Thursday, December 31, 2009


It occurred to me, on the last day of 2009, that if all I have to complain about is my cat's incessant tapping at the frog's tank then I'm really doing pretty good. That got me thinking about everything that's happened in the last decade and I realized just how much I have to be thankful for.

In the last decade I've:
~completed my undergraduate and graduate degrees
~began a job I love (teaching) and went on to find an aspect of the job I love even more (teaching special ed)
~fallen in love and gotten married
~become a home owner
~traveled to Greece, Ireland, Scotland, China, Italy, Jamaica, Switzerland and Peru
~become a deacon at my church
~discovered what a jump rope team is and became an assistant coach
~lived in the midst of a big city
~survived working for a crazy principal
~was hired at the think-tank
~taught lots and lots of children to read
~survived many days of banging my head against the wall, only to be reminded of how much I love my job despite the head-banging
~presented a poster presentation at ASHA's national conference
~discovered that blogging helps me process my life and my job (thanks for reading!)

I have goals and desires in my life that I think about every day, plan for, and strive for, but in looking at all that's occurred in the last 10 years I feel incredibly blessed.

tap tap tap

A few years ago I had the brilliant idea to order a tadpole so that my friends with emotional disabilities could work on taking care of something that would not be as scary like caring for a real person. For a brief while we ended up with two tadpoles, until one ate the other in a devastating experience (I mean, these were for my kids with emotional disabilities and then one just goes and eats the other? How was I suppose to explain that? Turns out the kids just didn't care, although they never did learn the actual cause of death).

So, a few years later what was a cute tadpole has turned into a rather large aquatic frog that can never be released into the wild because it would alter the eco-system here. It's a fairly large, disgusting looking frog. The company claims their frogs are see-through so you can use them in biology classes to see the inner-workings of the frog, but in reality it is just a large, grey blob.

The large size of the frog may stem from the fact that I used feeding him as a reward with some of my kindergarten friends with special needs. They loved this, it got them to sit quietly, and so the frog may have been fed WAY more than was healthy. Sometimes you do whatever you can do to have children sit quietly. I am not ashamed.

A month or so ago I realized that having the frog in its original small half-gallon tank was cruel and unusual animal treatment so I decided to upgrade. Of course, it also seemed ridiculous to put him in the ten gallon tank I owned and I didn't actually want to go buy a new tank for the thing, so, with the help of my Friday morning reading club we transferred him into one of my plastic file crates. The files have still not found a home, but the frog can now actually swim instead of just floating in a container his actual size.

Although most of the kids love the frog I have a love/hate relationship with him.
Or excuse me, her. I learned it is actually a girl. But how can anything that ugly be a girl?

Part of my love/hate relationship is the fact that I cannot seem to let her die. No matter how many of my coworkers (and Jenny's husband) are convinced that we could all die in a nuclear attack but my frog would outlive the cockroaches, I am not convinced. So, when I could have stayed at home in my pjs when school was cancelled during the blizzard, I braved the snow to go rescue the dumb frog for the holidays.

Which means the frog is now sitting in my dining room, swimming around in her plastic filing crate, with cook books stacked on top to prevent my cat from knocking the top off and eating her.

My cat is obsessed with the frog.

Determined to get her out and play with her.

Our holidays have been filled with a constant 'tap, tap, tap' as my cat sits on top of the file box, hoping that at any moment the tank will dissolve and my frog will have free reign to play with the frog.

It is driving us crazy.

As I quietly sipped my coffee this morning and caught up on my google reader the cat ignored me completely and went on 'tap, tap, taping' after the frog.

Last night after Mr. Lipstick and I came in from a holiday party the cat looked up to greet us and then resumed her place around the tank, so that as we unwound from the day all we heard was 'tap, tap, tap'.

I believe that everyone in our family, the cat excluded, will be relieved when the frog makes the trek back to kindergarten. The poor frog seems so much happier around kindergartners with special needs than he does in my house.

Monday, December 28, 2009


I read in the Washington Post yesterday that two new biographies on Ayn Rand are coming out. I'm curious to read them to see if 1) either book discusses the fact that Rand may have had high functioning autism, and 2) if not, can I find any more information that supports my theory that Ayn Rand had high functioning autism.

I've read both Fountain Head and Atlas Shrugged and am pretty convinced that anyone who believes Howard Roark is the ideal male in society has a communication disorder. Rand created fictional worlds where characters acted on pure reason. Don't you think that someone with high functioning autism would find such a world divine? A world where you wouldn't be confused about other people's emotions because people wouldn't use emotions to make decisions. A world where as long as you acted on your best reason you wouldn't have to work so hard on deciphering others emotions. Has anyone else read the rape love scene in Fountain Head? Tell me that was not written by someone who did not understand the emotional side of physical love.

I've also read that many people with high functioning autism love Rand's books because they understand them so well.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

i'm currently playing with my new netbook- endless possibilities in terms of taking anecdotal records and using the computer throughout the day at school. so excited... but currently bare with me as i adjust to typing on the smaller keyboard...

