebra- like at the zoo. roar!

what did you do this weekend, fabulous friend?

oh, i went shopping for a new momma.


and later...

fabulous friend, please take your finger out of your nose.

in a very matter-of-fact tone, but i'm getting my boogers out!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

home visits

this year my partner-in-crime decided she wanted to do home visits instead of conferences. i LOVE this idea and am planning on accompanying her to all of our little ones' homes. two third grade teachers at our school have been doing home visits for years, and every year we've been jealous of how much they learn about their students from the experience.

last week we looked at the schedule we have ahead of us for the next few weeks and became a bit overwhelmed. we'll be putting in some late nights after long days of teaching. what were we thinking? we tried not to ask ourselves as we settled in with our decision. we've committed for this year- let's see how it goes.

our first visit was last thursday night in an apartment complex near our school. we nervously approached the door, not knowing what to really expect from the next 20 minutes.

the minute the door opened we could see the children's artwork covering the walls of the apartment. the morning messages she'd taken home from headstart hung on the living room walls- at perfect five-year-old eye level so she has easy re-reading access. her handmade picture frame from headstart hung on the wall behind the table. this is clearly a home where the children are an important part of the family.

as we talked the parents told us about the arts and craft area they'd set up in the pantry where their little kindergarten student could work on whatever projects she wanted to try. an art easel sat on the balcony where she could go to paint.

i got so much out of this short visit. nothing made me happier than seeing the home where this little one is clearly nurtured, loved, and encouraged to explore her five year old passions. i wish i could give all of my five and six year olds this nurturing home life.

(not to mention i am totally stealing the idea of turning my bottom pantry shelves into an arts and crafts studio when i have my own kids. what a great way to keep the children busy and near you while you cook!)

we left their apartment with new found energy despite the fact it was late thursday evening and it had been a long week. now i can't wait for next week's visits!

Friday, August 21, 2009

let me introduce you to fabulous friend

at the end of the day today i couldn't contain myself- i walked into the speech/pathologists office and gave her the list of reasons i am in love with fabulous friend. they are so good i thought i would share them with you too.

1. fabulous friend has the best name ever. it sounds like the first part of a popular club song from a few years ago. every time i say her name i want to start singing and dancing.

2. fabulous friend's big sister's name is just a few letters off of her own name. she calls her "big girl fantastic friend". as in, "mrs. lipstick, do you see my big girl, fantastic friend?" when she is standing right beside her sister.

3. fabulous friend was previously the star of the red light/green light post. for those interested, she is still working on her impulse control, but is working really, really hard.

4. fabulous friend gave everyone imaginary train hats today during free choice and got her entire table to pretend they were on a train while making "toot, toot" hand motions.

5. the minute it stopped raining during free choice fabulous friend took a break from leading the train to exclaim, "yes! now we can jump in the puddles on the way home!" and then showed me her puddle jumping dance.

6. fabulous friend loves read alouds, and is 100% engaged the entire time. so much that she gets excited and tries to turn the pages for you (before you're done reading the current page)

7. if you try to book-talk a book fabulous friend curls up into a ball as though she is having stomach cramps and cries, "please, please, hurry and read it! i need to hear it now!"

8. when taken to the clinic fabulous friend curled up into a ball as though she was having stomach cramps and cried, "no! i don't want to go home! i want to stay and have the fun!"

9. today fabulous friend was wearing knee-high olive green socks and a pink skirt.

10. at the end of the day fabulous friend whispered to my co-teacher, "i'm afraid of unicorns".

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

my little prince

my first year at my current school a kindergarten teacher looked at my class list and smiled, "you have my darling prince" she exclaimed, "he is so sweet, you are going to love him." and she left it at that.

the minute he walked in my classroom door and smiled i was in love. he was such a caring little first grader, but also creative. when we baked cupcakes for our writing celebration at the end of august he made himself a chef hat.

of course, he was also impulsive- more impulsive than most six year old boys. he would occasionally physically lash out at his friends instead of using his words, he never raised his hand, he always touched what i told him not to.

at the end of the first month the kindergarten teacher returned. "hows the prince?" she asked. and then she went on to tell me the full story about him- how much he drove her crazy, how much he needed reminders to stay in line, raise his hand, keep his hands to himself.

i was so glad she waited a month to tell me about this other side. she let me get to know him and see past his impulsive behavior at the great little person underneath.

