Saturday, October 30, 2010

ups, downs, and loving these kids

I drove home Friday afternoon planning to write a blog post on the ups and downs of a day with PJ because Friday itself captured all PJ in all of his greatness- the best when he is a sweet, loving boy, and the not so great when he is, well, not sweet and loving. Friday itself was a roller coaster.
As Friday night wore on I found myself thinking of PJ. Saturday morning as I worked on my paper for my neuroscience class I found myself thinking of PJ. And even at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, I found myself thinking about PJ.
I truly love that kid.
It seems to be my nature to love all kids I work with, and I rarely meet a kid I don't enjoy teaching. There are kids I don't love as much as others, but for the most part I enjoy all of them, even the most difficult ones. Yet there's something more about PJ. Maybe it's the pain and confusion I see in his mother's eyes behind her laughter and great sense of humor. Maybe it's how sad he gets after he's had a meltdown. Maybe it's hearing himself say he's mad at himself and watching him punish himself by taking away all his favorite things. I love that kid so much it hurts. Because there is a wonderful little boy in there. There is a sweet, loving boy who wants friends, takes care of others, loves those around him, eats up books, puts together puzzles in a matter of minutes, and loves panda bears. And if I really think about it, I think the sweet little boy is truly frightened of what happens when things go wrong. I think his anger scares himself, which is why he becomes so sad after a fit.
Is there anything worse than watching a sad, scared, angry little boy and not being able to help them? Not being able to take away whatever is going on inside him that gives him so much pain?

Friday was truly a roller coaster. On Thursday, out of desperation, I kept him the special ed office room all day and just pulled out other children to work in small groups. We're a full inclusion school so normally I work with children in their general ed environment. However I knew PJ wasn't going to be successful in our gen ed classroom today and I didn't want to miss out on my time with my other children. Plus, I also wanted to set some limits for PJ. He might not be in the classroom, but I wanted to state expectations and have PJ meet them in the smaller environment.
On Thursday this went swimmingly. PJ responded very well to limits, moved with the other children when I explained the schedule, and even participated in activities with the small group. Perfect! I thought. We'll just repeat this on Friday.
If there is one thing I've learned about PJ it's that what works one day does not always work the next. I should have known better.
The morning was great. He participated in small groups, and in one group sat at the table and sorted letters into the /b/ and /r/ sounds. He worked hard, followed all the limits I set, and got along well with the other kids.
And then.
He wanted to use my plastic bowling pins. And like the other things he's wanted I set a limit. It was writing time. We were going to write first, then we could bowl. This turned out to be one limit to far. PJ burst. I had no idea small, plastic bowling pins could be so loud but I suppose in a small space with cinder block walls and a tiled floor sound just echos. My ears still hurt. Finally I exited the other children (only to have the bowling pins hurled across the room) and I sat and waited for the fit to end.

PJ recovered (after spending some time with one of our amazing assistant principals). In the afternoon he returned and joined the class to watch The Great Pumpkin. (There is something fabulous about watching kindergartners watch a classic cartoon for the first time. The animation quality doesn't bother them, they still adore the quirky kids). PJ loved the movie but was becoming upset that the other children were laughing and talking. Yet instead of getting upset he asked us for the "no talking" sign we sometimes use as non-verbal cues to the students. He sat, watching the movie, and holding his sign, occasionally using it to signal to other children that they needed to be quiet. We died with love. It seems that only a few weeks ago he would have thrown something at us or hidden in a closet.
As the movie ended we allowed him to pass out the treat bags he'd brought for the class. It was wonderful to watch him hand each child a bag, explaining matter of factly that it was for Halloween and he wanted to give them something. The exchanges between him and the other children were wonderful and everyone truly enjoyed our mini Halloween celebration.
And then.
PJ had one last bag to hand out. But it was a special bag, it was for Mrs. Partner-in-crime. She stood across the rug from PJ with the rest of the kindergarten students in between them. Right as PJ started to cross the rug to get to her she dismissed the class to line up for recess.  Suddenly PJ was met with resistance. He stood, frozen, panic-stricken for a brief moment and then let out a grunt. He ducked down into a football stance and shouldered his way through the crowd, practically knocking down some of our sweetest little boys.
*sigh* And for a moment there it had been such a beautiful afternoon.

The more we get to know PJ the more we know he's struggling with things we can't understand. He certainly makes everyday a little more challenging, but he also adds something special to our class. It's easy to forget what he adds, and then suddenly I'll find myself watching him do something like lean over another friend, coaching her on how to write a z. Slowly, he'll guide her hand, then say "you try". He'll softly correct her when she starts to draw the line backwards, then as she fixes her mistake he rewards her. I can hear myself in his voice as he murmurs that she did a great job. She beams and so does he and suddenly I love him even more.

a sad reality of public schools...

Yesterday clairvoy shared these videos with the staff at the think-tank. Luckily we can laugh at these knowing this is NOT our school, but we all have friends who work in these schools.  I've worked in one of these schools. These videos are sadly extremely accurate.
This is what happens when there is too much focus on bad teachers and weak administration.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Yesterday we sat on metal folding chairs inside one of our student's homes. The children bounced between beds, giggling with glee that teachers were there, in their home. The mother sat on the smallest bed, closest to the chairs, where she could ask us questions through an interpreter about her concerns for her child in kindergarten.