Since we were headed to the ATL for Christmas I decided to treat myself to a new book on my kindle app on my itouch. (I adore, adore the kindle app for the itouch. I love that it allows me to read under the covers in the middle of the night when I am suppose to be asleep, it means that at any given time I am carrying a large library with me, that whenever I get the urge to read a particular book I can access it in less than a minute, and that I always have a book to read should I have to wait in a long, boring line. The one downside of course, is having to turn it off for take offs and landings. Sadly, flight attendants look remarkably like an annoyed parent asking you to clean your room when they ask you to turn off your electronics and you, in shocked horror, explain that the main character in your book is in grave danger and there is no way you can wait the 10-20 minutes until you are in the air. They are equally annoyed when, after they've asked you to turn off your phone you say, "Oh no, you just don't understand- this isn't a phone- it's a book." They don't care- they just want it off.)

Regardless of the fact I was sentencing myself to 20 minutes of non-reading during take off and landing, I bought a brainless, bubble gum novel to entertain myself with in flight. (And I'm not above holding the itouch out of sight of the flight attendant in between the pages of the sky mall. I mean, really, is my touch going to bring down the plane? I think not.)

I read Schooled by Anisha Lakhani, a novel about what it's like to teach middle school at an elite prep-school in New York City. It was exactly the right amount of bubble gum brainlessness without being utter trash (not that I am above reading utter trash). However, I wasn't expecting to have quite so many "text-to-self" connections (as we teach our children to say).

The main character graduates from Columbia and decides, *gasp* to become a teacher. For real. She describes her best friend/sorority sister saying, "We all thought you were playing at the teaching thing. We didn't know you were serious."
Her parents respond to her desire to teach with "I have never been so disappointed in all my life." and "So this is it? This is your chosen profession?" To all this, the main character wonders, "Had I said I wanted to be a porn star? Or a poet?"

I was originally hired to teach in NYC public schools (a far world from the elite prep schools, I know) and when I told my mother I signed my contract she hung up on me. Hung up the phone.

I'm into my 7th year of teaching and I still feel the need to defend my reasons for my chosen profession to my peers at my elite "ivy-reject school" (where my peers walked around listing the ivys they could have gone to, but our school just offered a better scholarship). Some of my friends graduated and within a year were vice presidents of their companies. Or were quickly rising through the ranks of their successful companies, starting their own businesses, or were finishing in the top of their classes in law school.

I, of course, truly believe I have the best job in the world, and that teaching reading is the most important task anyone can do. Still, I know my peers don't see it that way. My parents, who paid for my private college tuition in a state with some of the best state schools in the country, probably were not overly impressed with my choices. (Since the hanging up on me moment they've been incredibly supportive, although that has directly correlated to me NOT teaching in NYC).

And Lakhani brings up the money issue. When post college all your friends can afford their fancy life style and you, on your teaching salary, are saving your pennies to buy staplers and books for your classroom.


I remember it all too well.

You'd think I'd be long over it by now. I love my job and have found my place in the world. But the little part of me who wants to stand up and yell "Oh yeah! I could have gone to law school if I wanted to!" is happy to have a book character to relate to.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

reading love

On Friday splattypus and I weren't really feeling that well. It had been a LONG week, colds were going around, report cards were due, ieps were looming, paperwork needed to be done, and somehow we still had to keep some sort of order over our children for the next 4 days. (Before the snow storm hit my school was scheduled to be in session until Wednesday! Wednesday! Someone in the central office is very Scrooge-like).

I got to her class in time for our typical reading workshop block and slowly pulled out my supplies for guided reading. I wallowed through the book "Monkeys can..." as much as I could, acting like it was prize winning material, when in actuality it made me want to poke my eyes out. But, with beginning readers, especially beginning readers who are struggling- teacher excitement is everything. One has to make each and every book seem like the best. book. ever. And convince each new reader that they are embarking on a reading adventure with this very special book. Yes. So, Monkeys can... Monkeys can swing. Monkeys can run. Monkeys can hang. Lovely.

I finished with my group and made one of those teacher decisions you don't admit to anyone.
I decided not to meet with anymore groups.
The other groups are pretty strong readers for kindergarten- they would live if I didn't read with them this one day. Instead I made my way over to a group of children at the library book center. I book-talked with a couple of them until a little girl came up, plopped down on the rug, and pulled out a version of Little Red Riding Hood. She held the book like a teacher would, turning each page and pointing out the wolf's crazy antics to her five year old peers. Since this little one is just learning English I decided to prompt her along, encouraging her to tell the story to me by looking at the pictures. I hung on every word as she carefully pointed out each careful detail.

Then I asked if I could read it to her.

Slowly, as I turned each page, a few more children joined us. We read, and re-read the pages- shook our fingers at that naughty wolf, read in high-pitched voices as the granny and in low-deep voices as the wolf. I'd read and then we'd "read" it again together, becoming part of the book. When Red Riding Hood was freed from the wolf we moved on to Knuffle Bunny (oh how we aggle-flaggle-klabbled together), we lectured "No, David" together and told the stories of why David was in trouble by looking at the pictures.