we worked hard, me and the prince. we had special behavior plans, we worked on self-monitoring our behavior, we learned to read, write and do math. i continued to adore him, but will not lie that his behavior had the ability to drive me insane. still, i could see the sweetness within him.

the special education teacher approached me one day. she'd been watching him in the hallway and thought he may have fetal alcohol syndrome. i could understand where she was coming from- and could understand what she was thinking. but i was a young teacher so i didn't put him up for child study or anything like that. we just kept working hard. perhaps i should have done the paperwork- i just didn't know any better.

and there was improvement. he grew out of some of his impulsive behavior. through responsive classroom discussions he reflected on how he was making other people feel. we still had a few violent episodes, but they became few and far between.

at the end of the year i passed him on to an incredibly sweet, soft spoken teacher. i followed the kindergarten teacher's footsteps and only told her how much i adored him. after a month i went in and gave her the other tips i'd learned from working with him. like i had, she'd already fallen in love and could see the wonderful little boy behind the behavior.

by the end of second grade he was a model student. the impulsively was almost gone. he thought about his actions, and when he was impulsive he apologized. he took care of his classmates and cared about their feelings. he loved school and always showed up to my early morning book club with a huge smile on his face.

he left our school at the end of that year. i was heart broken, but i kept the ceramic (somewhat hideous) swan vase on my desk because of everything he represented to me. he showed me
1) the importance of only passing on positive information each year
2) why responsive classroom works- instead of yelling at this boy and sending the message that he could not be successful in school- we built him up- showed him WHY he was wrong, and helped him work through how he could do better
3) children grow and change. by the end of second grade he was not the impulsive child he'd been a year before. he had three years of extreme responsive classroom, developmentally appropriate experiences. although he'd entered kindergarten as a little boy "on the spin cycle" he'd slowly learned to master his impulsively without growing to hate school.

last year my prince returned to our school. he was a model fifth grader, showing thoughtfulness rare for fifth grade boys. in some ways i wasn't surprised, but if i looked back at those first grade moments of kicking and pushing i couldn't believe the growth.

this year his little sister is in kindergarten. since middle school hasn't started yet i watch him take her to school every day and kiss her on the cheek, and tell her to be good. i watch him pick her up, ask how her day was, and- if she "had to turn her card" (got in trouble) he talks to her about what she could do better next time. his home life is rough, i know. yet here he is, giving his little sister what he never had.

i wonder if he would be the same today if his kindergarten teacher had warned me of him from day one that he would drive me to drink. i wonder if he hadn't had three nurturing responsive classroom teachers if he would have given up on school. i wonder if his impulsive six year old ways could have driven a wedge in our relationship, leaving both of us frustrated.

i do not think i'll ever be able to take the ceramic swan off my desk. i remember the day he gave it to me, for my birthday. he'd bought it from the dollar store and proudly handed me the bag it came in, explaining he'd bought it himself with the ice cream money he had saved. he picked me flowers to put in it at recess, and when another child went to touch it at the end of the day he punched them, hard, in the stomach. the memory of the happiness mixed with the impulsive behavior is such a reminder of the diamond in the rough that clearly grew to shine on his own.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

one of the cardinal sins of teaching...

i could die.

today we were modeling how to look at a book and tell the stories in the pictures even if you don't know how to read.

i was modeling the wrong way.

(i know in responsive classroom you're not really suppose to model anything the wrong way. but i did. and i shouldn't have)

as i'm holding a book and pretending not to read it i called out for the teacher, tried to get a classmate to help me read the book, and then- when nothing else worked, i said, "STUPID, SILLY BOOK I CAN'T EVEN READ".

i said the s- word in a first grade classroom.

there were gasps.

on the "what did you notice" discussion everyone said, in hushed whispers,
"mrs. lipstick said a bad word".

and i did. i should have gone straight to the thinking spot.

i know these little ones hear words far, far worse than that at home, on the bus, and on tv. in fact, many were in my kindergarten class were one friend was pinching people if they didn't say "f me". (he is no longer at our school).

but it doesn't matter. i said the s word. i haven't said that in front of first graders since my first year teaching unless i'm reading junie b. jones and the stupid, stinky school bus, and even then the first graders gasp.

i'm washing my mouth out with soap as we speak.

recognizing growth and change

one of the aspects i love about my job is my ability to "loop" with some of my kiddos- or follow them into their next grade level. not only do i love not having to leave them after being attached to them for one year, but i love the perspective it gives me on all the children i work with.