The room we sat in was full of love, with the children's photographs on the wall along with religious icons. It was spotless, toys stored neatly under the bed, teddy bears waited on a shelf to be hugged, and table tops were clear of clutter. Important school notices were pinned to the wall right by the door, including the note reminding them of our conference. The family even offered us bottled water as we chatted about important kindergarten conference details. (It's incredible all we try to cover in a kindergarten conference- we're introducing parents to the entire public education system, setting the tone for their next 13 years, while covering curriculum, behavior, and the importance of potty training/teaching your child to feed themselves/creating independence.)

The conference was wonderful and when we were done the mother followed us out the door of the room they rented, through the dark, dirty common space they shared with another family, and to the door to the outside. 

And now we know. 
We know why our friend is wide-eyed when shown new manipulatives, we've seen how little he has. We understand his energy level, his need for his own space, his tiredness, and how overwhelmed he's been these first 9 weeks of kindergarten. Adjusting to life outside of the four walls of your small, secluded room you share with your entire family is difficult. Especially if inside your room you only speak one language, and in school you spend 7 hours listening to another. 

All night I thought about that room. Inside was love, cleanliness, order, and life. Yet, it was one room, four walls.
 This was not the first child we visited who shared an apartment. In fact, in most of our visits we see many other people coming and going from the houses. Many times our children do not know the names of the people who live with them. Once, we arrived at an apartment and asked the two teenagers who opened the door if our student and her mother were there. They had no idea who we were talking about and had to go into a back bedroom to find out the names of the girls they shared an apartment with. These visits always stay with me, yet something about sitting in a close circle on the folding chairs in a back room is haunting me this week. There's so much potential for the family. So much hope that can come from the people inside that room. 
We have 10 months. If we can teach the children to read, write, count, add, and subtract, speak English, share, take turns, get along with others, set goals and work to meet them, plan ahead, follow directions, and show delayed gratification we'll be setting them out on the right track. And now, we teach our hearts out. 

I heart our administration

I rarely go this long between posts. A lot has happened that's kept me busy between family and work. I have a million posts swimming in my head- I feel like a first grade writer struggling to get started in writing workshop. There are so many topics to choose from that it's easier to sit playing with the paper and the pencil (or checking facebook) instead of just choosing one and jumping in. When I've waited this long it's as though the words have built up in my head and no longer come out smoothly- in their rush to escape they end up with rough edges. Be patient while I work on smoothing them out...

In the field of special ed there are an incredible amount of roadblocks. Many are legal and come from IDEA-II, but most are the state or county creating their own policies as they try to interpret the federal law. Many are put there to look out for the child, and that's a good thing. Road blocks are set up to make sure everyone is always on the same page, putting thought behind what they are doing, and no one is making snap judgements that could impact a child's entire life.  All that is good. But sometimes those road blocks can seem like the most ridiculous wastes of time out there. The amount of paper we kill trying to get through them, along with the man hours it takes, is what drives special education teachers out of the field. It's not the kids or the parents, it's the unending, thankless paperwork.

I was out of town in the beginning of the week and returned to school Wednesday morning to find that we (my partner-in-crime and I) were suddenly expected to produce a large amount of paperwork on a student. We're talking slaughtering entire rain forests. I just about cried. We'd had no idea about the change in procedure and this sudden road block would take up hours and hours of our time. The irony of paperwork is that it actually keeps you from the children you're trying to help. Wednesday morning my partner-in-crime and I bounced back and forth between being livid and extremely depressed.

Then we got an email from our amazing administration, with the subject, "Breath in, Breath out".  The minute they'd learned of what we had to do they knew exactly what it meant for us in the classroom. They put their own work on hold for the day and set up camp in an office huddled around a laptop, completing the paperwork with the help of our incredible school psych. They only took me away from kids when they absolutely had to and they managed to keep partner-in-crime with the kids all day.

When I left the school yesterday I couldn't help but feel a strange euphoria after what had started off as a horrendous day. Without being asked our administration stood up and fought for us, protecting our time, sanity, and the teaching that happens in the classroom.

I have friends at other schools who have been in similar situations and ended up staying hours into the night to finish paperwork like this, only to be criticized by their administration when it wasn't done to their liking.

I love my school.  I love that teaching children is considered more important than anything else. I love that our administrators work with us, fight for us, and protect our time with our students. I love their sense of humor and how they take our problems on as their own. Wednesday's great paperwork rescue wasn't the only time they'd done something like that for us this year. In fact, I could probably list almost daily occurances of what they've done to protect the sacred nature of being in the classroom with our students.

I'm not sure there is anything more important in K-12 education than good educational leadership. I'd always like to think that teachers would be able to be strong even with weak leadership, but when you get down to it, the leadership sets the tone of a school. Good teachers can do great things with weak leadership, but they'll have a lot of roadblocks in their way. I was terrified when our amazing principal retired last year. I had so much respect for her leadership style, the tone she set for the school, and how she reacted in times of crisis that I wasn't sure how the Think Tank would go on without her. When they announced that one of our assistant principals would step up to take her place we all breathed a sigh of relief. We already knew the wonderful leadership style our assistant principal held and knew we'd be in good hands. Now, under our rock star principal and our two brilliant assistant principals the think tank is back in business.