I was sad to look up at the clock and realize my hour in the room was over.

I love books, I love reading, and more than anything I love sharing books with children. Those moments on the carpet, intimately embracing each book and loving it for the glorious story it was- those are the moments that make children readers. Sure I could have met with my reading groups, and it would have been fine, but just for that day, at that time, our small group came together to remember why we're working so hard to learn to read. Our group was a mix of good readers and struggling readers, children who speak fluent English and those who didn't hear English spoken until the first day of school. Yet together we had the shared experience of wonderful stories, laying the quiet groundwork for all those other literacy skills needed in life.

It's those experiences I know so many children from middle-class homes have- sharing a book with an adult as though it is gold. I wish I could go to each of my children's homes, curl up with them in a big chair, and repeat Friday's experience.

Rules, by Cynthia Lord

Rules, by Cynthia Lord is the most charming book for Young Adults I've read in a long time. Clearly Lord has experience with children with special needs- and totally captures the ins and outs of the daily life of living with a brother with autism.

Lord tells the story from the perspective of Catherine, a girl with younger brother who has autism. Catherine keeps a rule book for her brother in order to teach him the social norms of life that do not come so easily to children with an autism spectrum disorder.

Some rules include:
If the bathroom door is closed, knock! (especially if Catherine has a friend over).

Say thank you when someone gives you a present (even if you don't like it).

Don't stand in front of the TV when other people are watching it.

A boy takes off his shirt to swim, but not his shorts.

Some people think they know who you are, when really they don't.

No toys in the fishtank.

Kind of makes me want to make a list of rules for other people in life- not just those with autism. But then, perhaps one of my own rules should be "Will not make rules for other people because it is rude and will not make people want to be your friend".

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Like my weather-obsessed friend predicted, we got lots and lots of snow on Saturday. (and I hope everyone followed his advice and drove their cars slowly, if they drove at all!)

I've had multiple posts floating in my head the last few days, but after attempting to free my car from the snow trap created by mother nature and my neighborhood's snow plow, I'm too tired to actually compose sentences with correct sentence structure. So if I revert to using my kids' broken English phrases please forgive me...

They've finally announced that our school system is closed for the next 3 days. 3 days!?! It's beautiful, in many ways- we have time to lay around in our pjs, get that last minute Christmas shopping done, sip hot chocolate, finish up Christmas cards, wrapping, cooking, and get in some sledding! But... but... Panic has set in.

My facebook feed is full of panic- lessons to organize, intersession to plan for, class pets to feed, children to teach, gifts to deliver to needy families, conferences to hold, report cards to finalize, ieps to close out. Not to mention the fact that this means we're using up all our built in snow days before the real winter even starts!

It says something about my awesome coworkers that my facebook feed is now full of teachers planning to storm the building to get in as soon as the parking lot is clear, and the promise that my principal plans to make sure we get in. One of my coworkers summed it up nicely:

We really are a very dedicated bunch of teachers to go in on a day off to get things settled. I don't ever want to hear crap from the business world about our job!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

moments when i think i may only survive on humor and chocolate

"how come authors write so many books?" a kindergartner asked me today.

"well, i think they like to write" i explained, trying to move on with my book introduction.

"nah" she disagreed, "they just want a lot of money, right?"

~~ ~~ ~~ ~~

"mrs. lipstick, what is wrong with those kindergartners?" a first grader asked me at the end of the day.

"what do you mean, friend?"

"what i mean is, do they ever listen to you?"

*sigh* yes, but only sometimes. and not when they have a substitute, with 4 days left before winter break...

~~ ~~ ~~ ~~
i can survive, i can survive, i can survive.

~~ ~~ ~~ ~~
a student gave me and my co-teacher a very generous collection of shampoo and conditioner. mine is specifically for frizzy hair. hmm.
i hugged him and asked, "wow, did you and your mom think mrs. lipstick needs this?"
"yep!" he nodded happily.

ok, his mom does work at a hair salon, so the gift was not a hint, but after 1 child called me a monster last week when i had my hair down, a 3rd grader asked how i made my hair stick out like that when it was down, and my first year teaching a boy gave me a curling iron for christmas (gently used). i'm starting to take the hint.

another child gave me a box of fudge.

i ate it on the way home.

now i'm fat with frizzy hair.

Monday, December 14, 2009

excuse me, but are you a super special secret translator?

Most days I really do believe that I have the best job in the world. Most days.

Today did not happen to be one of those days.

One of my greatest downfalls in my job is lining up a translator for meetings with parents who speak other languages. I am very organized when it comes to making sure everyone on the committee can agree on a place and time to meet. I can get in touch with the parent weeks before, agree on a date, inform everyone involved, send out the paperwork, and get the meeting ready to go, all long in advance of deadlines. Yet there seems to be something broken in my brain when it comes to organizing a translator.

However, about a month ago I was on fire. The meeting was scheduled and so was the translator. I was turning over a new leaf. I would no longer be frantic translator-girl. I would be "Dot every i Lipstick". Although I kept getting that uneasy feeling of "oh no, I need to contact the translator" I was able to calmly tell myself that this time, for the first time ever, I was on top of things.