after a few months of having a student i always (naively) feel like i know them pretty well. i feel confident in my ability to read the child's body language- know what will be too hard, too easy, what may set them off and make them overly excited. but when we get secure in our knowledge about our little ones we can forget that their brains aren't fully developed adult brains yet and we forget that children change and grow.

chip wood's book yardsticks is one of my favorites to re-read every summer because it is such a great reminder of where the children will be when they enter the classroom- but it also serves as a reminder for how children change. recently wood posted tidbits on each age on his blog-

at five 1/2 children are more oppositional, and possibly have more tantrums than they were at 5 because of their cognitive growth. at 6 they are more likely to want to be first at everything- and will rush through their work for a love of quantity over quality. they talk in order to process what they are learning. at 7 they slow down a bit- becoming focused on the details and perfection in their work. they're more likely to ask to work by themselves in a quiet place. they appreciate routines more than ever before.

after reading wood's book and blog posts i am fascinated as i watch the children i knew so well as a five/five and ahalf year old slowly develop into six year olds, and then seven year olds. what once motivated them does not anymore- and what use to distract them and send them into a tantrum now barely gets noticed. they grow, change, and mature as they test their surroundings in order to become the grown up person we want them to one day be.

a good friend of mine who is a fourth grade teacher at another school frequently complains about how after a week or two of school the fifth grade teachers come into her room demanding why she didn't "stop john from _____" or "why did she let sara get away with that______". i cringe every time i hear stories about how attacked she is by the teachers she's passing her beloved students onto. she worked so hard with each student- (i know, we share many cups of coffee discussing our little ones)- yet the new teachers overlook how children grow and change. they forget those students came into my friend's room a year younger, less mature, and less knowledgeable about the world. after a year of hard work they grew in my friend's classroom- but while they were improving their bodies and brains were developing as well. new habits were forming, new developmental milestones were being met.

beyond the lack of professionalism her co-workers show and the lack of respect for how teachers should work together- they show a lack of understanding about children that makes me cringe. every year each teacher is adding to the building blocks of the child. the idea of turning around and attacking the teacher the year before seems almost lazy. what kind of destructive working environment is it creating?

then again, it's easy to make the same judgements about the teachers we're passing our children on to. sometimes we smugly think, "he never did that with me!" when in reality, he was at a different stage in his development.

i know how the kindergartners sit on the carpet as early fives, wide-eyed and quiet. then i watch the first graders become more active, more eager "to be first", with a tendency to push more, forget to raise their hands more and be more talkative. i know it's not last year's teacher's fault, nor the new teacher's fault. it's developmental. i watch as the late fives and sixes turn into sevens, who want to be left alone, are able to sit for longer periods of time investigating details, or put more time and effort into their work. it's not that the first grade teacher "accepted bad work", it's that in first grade the child was performing first grade work- in second grade he's seven- developmentally ready to move on.

having children for two years in a row is always serving as a reminder of how different our children can be from year to year. it allows me to step back and look for the small changes in the personalities, trying to always keep the student in mind and not my own preconceived ideas.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

tell me we're not rock stars!

clearly i've just discovered how to publish photos directly from my phone to the blog. be patient while i figur this out.

this is our jump rope performance on thursday. we're use to performing in gyms so this was kind of awesome (taken from inside the sound booth)

rip and read!

discovering our presents

the gift of reading

yesterday was possibly one of the best moments i've ever had teaching. my partner-in-crime, who i have now been co-teaching with for 4 years (the first year she was a student teacher in my first grade classroom, ever since then we have co-taught together in her kindergarten classroom) and i decided to wrap up all our classroom library books in 4 large boxes (one for each table group). we left the large wrapped presents in the closed house keeping area for 2 weeks as we introduced the rest of the classroom. then yesterday, while they were eating their snack, we placed one of the gifts in the middle of the carpet.

"santa clause came!" one little girl shrieked with excitement.

"in here," we began in a hushed voice, "is the most important, exciting thing we are going to do in kindergarten. what do you think could be in here?"


"a car!"



"army men!"

(you can't beat 5 year old logic)

"in here is the real magic we are going to learn in kindergarten. are you ready?"

we placed one box at each table and one on the floor for our friend in a wheelchair so 3-6 children gathered around each box.

"open them up!" we declared and the ripping began.

a part of me was worried we'd have disapointed groans when they discovered the boxes were only filled with books. instead we heard absolute squeals of delight.