Friday, October 22, 2010

cluck, moo, squeal

Partner-in-crime and I sat in our assistant principal's office this afternoon just staring at each other. There was nothing else to say. Our first field trip of the year was over and we'd survived. And perhaps even more importantly, all the animals at the farm survived (as far as we know). 

It was a long day, with some amazing highs and some stunning lows we just wont get into now. Some things are best to be blocked out. I must admit though that my favorite moment of the entire trip was when we made it to the chicken coop. I'd stuck myself on Pixie today knowing how easily she can be distracted and how quickly she could wonder off or end up jumping the fences to get to the animals (which she tried numerous times). She also managed to actually exchange kisses with numerous goats. Looking back, perhaps I wasn't doing such a great job as Pixie's bff after all.

Regardless, we left the nursing pig and made our way to the chicken coop. Growing up in the country I didn't think anything of seeing a bunch of chickens, but Pixie believed in equal squeals for every set of animals. She sprinted toward the chickens and immediately threw her tiny hands around the chicken wire.  PJ who'd been standing off to the side gasped in horror. 
"NO!" he screamed, "Don't touch the chickens! They'll get you!" and ran toward Pixie, pushing her out of the way. Pixie is not one to be discouraged and simply moved down the wire, ignoring PJ's warning. PJ does not like to be ignored, and he also really does not like chickens.
"NO!" he repeated, "WATCH OUT!" with that he grabbed her hands and pulled her back away from the oblivious chickens. Pixie looked confused that someone was standing between her and her wanted birds. Luckily she was quickly distracted by the promise of seeing a rabbit. I'm not sure what PJ would have done if she'd made another run for the chickens.

I love that PJ was so concerned about his friends. I was a bit worried he'd actually cause more harm to Pixie than the chickens would have, but it was really sweet to see him protecting his classmates.

The rest of the day was equally enduring/exhausting.  These kids are lucky they're so cute. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

positive praise

Last night I headed home from my grad class on the metro. I was completely zoned out, as one does on the metro after a long day, when I realized the announcement wasn't your typical difficult to understand metro information. A woman's voice came on, clearly announced the next station, and then, with even more clarity said, "For those of you who just joined us at Rosslyn or at Foggy Bottom I'd like to thank you from standing back on the platform before boarding. You kept us all safe. Thank you." 

For those of you who ride metro you may be as confused as I was by this message. Metro, thanking us? I've heard messages yelling at us, I've heard messages taunting or ridiculing us, I've heard the occasional chipper announcer instructing us to have a nice day (but even then that seems rare), but thanking us?

Of course, positive praise is the secret to surviving in kindergarten. Many classroom management techniques focus on using positive praise to prevent bad behavior before it starts. I feel like my days can be full of thanking students for doing what I wanted them to do, knowing that they need this positive praise or they'll head in the other direction.

Tuesday a little boy popped out of his reading center and ran across the room.
"What are you doing??" I asked, "You'd been sitting there so nicely reading!"
"Those kids aren't sitting nicely" he pointed to a group of children currently being redirected by my partner in crime. 
"Yes, but look at partner-in-crime. She's not happy. They are getting in trouble."
"She looks happy to me."
"Mrs. Partner-in-Crime" I called, "Look at our friend. Isn't he doing a great job sitting quietly, reading at his center?"
"Wow, yes," she quickly picked up on our friend's need for positive praise. "I'm so impressed. Look how he keeps the book in his lab and quietly turns the pages without getting out of his seat."
Our friend beamed and remained at his center.

Has one metro announcer discovered the secret to positive classroom management? 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

And then there was puke...

You know those days where your lessons just don't go as planned? Something just doesn't work right- despite careful planning, excellent preparation, and careful curriculum alignment the kids just aren't with you?


Today was one of those days. Which would have been survivable but for the fact that the lesson partner-in-crime and I had planned used paint.

We'd delightfully planned to have the children use apple slices as stamps (we're studying apples, the life cycle, and fall so we've been investigating apples for the last week) to make patterns. Our kids have mastered AB patterns but we wanted another fun activity to gain more practice on ABC patterns. ABC meant 3 colors of paint for each table.
 3 paper plates with paint.
3 chances for each table to knock a paper plate on the floor, drag their shirt sleeve through paint, or push a friend into the paint.

It was lovely.

The day started off rocky for PJ to begin with. He was off and on all day, occasionally making very poor decisions and occasionally doing an excellent job. This hot-and-cold always leaves us on edge- we're ready for the worst but trying to pretend like everything is absolutely fine before the dam bursts.

We were using our lunch break to prepare the lesson (partner in crime) and finish up IEP paperwork for tomorrow's many meetings (me). We had about 5 minutes left when suddenly PJ showed up in the door, having sprinted away from the class in the cafeteria. And he'd inspired another friend to join him.