The meeting was scheduled for last Monday. And the translator, the one I'd lined up almost a month in advance? His car wouldn't start on the way to the meeting. And because these are extremely important meetings that can only happen with super special translators we actually had to tell the parent, through a "level 2 translator" that she'd have to come back another time, we needed a "level 3 translator". Like she cared at all. She wanted to have the meeting, get the best for her daughter, sign some papers, and go on with her life.

Wednesday I called my trusty translator and checked on his car. Jokingly I asked if his car would be able to make it to us on Monday to meet with the parent again. He assured me it would. I know, I know, you can see where this is going. But hindsight is 20/20. And usually we like to use the same translator every time we work with a parent to make the parent comfortable. And what are the chances his car wouldn't start two weeks in a row?



This morning his car wouldn't start again.

This time he let us know almost two hours before so I had time to call everyone on the Spanish translation list, begging for someone to come help me. By the end my messages sounded pathetic,
"Please, sir, I realize this is Monday morning, and you probably are already off to meetings where the case manager scheduled you weeks in advance, but if there is any way, any way at all, you could come to my school and translate for me right now you will save my life. Please, please?"

No takers.

I called language services and demanded that they send someone out. They gave me more names- and none of them could do it either.

I stalked every translator I knew, and every person in the building who might possibly know how to get a hold of a translator.

We called back our original translator and asked we could pick him up. He never called us back.

I tried to get permission to use a level 2 translator. No go.

So, once again, I had to have a level 2 translator call mom and reschedule. And once again, mom remains confused as to why on earth we need a super secret special translator. "I just want help for my daughter" is what she said. This poor woman has waited years to get help for her daughter. And right when she thought the help was coming we continue to pull the rug out from under her- much like Lucy and her football, telling Charlie Brown that this time she wont move the ball.

If I was the mother I'm not sure I'd come back.

The level 2 translator set up a time when the team couldn't be there. But she promised mom that time would work. So then I spent another 30 minutes running from room to room of my school, begging people to switch their meetings, skip classes they have to teach, and offering them food if we can somehow have the meeting at the time the level 2 translator scheduled.

And now, of course, I just have to find a translator for that time.

I have to call back all those people who received sad, pitiful messages from me earlier today and ask them, in an upbeat and professional manner, if they would be willing to come in at another time. Because their idea of a good time is spending an hour or so with a whiny special education teacher.

My husband's company talks a lot about how you add value. Today I did not add value. I burned some calories running all over the school, and I probably woke up some sleeping translators, and annoyed others by filling their inboxes with my pleas, but I did not add value.

This is so not what I signed up for.


Dear Weekend,
I have to admit I'm hurt. I thought we had a long standing deal. If I worked hard during the week you'd get my back for two days. You know, make sure I get rest, recharge. Get me ready for Monday morning.

Monday morning is here, Weekend, and I don't feel rested or recharged. Where were you?

Don't give me the "All bets are off during the holiday season" argument. I don't buy it- during the holidays is when I need you the most. Sure there is holiday party after holiday party- you're job is to give me enough time in between the parties to rest. And don't feed me the line I feed my students "You made these choices". I don't want to hear it today, I just don't. And I made some good choices- I skipped one party to 'get work done'. But despite not going to the party (oh weekend, it was even just across the street, it would have been so simple to go) I am still not rested and I was still not productive.

My bag of work I brought home? The IEP I was going to get ready for? The reading I was going to do so I could understand one of my children better? The planning I had such great intentions of doing? All still sitting in my bag, untouched.

Weekend, you were suppose to make things different. You were suppose to have my back- but at the moment I don't think you were here at all. What? Did you go off and party instead of doing your job?

Look- I know sometimes we all mess up, but when it's your turn in 5 days, please try to do a little better. At least give me some sort of effort to let me know you're there.

So here I go, off to work, with an IEP in a few hours, clutching my coffee cup to wake me up, feeling betrayed by you.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

internal monologues

My post last week about my friend's lack of internal monologue reminded me of my last year in the classroom when I had a little boy with absolutely no internal monologue.


Anything that came to his mind immediately went out his mouth- and he had no idea this was happening.

It was certainly a problem when it came to the class bathroom. We'd happily be working away at reading centers and we'd hear a narration of everything happening behind the door. I'd silently walk over to the classical music and crank it up, drowning out the bathroom chatter lingering over my new readers. When you are six, listening to conversations about poop, farts, and toilets is far more interesting than decoding words in instructional level texts. Especially when the instructional level text is merely, "Here comes the ____ car" on every page.

It also posed a problem during the day as well. I subscribed to a mix between the responsive classroom and Fred Jones style of classroom management. You use the words you need to get the message across- no more, no less. No need to lecture 6 year olds, you'll only end up sounding like Charlie Brown's teacher. Follow logical consequences immediately and allow the consequences to speak for themselves. In the beginning of the year this looks like a lot of practicing. We practice getting in line. If there is talking we do it again. We practice walking in the hallway. If there is talking we turn around and do it again. You don't have to say anything about the talking- you just turn around, point back at the door- expressionless- and send everyone back to try again.