"books!" high pitched happiness filled the room.

one little boy jumped up and down, waving his arms, "muchos, muchos, MUCHOS BOOKS!" he cried with his spanish/english vocabulary.

i had chills.

we left them alone for almost 10 minutes as they pulled out book after book in their box and listened to delighted squeal after squeal with each new book they discovered. torn wrapping paper littered the floor as everyone found a book that was perfect for them- trucks, princesses, monsters, animals. the only one slightly disapointed girl was one who went through all the books on her table in a rush looking for "the bear book". finally i let her go join another group (whose box i knew contained animal books) and within a minute she was settled down pouring over brown bear, brown bear, in pure happiness.

later that day we discussed what we'd found inside those boxes and sorted the box of animal books into 'fake animals' and 'real animals' for our budding classroom library (they decided on the label names). every day next week we plan to add another basket to the library as we slowly build and discover our books. of course, we couldn't finish our lesson without a reading of brown bear, brown bear.

it was magic.

a friend recommended this lesson to me about 5 years ago saying "you absolutely cannot start your year without wrapping your books". but she taught 4th grade and i wasn't sure how it would transfer. i can't believe i waited this long. so now i say to you- "you absolutely cannot start your year without wrapping your books".

it was one of those days when i know, for sure, that i have the best job in the world.

**there are many pictures that go with this but at the moment blogger is not cooperating (it's eithre blogger or my computer) stay tuned for the photo-journalist account!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

lessons in teamwork and moments in the real world

i spent the morning with my jump rope team at our school's business partner's headquarters. we didn't really know why we'd been invited to perform, but our business partner has done so much for our school that we were happy to go jump for them. with the beginning of the school year craziness the head coach and i hadn't actually thought through much of the plan. we had our cds ready to go, and expected to show up to a simple boom box. we clearly had no idea what sort of place we were performing.

we pulled into their beautiful building and even then we didn't realize we were out of our element. as we walked in and were handed name tags from the security guard and listened to the kids gasp at the "green house" in the lobby, it started to sink in.

they led us into a green room where breakfast was waiting and then showed us the hallway to the stage. i think we all caught our breath for a moment. the stage was small and narrow- but built from beautiful wood with two large screens hanging down. the auditorium chairs were large and comfortable- and i was shown up to the sound box where they immediately took our cds- turned them into mp3s, and computerized our whole program. then they asked me about what sort of lighting we wanted and i just about choked. lighting? seriously? um- it would be nice if we could see... luckily someone stepped in who had actual experience with lighting these

as we were setting up they shared that they'd asked us here as a way to kick off their seminar on teamwork. our kids were asked to perform in front of 150 professional adults as a symbol of teamwork, determination, competition, and perseverance.

not only was this a great moment for our children to realize that even adults have "guidance lessons", but also for them to realize that what makes them so special is not their talent but their hard work and determination. and of course- it was a great opportunity for them to get treated like rock stars. (and to show them what life in the real world could be like- it's not out of the question for them to work in beautiful offices and get treated to fancy lunches.)

patterns of thinking in the beginning of the year

in kindergarten we like to start the year with everyone making their own self portrait to hang up in the classroom. this year we used think blocks to help the children label the parts of their body. These two little girls really went into detail after the lesson- check out the finger nails (above) and the toes inside the shoes (below).
one of our fabulous new teachers this year mentioned she used think blocks to introduce responsive classroom's concept of an apology of action. her class labeled the parts of an apology. because teaching is about sharing/stealing, we totally copied her idea. we came up with 4 parts of an apology: saying you are sorry, asking if the person is ok, asking how to fix it/make it better, and saying "i will never do it again". now- we'll wait to see if they actually use these new apology skills...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

wine- a teacher's best friend

just back from back-to-school night and i'm done. it's been quite a busy last few days, but i continue to adore my classes. the beginning of kindergarten is so full of teaching how to use pencils, crayons, how to raise your hand, how to stand in line, etc.