From that minute on the afternoon went down hill.  PJ and his friend spent the directions of the lesson ignoring us as much as they could, loudly distracting the other children, and generally not cooperating. I wasn't much of a help. We're in the midst of giving individual assessments to each child in both reading and math and I was trying to power through while partner-in-crime taught, both of us ignoring PJ and his friend. Somehow this led the rest of the class down the rabbit hole and by the time everyone was sitting at their tables with apple pieces and paint PJ was the only one doing his job. If you walked into our classroom at that moment you would have no idea the ruckus he'd been causing only minutes before.

Paint was everywhere. The kids who loved to get messy had their hands covered in paint while the kids who hate any speck of dust on them kept trying to wash their hands between each piece of the pattern. We'd tell them to wait but before we knew it they were sneaking tissues and water. Pixie was COVERED in paint, which she nicely shared with my pants. (We're still working on the ask before you hug rule)

Half the class was finished with their patterns and sitting on the rug playing with math manipulatives while other students waited in line for the sink and still more sat at their patterns and painted away. In the midst of responsive-classrooming a friend to not call their other friends stupid and dumb (trying to use my responsive-classroom language as much as possible when really I just wanted to run screaming from the room) I heard partner-in-crime say "put it in the trash can, trash can, trash can..." followed by squeals of glee/disgust from the group of kindergartners standing around her.
One little girl, in the midst of the excitement by the hand washers at the sink, had managed to lose her lunch everywhere. And not just a little bit either. It kept coming. all over the floor, filling one trash can and forcing us to grab another trash can.

The already wound-up paint covered children seemed to multiply as my partner-in-crime and I just looked at each other in horror. If we closed our eyes and wished really hard would it all go away?

I grabbed the poor puker (is there anything worse than throwing up in front of your classmates?) and led her and the trash can with the least amount of puke in it to the clinic and grabbed a custodian on the way. (Who didn't seem overly concerned with the fact it needed to be cleaned. I love our custodians but something must have gotten lost in translation. Me: puke, everywhere! please come, hurry!  Him:  A spill? ok, I come later.)

After finally getting him to understand the situation was serious and securing our sad, frightened vomiter in the clinic I met the class on the playground. We were totally infringing on another class' recess time but at that point we didn't care. We were away from the puke, gasping at the fresh air, and hoping no one minded the small red hand prints on the slide from the little ones who didn't ever get to the sink since it was blocked by puke.

As we stood there trying to laugh about it our instructional aid ran up to us with another one of our lovelies, who had managed to fall and bust open his lip.

Paint. Puke. Blood.

All in one day.

How is it only Tuesday?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Hopes and Dreams for our kindergarteners: Working with parents

Last spring our awesome parent center coordinator came up with a brilliant idea- hold parent coffees just for kindergarten parents, addressing the unique needs of parents and children just starting the elementary school process. The minute I heard about it I told her I had to be a part of it.

Let me  back up for a minute- my school has a parent center, a room relatively near the front of the school where parents can go for English classes, spend time socializing, participate in volunteer activities for the school, use the computers, get information on how to navigate the maze that is public school, and attend our weekly parent coffees. Each Friday morning our parents come together for a presentation on some aspect of school-whether it is explaining how to help their children with their homework, understanding the importance of sleep, or learning about how to prepare for parent teacher conferences. The center is staffed by a parent center coordinator and a Spanish Liaison. Our parent center is one of the elements that makes the Think Tank absolutely rock.

So, when our parent coordinator came up with the idea of hosting programming specifically for parents of kindergarten students I was thrilled. The idea of capturing parents just beginning the school process and being able to help them early on set up routines that will stay with their children for the rest of their academic lives was too powerful to pass up. I knew I had to be a part of this. We plan to hold 4 of these meetings a year, one a quarter, and focus on essential aspects children need to be successful in elementary school.

This morning we hosted our first meeting. Each of the 8 kindergarten teachers submitted 6-8 names of parents in their classrooms who might benefit from this sort of programming. The parents were personally invited by a phone call from the school. We had no idea how many parents to expect- what if our parents just thought kindergarten was another form of baby sitting and were not concerned with hearing what we had to say?

How to help your child learn to read
Our turn out was incredible. I think we had about 30 families packed into our room for almost 2 hours, participating in our songs, activities and discussions. The turn out sent the message to us that parents are full of questions about kindergarten and are ready to work with us to help their children.

Our parent center coordinator began by having the parents fill out sticky notes to answer 5 questions:
-What are your hopes and dreams for your kindergartner?
-What routines do you have in place at home?
-What can you do to help your child learn to read?
-Why is kindergarten important?
-General questions about kindergarten

The parents were soon up and moving, scribbling their thoughtful reflections and sticking them onto our boards. I wasn't sure the parents would feel comfortable sharing but they soon conquered any hesitancy they had and were proud to add their own sticky note to the collection.

I think we learned so much from just reading their answers to our questions. Walking around the room I found myself with chills from their thoughtful responses and their sincere desires for their children to be wonderful members of society. 
Parents Hopes and Dreams 
Some other hopes and dreams: "go to college & finish his education successfully"
"I hope my child’d go to the good college. He wants to be a doctor."

"I want my child to be a better person that she can be. And I believe education is one of the key things that makes that happen."