My no-internal monologue friend did not like this at all. The problem in the plan was that he had no idea he was sharing his thoughts with us. So when the class silently lined up and he yelled, "Oh my GOD I hope nobody talks this time!" I would silently point to the rug and the class would silently go back and try again. This of course was met with, "I KNEW someone was going to talk. Stupid teacher. GOD she's so MEAN!"

If you called his name during one of these monologues he'd look up shocked, startled, and hurt that you'd interrupted his train of thought.

At first I had no idea that he had no idea we could all hear what he was saying. I thought he was calling me stupid on purpose to get attention or a reaction. I was determined not to give him a reaction as we silently lined up again. "OH MY GOD- this is going to take FOREVER. Why do these stupid kids keep talking?" he'd sigh as we lined up. Again, fingers pointed back to the carpet so we could try again. "I HATE her!" he'd yell. Eventually I'd give up and he'd lose recess or would experience some other totally non-logical consequence for keeping us from getting in line quietly.

Finally, one day after an, "OH MY GOD! This is SO Stupid!" I called his name. "Sir, You do know we can hear you, right?" He looked up in utter horror with his mouth wide open.

"What?" he sputtered

"You just called me stupid" I told him.

"No I didn't" he said with indignation, as though he would never, ever think to tell a teacher- to her face- that he thought she was stupid.

That was neither the first, or the last day that year I felt like banging my head against the wall.

When Viola should stay away

At the end of my before school reading remediation session one of the children who came late mentioned that she saw one of the no-shows headed to the library instead of coming up to our room. I was tired and grouchy, coming off of my no-good-very-bad-day from the day before so I decided to go all Viola-Swamp on him.

I stormed off to the library to find him and remind him that he is suppose to see ME on these mornings, not skip off happily to the library.

I found him in line waiting to check out books (it's not as if he was hiding in the bathroom- he was getting reading material) and I started my lecture. In front of everyone. He made attempts to save face- trying to tell me things about his mom not taking him and how he came late so he didn't think he had time to make it upstairs and I just kept interrupting him. "No- it's your job to get here early!" I demanded. "This is important".


Sadly it IS his job to get here early and do you think he's going to come today after I shamed him in the library in front of everyone? And if he does come, do you think he's going to try? Do you think he'll get anything out of reading club today other than merely being there? How much does he care that improving his reading SOL scores is going to be essential for the school making ayp? Why is coming important to him?

I know better. There was no need to talk to him like that in the library. Other than it was me, upset, frustrated, and not wanting to look like he could get away skipping.

Which of course, he shouldn't get away with skipping. But sometimes we have to look at our ultimate goal. In this case my ultimate goal is for him to come every time, work really hard, and improve his reading skills. Shaming him in front of other students and teachers is NOT the way to accomplish that.

I could have waited until he checked out his books and then taken him aside away from everyone to talk about his important it is that he comes.

I could have done the whole "We REALLY missed you. Man, you missed a lot of fun today!" routine in front of everyone to make him actually regret missing- not regret it because he's in trouble.

Away from others I could have very seriously asked him about his responsibility to come in the morning, listened carefully to his "this is what happened" story, and then explained, very matter of factly, that even on days when things go wrong he still has responsibilities.

All of those would have accomplished him 1) knowing he can't skip reading club 2) wanting to come back the next day

Instead I don't even think I delivered message number 1. I just showed him that when you make teachers angry they will embarrass you in front of your friends and other teachers. And, what I believe he's about to show me is that when you embarrass students in front of others it doesn't motivate them to perform for you the next day.

Fingers crossed that I'm wrong- what happened didn't bother him at all (although his shocked, hurt face said otherwise) and that he'll come excited to read this morning.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

statistics & NCLB

In this past Sunday's Washington Post there was an article about the problems with the rise and fall of test scores in schools in the District. As the writer points out, a lot of it comes down to pure statistics. A school's success and failure is not necessarily about teaching and learning- it's about numbers and all the different factors that keep the numbers from reflecting actual progress. Anyone still wondering if the NCLB system works should read below:

Educators say several factors contribute to schools losing ground, some rooted in basic statistics. Those with small enrollments -- and therefore small testing samples -- are more vulnerable to wide score swings. Many of the public schools that produced big jumps in 2008 and declines this year, including Simon, Garrison and Hendley elementary, tested fewer than 150 children. Maury elementary tested fewer than 100.
New waves of children arrive each year, often with new sets of learning issues. Key teachers and administrators depart. Peggy Mussenden, principal of Aiton in Northeast, where math proficiency quadrupled in 2008 but fell back significantly in 2009, said losing a valued assistant principal hurt.

-Bill Turque, Washington Post, Sunday, December 6th

My school doesn't have to worry about the small numbers- we seem to get new children daily. But that gain in attendance is one of the factors that influences our data. I'm ready for a measurement that will fairly show the progress of our students instead of punishing us for factors beyond our control. I don't mind being held accountable- just as long as we're not being held accountable for whether or not its raining in China.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

a sign of a good book

In the midst of guided reading today one of my little girls yelped.