"this is a pencil. show me how to use it carefully" lessons are seeping into my dreams.

after a week and a half our kiddos are beginning to stretch their muscles and test their boundaries. they're no longer shy and timid, and we're seeing all sorts of little science experiences at work. "what happens if i don't come to the rug right away?" most of them are easy to stop and show them their limits, but some prove to be harder. one little boy continues to lose his patience in the afternoon and stomps his feet while wailing in spanish, and another of my little ones decided to crawl under the table and shout- loudly- to let us know just how she was feeling.

meeting their parents was great- i love being able to share stories with their parents and getting to answer the questions about school, and listen to their own stories about their children's beliefs on school.

now- i'm exhausted. time for wine & quiet time on the couch.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

heart breaking because it's true

this article is in the outlook section of the post today (ht: assortedstuff).

sarah fine, a former high school teacher in dc public schools explains why she decided to leave the profession. reading it filled me with frustration, sadness, and anger. everything she says about the profession is true, and it is an injustice to our students that we're losing teachers like her.

she describes being in the midst of an interactive writing lesson when an administrator entered her classroom and "told her to get the class 'seated and silent'" despite the fact the students were engaged and learning.

she discusses the long hours with little pay, the micromanaging of teachers, the lack of teacher voice in administrative decisions, and the difficulties of navigating the social "why teach?" questions from peers.

i hate that it's true. all of it. at my undergraduate college, filled with proud owners of ivy-league-rejection-letters, i was frequently asked, "why did you even bother coming here if you're just going to teach?"

all of us have heard that- the "that's cute" comments. "ahhh", or "you must have patience".

i hate we don't get the respect we deserve from outside the schools, but what upsets me more is that teachers do not get the respect within the schools, as fine describes. people who do not understand child development, and proven teaching strategies are given too much power and control of what happens inside the classroom.

i hope michelle rhee reads fine's article and spends some time reflecting on what it means. rhee is lucky that teach for america is ready to supply her with ample brand new teachers to the field every year, but that doesn't mean those teachers will stay, or that they will be successful while they are there.

i'm blessed to work at the think tank, where we don't face the administration verse teacher horror stories i hear from other schools. i don't blame fine for leaving, because after being blessed with respect at the think tank, i'm not sure i could stay long anywhere else. but losing teachers like her is not ok. and i hope the people that matter will take the time to read the article written by "just a teacher".

kindergarten stress

on friday we took our kindergartners outside to play red light/green light. we wanted to get outside, let them run, get them out of the classroom, but more importantly- practice our impulse control skills.

anyone who works with five year olds knows that impulse control is a bit difficult for them. at five, if you see it, you want to touch it. not just want to touch it- you have this burning need to touch it. and for some children even the angry look of a teacher isn't enough to keep their little hands to themselves.

so impulse control is really something that needs to be taught, practiced, rehearsed, and practiced again. which makes red light/green light a perfect teaching opportunity.

of course, if you are five, have no impulse control, but really, really, really want to do the right thing, this game is excruciating.

after a few rounds of playing i noticed one little girl stomping her feet in the back of the line even though the rest of the children had taken off on 'green light'.

i can't do it! she explained. it's too hard!

so she and i became a team so i could help her stop. even holding my hand she occasionally forgot and would try to pull me along during a red light switch (making it scarily like a game of crack-the-whip). she'd look at me wide eyed and scuff her shoes on the blacktop, clearly angry she hadn't frozen.

i tried. she muttered, as, shoulders slumped, she headed to the back of the line.

in the end she had fun, but as we lined up i felt her tugging on my shirt.

that was a hard game. she said. i didn't think kindergarten was going to be so hard.

we'll keep practicing, i explained. you'll get better at it, i promise.

Friday, August 7, 2009


me: please take your fingers out of your nose.

beautiful five year old girl: ok 'cause i already got it out. see? (and shows me big, beautiful booger)

*** *** ***

kindergarten girl walking past me in the hallway friday morning.

hey you! i'm not comin' to this place tomorrow!

*** *** ***

Thursday, August 6, 2009

early computer literacy

with one of my kiddos this year i am way out of my element. i've discovered i'm the most comfortable with children who have emotional disabilities, or have autism. i know a lot about learning disabilities, but i really know very little about physical disabilities.

i have a beautiful little girl this year who is confined to a wheelchair. she's very clever and sweet, and an absolute joy to work with. we're working closely with the occupational and physical therapists to be sure we are meeting her needs and keeping her safe, but we definitely have a learning curve. there are so many aspects of the day to day life in kindergarten we have to adapt for her- and so many i just don't think about until they are happening. we try to over think everything we do so we are ready, but like with all children it's proving to be impossible to be completely prepared. i'm learning a lot, which is nice for me, but i just wish i could give this little one a teacher who wasn't always saying, "oh! wait- maybe we should try something else!"

she's been incredibly patient with us as we work through the first-week kinks and hopefully we'll soon develop a rhythm to smoothly including her in all aspects of the day.