-el sueno para mi hijo en un future seria que el llege a obtener una carrera universitaria

-que sea un doctor o un abogado pero sob rer todo quesea una persona horada y humanitario

-quiero que tenga una carrera universitaria y que este bien preparada

-mis suenos son que mi hijo tenga carrera universitayia y que se un ejemplo para los demas

Why is kindergarten important?

When we shared out their notes I watched the parents smile- trying not to give away that it was their addition to the board, but clearly happy to share their thoughts and ideas with the group. They nodded affirmations throughout, sharing their passion for their children's future and their firm beliefs in the importance of kindergarten.

Later in the program we had the parents get into groups and develop bedtime routines and then share out what they'd written. I have to admit when I first heard my parent-coordinator suggest this idea I was skeptical- make them come up with a bedtime routine? Wont they be insulted?
It turned out to be an amazing exercise, mostly because the parents were not learning from us, but instead they were listening to one another's ideas. Their 'aha' moments did not come from being lectured to, but from honest and open conversations with peers.

I loved listening in on their conversations and seeing them whisper ideas or affirmations to one another as they plotted the best way to get a five year old to sleep.

We typed up what our parents shared on their sticky notes to share with the rest of the teachers on the kindergarten team. The insights we gained from the notes will help us prepare for our parent conferences and help us understand what sort of literacy background our children have.

Nothing I say here can begin to capture the excitement and energy in the room this morning. I can't wait for our December meeting. Hopefully I'll be able to use my newly-discovered stats knowledge to find meaningful ways to collect and measure the data. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I do love my job!

This afternoon I feel like Dorothy clicking her heels together saying "There's no place like home!" 

I do love my job, I do love my job, I do love my job!- it just took a few weeks to remember why...

The dreariness of this morning was soon overtaken by the excited nature of kindergartens.  PJ and I sat side by side and read "Pigs Make Me Sneeze" by Mo Willems. He did all the sound effects, acted out every sneeze and facial gesture, and giggled through Gerald's terrible fears that he was allergic to his best friend.

I love my job.

Pixie and I worked on three of the letters in her name by bowling for them today, and any time with Pixie is always an adventure.

I sat with another friend to begin guided reading and felt myself giddy as I watched him fill with pride for his reading skills- he carefully examined the first letter of each word, checked the picture and then said the word to be sure he was right- everything we want beginning readers to do. "Silly pig" he laughed as we read about Gilbert the Pig rolling in the mud.

I love my job.

I sat in writing workshop and listened to one little boy seriously tell me his story over and over again (something we've taught them to do) using expression and details.  My friend who last year drew nothing but squiggles drew pictures and labeled them "Baby play" she said, distinctly.  Then repeated it for me later. "Baby play".  She leaned up against me and giggled, telling me her story in her limited speech, over and over, just like she was a typically developing student.

I love my job.

This afternoon my partner in crime and I headed over to Amazing's house to hear about her new adventures in first grade at her new school. We listened as she regailed us of the crazy tales of Amelia Badelia and those antics she pulls all the time, and giggled right along with her at how she dressed the turkey and drew the drapes. Amazing loves her new school, is sitting up straighter, speaking louder, and is 100% a grown-up first grader now. It was wonderful to see how she's grown and changed. I hope we'll keep in touch with her for a long time.

Our awesome assistant principal did have PJ with her for a good 3/4 of the day, which may have played a part in the ease and delight of the day, but nonetheless, for a rainy day it turned into exactly what I needed to remember why I teach.  I really do have the best job in the world.

Rocking Google Docs

A few weeks ago my awesome co-teacher blogged about how we're using google docs to take anecdotal records this year in writing workshop. Since there are three of us in the classroom for writing conferences she set up a spread sheet in google docs where each child has his/her very own page. When we're conferencing with a child we just click on their name and fill out what we observed them doing, our specific teaching point, and how we'll follow up with them on their writing. This keeps us all on the same page- all the teachers in the room know whose had a conference, what they focused on, and what the next step is for that writer.

For instance, if I come up to Sammie whose working diligently on a very nice story with a beginning, middle, and end about how 3 bears ate his mother, I might sit down and focus on the fact that yes, he is working on writing a story on a single topic. Without google docs I may just head on with my own ideas for what I want Sammie to do next. But because we're using google docs I immediately click on Sammie's name and find that he's been writing stories about the 3 bears eating his mother for a week now. He's already had a conference with another teacher about finding a new topic and she wanted to follow up with Sammie to make sure he'd independently find a new topic. Now that I've read her notes, I know that Sammie is not meeting that goal. I remind Sammie of what he'd already been told, and promise him that one of us would be checking to see if he could find a new topic. I go to the next student, leaving Sammie to look speciously at the three of us, wondering if our brains are somehow connected.

They are, my friend, they so are. And you don't even know the extent of it.

Today I sat down to conference with a few friends who'd been having some struggles in writing workshop. I logged into google docs and started my conference. I was quickly amazed and excited by what was happening at my table. The kids were working hard- on exactly what we wanted them to be working on. They were using what we'd taught them- we were seeing progress- those first wobbly baby steps that indicate yes, even if they were spinning in circles on the rug, they were also paying attention. They are learning. We are not talking to ourselves. I excitedly listened to my friend tell me a story about how his little sister shared M&Ms with him (I said they were telling stories on one topic. I did not say the stories were Pulitzers...) and how he exclaimed, "OH MY GOODNESS!" when he saw his sister had TWO M&Ms. I wanted to tell my co-teachers about his awesome work, but since they were working hard in their own writing groups I couldn't be rude and interrupt all that good learning....

google docs has a chat feature.