"Oh, Mrs. Lipstick!" she declared, "I didn't know you were there. I didn't know I was here! For a minute there I thought I was reading at home!" She looked confused, shocked, and a little disheveled as she glanced from the book to me.

I smiled.

Welcome, I wanted to say, Welcome to the world of being a reader.

pjs inside out please!

I deserve a snow day.

I deserve a snow day like never before.

** ** **

this morning i poured orange juice into my coffee instead of milk.

at starbucks they put water in my gingerbread latte instead of espresso. This, of course, made me even later to work since i hadn't been planning on stopping at starbucks anyway, but home coffee was ruined and i knew i needed caffeine to survive. they fixed it (and i felt slightly better about the oj incident- i mean, that barista is a professional and even she got mixed up this morning)

somehow in the coffee sadness i managed to lose my packed lunch somewhere along the way (anyone at starbucks find a bag of yogurt, special k snack bar, and goldfish?) so i had to buy lunch at the cafeteria.

in the cafeteria i spilled lemonade all over myself, the floor, and my paperwork.

after cleaning up myself and the mess i headed to the teachers' lounge, yet as i tried to balance my tray to open the door i sent apple slices flying across the hallway.

and those are only the incidents i feel like talking about.

** ** **

there are some days when you know, from the moment you put your feet on the floor, that you should go back to bed, pull the covers over your head, and stay there until it is officially tomorrow.

tonight they are calling for freezing rain. please, please, wear your pjs inside out. i've never needed a snow day so badly in my life.

Monday, December 7, 2009

sometimes the only good thing about Mondays is that they can't last forever

I sat beside fabulous friend during the writing workshop lesson today. While for most children a writing workshop lesson where the teacher models stretching out the sounds in words...

Let's say the word snow slowly- sn-ow. What do you hear? An s? What else with the s? S-N. Yes! Let's write that... sn....

...can be tedious but informative, for fabulous friend it was an all-out workout. Every time my partner in crime began to stretch out a word fabulous friend loudly shouted out the sounds she heard, and as she waited for the teacher to announce the correct sound she flopped onto the carpet with a sigh, pulled herself to shout out again, and then, when she heard the correct letter that corresponded to the sound she cheered/booed/flopped onto the carpet again in utter exhaustion. Learning for her is a full body experience. She must go home at the end of every day exhausted.

Later that day I sat down to work with another friend who asked me why I had my hair down. (I've been wearing my hair up all this year to avoid having one of our friends share lice with me). I shrugged my shoulders and said, "I don't know, I just like it like this today".

My friend replied, "well, you look like a monster like that".


Let's hope Tuesday will be better.

grinch like

My Monday afternoon duty takes place amongst our many trailers ( "learning cottages" for those who dislike the term trailer). This is usually a fairly boring duty compared to my old post at kiss and ride, where one is always afraid that a parent on a cell phone is going to run you over.

Today, however, we still had snow on the ground. The students must have misunderstood "Bus 1, 2, and 3 are dismissed" for "Please pack ice into small balls to throw at your friends", and "Students going to daycare are now dismissed" for "Please tromp through the snow and get your pants as wet as possible".

Really. The poor children whose names I knew were in trouble first, the rest I could only yell, "Drop the snow!" "Get to your bus!" "Get your feet out of the snow!"

And somewhere in there I stood back and heard myself- the Grinch who stole the Snow.

For some of our children this was their first or second time every seeing snow. How does one not reach down and stick ones hand into the cold, wet, whiteness?

They can't miss their buses, they can't have snowball fights, and they really should keep their shoes dry so they wont get sick. I just wish I didn't have to be the one to deliver the depressing no-fun news.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


fabulous friend's mother is having a baby.

fabulous friend has a difficult time waiting while you turn the page in an exciting read-aloud.

fabulous friend has a difficult time waiting for you hand out materials to everyone.

fabulous friend has a difficult time waiting for her turn in dramatic play.

fabulous friend is having a really, really hard time waiting for the baby.

it's due in march.

it's going to be a long winter.

cold, wet, tired & happy

This morning I dragged myself out of bed at 6 on a Saturday to participate in Girls on the Run. 6am the morning after our staff Holiday Party. 6am on a Saturday after a really long week. 6am only to spend an hour standing in the rain, 50 minutes running in the snow, and 30 more snowy minutes helping girls find their parents. My buddy runner is lucky I like her so much.

I LOVE the Girls on the Run program. It's a nation-wide program that gets elementary school girls involved in running. For an entire semester the girls train for the race, meeting two days a week after school to do motivational activities, build their self esteem, and train for the 5 k. They learn to set goals, work hard, push themselves, set personal goals, and feel proud when after all that work they cross the finish line. At the end of the program the girls run a 5 k with all the other GOTR teams in the area. Each girl has a buddy runner (an older runner) to encourage them to make it through the grueling 3 miles.