after observing how difficult writing is for her i asked clairvoy for a laptop. i know she uses the computer at home but i had no idea what kind of experience she had with it, how independent she could be with it, and how computer literate she was as a five year old.

turns out, she's a rock star.

we sat down to use it together and after i eventually stopped doing things for her she took over. i am mortified that i'd assumed she didn't know how to use a computer, couldn't reach some of the keys, or didn't have the fine motor ability to type.

clearly at five she is very computer literate, and where she's not sure what to do she's not scared to click around and figure it out. she may not have perfect fine motor skills, but she is patient and determined enough to make it work. when i realized how difficult it was for her to double click on something i cringed- i hadn't thought that would be a problem, and here i was giving her something else that was hard. i immediately wanted to fix it. i took over for her a few times until she (politely) pushed my hand out of the way and did it herself. and kept doing it herself. i literally got goose bumps watching her take over the computer and explore on pixie. she wrote her name, added a background, and added details in the picture. she clearly knows what's she's doing, and when she doesn't know what she's doing she's ready to try until she figures it out.

i don't know many other five year olds who have this sense of determination.

(well, i take that back. i know a lot of determined five year olds. i just don't know how many use it to achieve something other than temper tantrums in the classroom. )

our computer exploration today reminded me that kids, even the youngest kids, are very capable on a computer, and should never be doubted on their ability to handle a computer.

asides from that, i was also reminded that it is ok for things to be hard for my little one. she's strong and willing and able to work through problems.

cheers for learning curves, and those around us willing to be patient as we experience them.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

i love my job

pssst i hear from a five year old who is timidly raising his hand.


he motions me over so he can whisper in my ear.

i have a dog.

i love my job.

*** *** ***

i turn around during snack to find a little one standing on my heels. she grins and holds up a pretzel she's just bitten into.

it's a letter! she whispers, learning forward with excitement.

wow! which one?

i don't know! she giggles, shrugs, and the letter disappears into her mouth.

i love my job.

*** *** ***

we sat in morning meeting in a circle, criss cross applesauce, quietly listening to each new friend name their favorite food. my new fabulous friend announced her favorite food is carrots, and as each friend shares his or her food she collapses with disappointment of learning that other kindergarten students don't share her love of carrots.

*** *** ***

how do you not love a job where little ones have such a strong desire to share these tiny, yet extremely important aspects of their life?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

kid watching

i love how much you can learn about your students just watching them in the beginning of the year. their simple little actions, comments, and interactions can tell you so much.

in kindergarten we put out pattern blocks for the children to explore first thing in the morning. it's incredible to watch them use these in their own ways when they've been given no instruction on the "right" way to use them.

one little girl lined up all her pieces by color and shape as a way to sort them. one little boy built a 3-d castle, another girl worked on the floor plans of a house complete with a emergency rain drains. one boy stacked his on top of each other to make a tall tower, while another found a way to make a car that really rolled. immediately through this five minute exercise we were able to see who has used these before, who has good spatial relations, who likes to classify items into groups, and who may need some guidance with shapes and patterns. (and equally as important, who already understands how to share, and who may need some modeling...)

in first grade we put the names on the word wall today. just showing the students a name of one of their classmates and asking, "what do you notice?" told us so much about their literacy skills. some children just noticed the first letter (and one little one got that one wrong...), some wanted to connect the names by sounds. other children noticed patterns in their names- and found little words like 'me' and 'it'. some enjoyed just naming letters they could see.

i love picking up these little tidbits on them as i'm getting to know them as people and as learners. it gives me something to tie future lessons to, and let's me see what they're like as learners in a more unstructured environment. where does their mind go when they're given a slightly unstructured task?

jinxing myself to just write this...

breathing deeply...

actually, the first two days have been amazing so far. (knocking on wood while typing).

yesterday was the first time in over a year my brilliant co-teacher, our aids, and i breathed. last year's class, although we loved them dearly, resembled a kindergarten version of lord of the flies. you never know, when you have one of these classes, if it's the make up of the class or really, it's just you.

this new class- with their following directions, looking at us when we talk, playing with blocks instead of throwing them, walking in a line instead of sprinting down the hallway- is showing us that really, it wasn't us. it was them.

don't get me wrong. i adored last year's children.
or in small groups.
but all together, there was something about the mix of personalities that turned even the most quiet child into a defiant, adult-hating five year old.