I quickly typed what I was noticing, and soon heard back with a great idea and a question. We kept up brainstorming ideas for the different children we were working with while we were conferencing with them. Ideas flew, brains exploded with ideas, and our conferences rocked. We rocked. Our writers rocked. We were collaborating in real-time while teaching- without distracting from the kids' train of thought because they had no idea what we were doing.

It was beautiful.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

stress, kids & teaching our hearts out

In my Intro to Educational Neuroscience class this evening we went over the effects stress has on the brain. I'd heard it before, but none the less, every time I hear it or read it I find it striking.

As one of my classmates put it, stress actually "eats" the hippocampus region of the brain where short-term memories are transferred into long term memories, and spacial navigation are located. Stress causes a decrease in the natural replacement of brain cells in the hippocampus, actually shrinking the size of the area over time if someone is exposed to chronic stress. The same thing happens in the amygdala as well- the region of the brain that plays a role in processing of memories and emotional regulation. Children under chronic stress have also been seen to have smaller corpus callosums, which is the fibers that connect the two halves of the brain. This can impact processing throughout the brain.

I can't help but hear this and see faces of little ones I've taught over the years- ones who worried whether or not mom would come home that night, whether or not dad would wake them up in the middle of the night on a drunken binge. Little ones abused with belts, denied food, or locked in closets. Little ones living place to place, never quite knowing where they'd spend the night. For some school seemed to be the last thing on their priority list. They seemed to love it inside the building, ate up attention from adults and loved playing with their friends, but academically we could all end up grinding our teeth to get through a guided reading lesson. Not all of them of course, but many.

I had trouble focusing on my statistics midterm yesterday because of a particularly rough afternoon when PJ and I weren't seeing eye to eye. We've always known what stress does to us, but to be able to see the physical brain changes when our little ones are under stress- in those moments their brains are not working as we'd like them to.

What do we do?  All I can think is to create a safe environment where they know they are loved, welcomed, and free to take risks. Once we've let them know they are safe then we teach our hearts out, working on putting as much as we can into long-term memory to free up space in their working memory so they can process tasks quicker. Particularly since their working memories are most likely already full of non-school related information.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The con-art of teaching

This summer Mr. Lipstick and I tackled the mighty project of watching Lost. We'd missed it when it first came out and quickly realized it wasn't one of those shows you could just pop into during the middle. So in June we started with Season One and made it all the way to the end of Season Three by the end of August. (Now that we've both started our grad school programs I don't think we'll be touching Season Four until next June. So nobody spoil anything- we're avoiding anything Lost-related at all costs so we don't have any spoilers).

Anyway, Lost seems to have a whole underlying con-artist theme- where I learned that the art of conning someone is to make them think it is their idea. Now, this summer I didn't think much of that lesson, after all I am an upstanding citizen who wouldn't ever think of tricking someone into getting my way. When would I ever put that lesson to use?

Enter PJ.

This week we absolutely had to administer a standardized assessment to PJ in a room outside the classroom. Yet PJ had no desire to come with us. We'd  tried everything over the course of a few days- being firm ("you will leave this classroom right now!"), bribery ("look at all the stickers you'll get if you leave the room!"), sympathy ("I know you don't want to go, but we all have to do things we don't want to do"), distraction ("wow, great job with those math manipulatives. Now, time to go!") but nothing worked.

Friday we were desperate. PJ had placed himself in a small confined space in the classroom and was refusing to get out so we asked a friend to go rub his back and lead him out. (PJ responds to his peers far, far better than he responds to adults). So, as PJ and his friend slowly came out of the small space hand in hand, I asked them both to come with me to the testing room. PJ happily went along with his friend and we wandered across the hallway.

I patted myself on the back for getting PJ into the testing room, but then realized we had the friend with us. We couldn't very well test PJ if his best friend was sitting right there. That's not exactly how standardized assessments work (but wouldn't it be great if they did- my SAT scores would be so much higher.)

So we read both boys a book (and yes, it was PJ Funny Bunny- one of PJ's favorites) while I plotted how to get the friend to leave the room without PJ, yet leaving PJ behind in a good enough mood to be tested. Sure we could lay down the law and force PJ to stay, but then he wouldn't exactly be in prime-testing-condition. All our work would be useless.

Right as the book ended I drew upon my con-artists lessons learned from Lost. Make them think it is there idea.

"And now," I announced, "We'll get to play this stuffed animal!" (the stuffed animal who is actually a part of the standardized assessment). "But we can only play one at a time!"
"Who wants to go first?"
PJ, being the super-kind boy that he is, immediately said his friend could go first. Not exactly what we wanted.
I ignored that.
"Raise your hand if you want to go first!"
The friend, being 5, immediately raised his hand wildly, which caused PJ to copy his behavior.
"Wow, PJ wants to go first!" we cheered. "Ok, friend will be back to go second."
I lead the friend out of the room and PJ started to balk.
"PJ, remember- you wanted to go first. If you don't go first by yourself then your friend never gets his turn."
PJ considered this. Yes, he wanted his friend to have a turn.
So he stayed.