When I started being a buddy runner with the program almost 5 years ago it was much, much smaller. A friend asked me to be a buddy runner for a girl at her school. The race was small-all the girls fit inside an elementary school cafeteria. 5 years later the program has grown considerably- I heard someone say there were 5,000 runners there today.

Now it's such an event you have to plan to get there an hour in advance to have any chance of finding parking and navigating traffic in time for the race. As it's grown it's definitely changed it's attitude a bit. The program itself hasn't, but it has brought with it the ubber competitive parents this area is known for (but that I never deal with at my school since those families do not live in our district).

A few years ago, stuck trying to get into the exit lane on my way to the race, I witnessed quite the fight between a Mercedes and a BMW- both with their runners in the back seat. On the way to a race that isn't about winning or losing. After making many attempts to cut the BMW off- (every time the Mercedes tried to cut into the exit lane the BMW scooted up ) the Mercedes rolled down the window and yelled what I can only assume was extremely rude because the BMW replied by forcefully putting her hand out the window and sticking up her middle finger. Don't you love how we are all such good role models for our children?

Those are the parents who come to the race in their own racing gear, yell at their children to run faster, announce that they are extremely embarrassed by their daughter's desire to walk, and- my personal favorite heard today- "Fine! You want to run this slow? No hot chocolate for you!" no less than half a mile into the race. Or later, "I never want to hear you say you want to play in the snow again- What do you think you're doing now? It's snowing! This is playing! Stop complaining about being cold!" I'm sure her daughter really felt the playful spirit at that very moment.

Whenever I get frustrated trying to get translators for conferences I think of those parents. At least my conferences, as difficult as they are to arrange, are lovely, and most of the time end with the parent thanking us. I love my school. I love my school. There is no place like home.

I wont lie- running with a buddy runner is painful. The first time I did it we did the 3 miles in about 2 hours. I didn't know it was possible to walk 3 miles in 2 hours. Let me tell you- running it in 20 minutes would have been less painful (and a lot more fun).

I ran cross country in high school and college. I know how to run a 5k. Running a 5k- running it fast and well- is something I take pride in. Running a 5k with a 10 year old? That's a whole different ball game. You swallow your pride, slow your pace, enjoy the experience of introducing someone to the sport of running, and find ways to cajole them into running a wee bit faster without breaking their spirit.

Some parents just don't manage to understand that. The girls I ran with today eyed me oddly every time we ran behind a parent giving the "How do you call yourself a Smith if you run like that?" We slowly ran around them, eyes down, wishing the girl was running with one of her teachers who would happily encourage her to run faster. I picture those girls in high school sports, applying for the "best" colleges, taking AP tests. Those girls have a long life of not meeting high expectations ahead of them... And so, my little group ran faster, back to our happy little world of "We can do this! Don't walk now! We're awesome- you don't' need to walk!"

Today we ran, walked a bit and then ran again, in sleet that slowly changed to snow. At one point I looked over through my foggy glasses and noticed that one of my girl's eyebrows was frozen inside a patch of ice. The bottoms of our pants were soaking wet with freezing water. Our fingers could barely move individually. We were cold, wet, and tired.

It was fantastic.

As we finished I heard a little girl behind us squeal with utter delight- "I did it! I didn't think I could! But I DID IT! 3 miles!" With that my two runners and I looked at each other and smiled- We'd done it too. Despite the wet coldness seeping into our bodies we had finished the 5k they'd been training for since September. For one of them it was her first 5k. Their big smiles made rolling out of bed so early worth it.

Of course, as soon as we could we headed to the nearest Starbucks. Because it was cold and wet, we were covered in snow, we were tired, and we deserved it.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Why I love my job: reason # 5,489

While my fabulous co-teacher was teaching a whole-group reading lesson I sat on the carpet near one of my special friends. Clearly overwhelmed with the excitement of the lesson, my special friend continued to call out, mumble to himself, and repeat what the teacher was saying.

I showed him the 'quiet' card I carry on my badge to give him a silent, visual reminder of what he should be doing, along with my very best "I mean business" teacher look.

"Oh yeah!" he exclaimed, loudly. "QUIET! I forgot- sorry"

I think he was actually quieter before he decided to be quiet.

Internal monologues don't always work properly in first grade.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

what a day...

I just realized I forgot to eat lunch today. But no worries- I had two cups of coffee and a sugar-filled scone from Starbucks. Perhaps that's why I'm shaky...

~~ ~~ ~~ ~~
mrs. lipstick, have you read twilight?

yes- yes- i have (wishing I didn't have to admit that to anyone)

how did that author do it? don't you think her hand must have gotten tired???

~~ ~~ ~~ ~~

mrs. lipstick, why did the author put such hard words into the book?

well, he wanted to teach you new words like 'insect' and 'pollen'.

oh. what about barrack obama?

what about barrack obama?

does he write?


does he work hard when he writes?



~~ ~~ ~~ ~~

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

smoking, lead, and what we guessed all along

I love this blog because it's really the only place that keeps me up to date on current studies that otherwise I wouldn't even know existed now that I'm out of grad school. Clearly I don't read the whole study, but this blog does a great job posting the important snippets.