i'm not exaggerating.

i'm working with four of them again this year in my first grade class, and i can't tell you how much i love them & how excited i am to work with them again. i love every former student from that class who i walk by in the hallway. but, i don't miss them as a class.

yesterday morning i noticed the difference when a little child stretched his legs out when we were sitting on the rug. i asked him to go back to sitting criss cross applesauce, and,
he-did it!
i mean, he listened- and sat correctly.

unlike last year where i would expect a child to choose from the following options: 1) kick me 2) stand up and walk away from me 3) ignore me 4) fix his legs but immediately start singing loudly

this year...
in the hallway they are in line.

when we introduced pattern blocks they made patterns.

when we taught them to sit quietly they sat quietly.

when we showed them the monkey bars they used them as monkey bars- not as a way to kick their friends in the face.

when we blew the whistle at recess they lined up.

they are better at being kindergartners on day two of kindergarten than last year's class was on day 100 of kindergarten.

last year's group had a rough go. we began the year with the recess queen, whose brutal (yet silent and unprovoked) attacks on the others made us go through a full quarter where we couldn't guarantee any one's safety. by the end of the year we, or someone else, had called child services on almost every single child in the classroom. every child had a very difficult home life. we weren't teaching school- we were offering an escape from their worlds, and a place to learn basic social skills.

on the bright side, that group probably improved our teaching more than anything else. i listen to my amazing co-teacher's teacher language and am just in awe at how perfect it is. she's predicting every move- labeling everything they do- and using her words to prevent all sorts of disasters. we learned to do that last year as a survival technique, and so with this group it's working wonders.

every time we make eye contact with each other we knock on wood- we know we're thinking how incredible it is. we're waiting for the other shoe to drop.

they're not perfect- but no beginning kindergarten students are. the mere fact there have been no physical beatings of other children (there has been.... sharing! of materials! ) is a huge success.

now it's my turn for nap time :)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

first day jitters...

There is nothing quite like the day the new year starts. Looking back, I'm not sure I was as nervous the day before I started middle school, or high school, as I am every year before starting a school year. After meeting the children on Friday they swim in your mind over the weekend, drifting in and out- the new characters who are about to consume your life for the next year.

Will they enter the room quietly, looking around, wide eyed and nervous? Or will they rush in as though they own the place, pulling supplies off the shelves? Will we have tears? Nervous moms? Will we make it to lunch? Lunch on time? Will we get all the students in from the playground?

The first day of my very first year teaching I had everything set up- and then completely forgot where I put it. My new students stared at me as I fumbled around, looking in the room for the calendar pieces, name tags, etc. I didn't find them until the end of the day.

Actually, I think that was my most uneventful first day of my career.

My last year in the classroom my smart cookie sat at her table chatting away. I gave the perfect responsive classroom prompt to raise her hand- teaching the class before the official school day had even started how we'll raise our hands in our classroom. As we 'practiced' hand raising my smart cookie shouted out "yeah, my kindergarten teacher was always sayin that. I never did it though".

Last year we (four of us- two aids, a classroom teacher, and me, the special education teacher) walked our class of new kindergartners down the hallway as though we were herding cats. The little ones who had never been in school before had no idea why we'd put them in a line- nor did they know the word "line" in their language. There were so many fancy colors on the walls, so much to look at, that they ran circles around us before we could even get to the classroom. At one point I explained to a student (who would soon be known as the recess queen) that we don't talk in the hallways and he shouted very loudly "WHY NOT?"

One year I had a kiddo throw his legs and arms into the door frame like a spider, blocking his way into the classroom as his mother tried to push him through, yelling in Spanish, while he screamed. That was only my second year of teaching.

Then there was my third year of teaching, when one of my little girls, who would later be known as the love of my life, went into the bathroom and screamed for 45 minutes. The other children in the class, bless them, were pretty much convinced that if they too entered the bathroom they would meet a similar fate. We had bathroom accidents a lot that year.

That same day I brought everyone back from lunch only to realize we'd left one little girl in the cafateria. I already felt horrible, but that little six year old wrote me a long, long letter about how awful it was that I forgot her. I was so excited by the literacy, but so ashamed I'd forgotten to count heads.

It hasn't been all bad- at least, I don't think it has. First days are always such a blur of excitment, nervousness, tears, timid smiles, and hugs. I never get much sleep the night before, but I know I'll catch up when I crawl into bed around 7pm when it is all over...