And so PJ was assessed, and not only was assessed but believed he was being assessed on his terms. We have our data, PJ was happy, and everyone took very big breaths and was very excited to go home for the weekend.

Teaching Kindergarten lesson learned #3,984- Make them think it's their idea.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

violations of homoscedascity

It's a beautiful Sunday. The leaves are starting to change, the air is crisp but not cold, the sun is shinning, and I am sitting at my desk surrounded by Stats study materials, staring out at the window.

The mere fact that I had to take a statistics class filled me with dread when I applied for the Doctorate program. Then I found out I'll take a total of 4 Stats classes, if not more, before I'm finished with this thing. That seems like a long, long way away.

Until last Tuesday I actually thought it was going along well. I am was ridiculously impressed by my professor. Unlike many professors she actually embodies much of what we know is good instruction. She repeats herself frequently, provides visuals, gives us mnemonics, tells stories, gives us the right amount of guided practice so we can apply what we know. She clearly isn't just in this for her personal research- and she's not just standing in front of the classroom delivering information- she's teaching. She is dedicated to making sure we know this stuff. And, until Tuesday, I thought that was a great thing.
I'd leave class each week feeling like I understood statistics- something I never really had any hope that I'd understand. Other than the problem that I get distracted by her wardrobe and frequently wonder where she purchased her cute clothes, I felt like I was on top of it because of her teaching. Even her course objectives are written like IEP goals:
"Given a frequency distribute table, locate or calculate range, apparent limits, real/exact limits, interval width, and midpoints."
I know exactly what is expected- I can check off the objectives one by one to determine whether or not I'm on track.
Wow, how refreshing, I found myself thinking every Tuesday evening as I walked back to the metro- a professor who understands how people learn and how to teach so that students truly internalize the information. This is brilliant. This is what I need to survive stats.

Then last Tuesday rolled around and she explained our upcoming midterm. She's not giving us a midterm where we can plug and chug formulas and numbers. She's not giving us a midterm where we can write definitions to show our knowledge. It's not even just word problems. There are essays. Essays to prove that we understand the concepts behind the numbers.
Because, she explained, of Bloom's taxonomy.
Bloom's taxonomy.
I've only heard Bloom's taxonomy explained in a college class because we were being told to use it as teachers. I've never seen it actually applied. I've never had a professor say that he or she was basing questions off of Bloom's taxonomy so he or she would know whether or not we truly conceptualized and could apply the information instead of just being able to define or calculate the information.

Stupid professor with her stupid understanding of how people learn and how to make sure her students truly internalize the information.

I can give definitions.
I can plug numbers into equations.
I can answer word problems.

I have no idea why any of it works. I don't know why we put the numbers into the equations. I can tell you that homoscedascity has been violated- but I can't tell you the concept behind why it exists.

No one has ever asked that of me in a math class before.

I continue to be impressed with my professor, but I now have moved on to resentment of her desire to fill me with a true understanding of stats. Because it is a beautiful day, the leaves are starting to change, the air is crisp but not cold, and I am sitting here contemplating what is occurring when  least squares regression is used, but I am pretty sure that after this weekend I will understand linear regression like I've never understood any other math in my entire life.


On another note, apparently doctorate students are just like 4th graders- they google their teachers. The other day a few of my classmates told me they'd googled our professor and were telling everyone what they'd found. None of it was shocking, it was what you'd get if you googled any 30 year old. (Yeah, 30, at least that's how old I think she is now that I too have googled her.) So maybe it's not just 4th graders who are shocked that their teachers have a life outside of school.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

the power of pixie

Today reading centers were going along swimmingly. PJ was working hard at the browsing box center enjoying an entire bucket of books filled with Gerald and Piggy excitement. Across the classroom two sets of children were re-telling Knuffle Bunny on felt boards with my partner-in-crime and I was an leading interactive writing group. One table sat coloring their song books, a printed version of the purple song we've been singing all week.

Pixie, who loves singing, knew she was coloring a song book but couldn't remember the words to this particular song. Or perhaps she couldn't remember what song it was, but she knew it was a song. So she started singing what popped into her head.

Which happened to be Lady Gaga. Bad Romance.

The song was clearly so catchy that the rest of the class joined it, humming or singing under their breaths. The laughter of Piggy and Gerald quickly fell away to Lady Gaga. Somehow my children listening for the /b/ sound in bag started humming /b/ along with the tune (bah, bah, b, b, b). The entire classroom was in spontaneous song, which would have been lovely had it been something appropriate.

And, of course, for the rest of the day I've been humming it myself.

a healthy bit of bribery...

yes, I still don't know how to rotate my pics in blogger
Last year I was ridiculously impressed by how splattypus was able to change the eating habits of her kiddos. Ok, maybe not the eating habits, but she at least got them to bring in healthy snacks, which was such a refreshing change from the Cheetos, cookies, and chocolate puddings they'd been bringing in. (Yes, I sometimes bring my own chocolate pudding in my lunch. But I'm old enough to make informed decisions.)