The current study being discussed is one that shows exposure to lead and maternal prenatal smoking are linked to a diagnosis of ADHD when taken as individual factors, but when taken together have an even greater correlation to a diagnosis of ADHD.

I don't think any of us are surprised.

Here's the thing though- I knew very little about lead exposure before a few years ago when I had a student with significant special needs due to lead poisoning. I went and read everything I could google on the subject and learned a few interesting facts:

1) Lead is sweet. They used it as a sweetener in Ancient Greece until someone made them stop because it was literally making them stupider.
2) No matter how many times lead paint has been painted over, once the top coat of paint cracks, the lead paint underneath will crack and fall off as well.

Picture a baby crawling along the floor, putting everything that crosses his path into his mouth because, well, that's what babies do. Somehow a small paint chip ends up on his hand as it makes its way to his mouth. One small taste- but it tastes good. Sweet. So why not go back for more? It's not that your mom isn't watching you- or that your house hasn't been repainted- or that you're allowed to suck on a lead-painted toy. It's that you are a baby, you explore with your mouth, and when something tastes good you're going to put it in your mouth again.

That year I also learned that a child needs to have a certain level of lead in their blood for it to be considered significant. But other children in my class also had high levels of lead in their blood, but because their official level was a point or two below the cut off the lead was not considered to be a problem.

I'm not a doctor, and I only know my facts from google, and not somewhere professional so I could be way off base. But I think lead exposure occurs more than we think it does, especially in schools where children grow up in subsidized housing. As this study shows, when combined with other factors like prenatal exposure to smoke, it can lead to significant problems that interfere with learning.

what the brain said

We spend a lot of time encouraging children to justify their thinking. I must say, "How did you figure that out?" "How do you know?" "Why do you think that?" 100 times a day. When we hear kids explain how they found their answer we get a true picture of their abilities. This is especially helpful to us when they give wrong answers- we know a kiddo is wrong, but finding out how they got that answer tells us about what to teach next and how to clear up any misconceptions they may have. And, if a student got the right answer by chance, or by guessing randomly, well, we know that too.

Before we can really expect them to explain their thinking we have to plant the language in their heads. Otherwise we get a lot of "my brain told me", or "I just knew" when we question their answers. Sometimes we plant the language when we praise them. I do a lot of "WOW- you were so smart back there! You saw the 'at' chunk in that word, and you know that says 'at' so then you put the /m/ sound in front. WOW. You used a chunk you knew. Smart readers look for chunks they know, just like you!" At this point the child, who may or may not have known they used the chunk, is beaming and practically falling out of their chair with pride. The next word they get stuck on- I can guarantee you they are going to look for chunks they know to show you, once again, that they are awesome.

Another way we plant the idea of justifying their thinking is through whole-group lessons when we explicitly teach the strategies we expect them to use. Today I attempted to teach a kindergarten classroom the strategy of checking the picture when you're stuck on a word.

I had my Mrs. Wishy Washy book all ready with sticky notes over the animal names so the children would be forced to check the picture. I'd never done this lesson with kinders before- but it's one of the first lessons we do every year in first grade so I figured it would be a snap.

"Oh, lovely mud!" said the" I read. "Oh no! This word is covered! How will we ever figure it out?"

"COW!" someone screamed for the carpet.

"WOW! But there is no word there- just a sticky note! How did you know that was cow?" I asked, waiting for the obvious answer of, "the picture is of a cow you moron teacher, of course the word is cow"

"It has the /C/ sound!" the child proudly explained.

"Where? The word is covered! There is no /c/ sound! How did you know?" I asked again, calling on another child.
"C-O-W" the child said proudly. I checked to see if my sticky notes were see-through. Ok, we are still having trouble writing our names, how on earth did this kiddo learn to spell cow from memory.

I ignored the spelling. "You know what you did?" I asked, as though it was the most amazing feat ever. "You checked the picture! Smart readers CHECK THE PICTURE!!"


Next page.

"Oh lovely mud! said the"

DUCK! DUCK! everyone called out.

"How did you know?" I asked, sure that this time, after I'd given them the language, they were sure to say "check the picture"

"/d/d/d/" they all said proudly.

My head banging into the wall since the D was covered up and there was a large picture of a duck covering the whole page.

It went on and on. In the end maybe 10 kids were able to express "check the picture" when asked, "How did you know?"

10. Even after the child before them said the same thing. Even after we all used our deep professor voices and made ourselves sound very important when we said "check the picture".


Later that day I was working one on one with one of my first grade friends with special needs.

"Why do you think that?" I asked, after he'd told me there were 9 dots on the card I'd just held up.

"My brain told me" he replied quickly. My head banging began again. Please- no more "my brain just knew" explanations.

"What did your brain tell you?" I asked, hoping for more.

"Oh! My brain said, well, there are 5 in that row because there are always 5 in that row, so there isn't a dot there- which means there are only 4 dots in that row, so one row has 5 and one row has 4 and when you put them together you get 9"

Smart Brain.