Inspired by their class my partner-in-crime and I decided to take it on this year. We instituted the rule that unhealthy snacks would be returned to the backpack and replaced by a simple snack provided by the classroom. Yet that seemed to leave us with some grumpy little ones, one of whom decided to bang his table up and down (I think he'd spent the summer watching The Real Housewives of NJ...)  I don't blame him really. He had a yummy snack. If some stupid teacher had taken that snack away from me I would have banged a table myself.

So, for additional motivation we started taking their pictures if they brought in fruit. Their pictures get posted on a board that says "Healthy Snack Club". They love it. In fact, the fruit intake in our classroom has gone up considerably since our picture-snapping began. They cheese it up for the camera and proudly tell us that they begged their parents for apples/bananas/grapes so they could get their picture taken.

And of course, because in kindergarten we're learning to read and everything we do should somehow link back to reading, we're making a healthy snack book where, get this...  if you bring in a healthy snack like fruit you get... wait for it...  your own page!  (If you were five you'd be dying of excitement right now.)
You have your big picture on the page with a line that says "Pixie likes apples!". In the end it will be a simple big book of repetitive text they can read independently.

The only downside of this is that now partner-in-crime and I have to keep our own unhealthy snacks hidden. That drawer full of chocolate has to remained closed as long as the kids are in the room.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

an upside down look at today

Ok, let's try that again. After a few hours geeking out over the data bases in my university library (they've connected it to google scholar!!! I can find scholarly articles on ANYTHING!!) during grad class, a bowl of cookie dough ice cream, a nice glass of wine and a very cheesy dinner (in that order), I'm ready to approach today from a new angle. At least to give it a go, right?

I was four when my mother came home from the doctors crying because she'd found out she was having twins. I, of course, thought she was crying because they were both boys, but she assured me that no, she was happy they were boys. This made me cry-if she was happy they were boys then we couldn't give them back.

After getting over the shock the baby sister I'd dreamed of was actually two boys I quickly accepted the fact that God had clearly given my mom one baby for her and one for me. Why else would she have two at once?  As a four year old I was learning to share, and here was the perfect example- my mother was about to share with me. I was about to have my own live baby doll.

A baby doll that spit up, screamed, needed to be fed all the time, never went to sleep, and that caused me to get in trouble if I decided to use his overall straps to carry him around the house. By that time I was five and thought I was being clever. Cats carry their kittens by the skin on their necks. I'd tried to carry my baby brother that way but there wasn't enough skin (sorry Robert, you always were used for my parenting experiments), so I used his overalls instead. I still don't understand what my father was so angry about.

Regardless, I forced my way into a lot of parenting responsibilities at a young age. As my brothers' second mother I needed to be there for all major behavior discussions- needed to monitor their bad behavior, observe how they were punished, follow my mother's lead and ignore/reprimand when needed. Since I was always there being nosy my mom did a great job of teaching me about child development and what was and was not ok. (It was not ok to make my two year old brother curl up in my baby cradle, but it was ok that he wanted to run around outside naked).

 I became very accustomed to the noisy atmosphere of young boys- and became somewhat of a child-developmentalist, watching my brothers very closely to see if my mother's explanations about how two year olds act were correct. This was brilliant on my mother's part- instead of being very angry at my brothers I spent a lot of time wondering what they'd do next, and then wondering how my mother would react to it.

And as anyone who has two younger siblings I became very, very accustomed to how to react when someone touches or throws your stuff. You watch carefully, chuckle along with the adult in the room, and plot revenge. Or at least, make them clean up every last piece of doll house furniture they broke, with lots of "look at my face, I am SO SAD when you broke my toys", which I learned from my mother.

So today, when I stood at the door of the classroom watching the items on my desk fly across the room I was momentarily taken back to my childhood, watching my twin brothers go through the terrible 2s. I wasn't so upset that my stuff was taking flying lessons, as I was curious- what's going to happen next, where are we going from here, and how on earth am I going to make him clean all of this up? Because I certainly was not picking up each one of those paper scraps and putting them back in the note paper box.

Either my childhood motherhood prepared me for my career, or sentenced me to it- but that's just chicken or egg squabble.

When I walked in my house today I was met by a card from my childhood best friend, who'd been equally fascinated by my two baby brothers. (Ironically she was obsessed with them as babies, while I was far more interested in them as they became capable of doing things. She became a NICU nurse and I became a special education teacher. What does this say about my brothers and their normalness?)

The card is one of those curly girl design cards and on the outside read "I am fairly certain that given a cape and a nice tiara I could save the world". On the inside she wrote, "Somehow this card made me think of you. Maybe you're saving the world one child at a time." I looked at it for a long time, thinking about how it came today of all days. I certainly don't feel like I was saving anyone today, but the card itself reminded me of the bigger picture. Today was just a day. Things were thrown but they were picked up. Tomorrow will be another day. Baby steps toward something bigger.
However, if anyone wants to give me a tiara I'd happily wear it. Maybe that would improve my mood these days...

If all else fails, in the famous words of Kevin Henke through Mr. Slinger, "Today was a difficult day. Tomorrow will be better."

more bad day

Here's the view if you were standing at my desk. Can you make out the tissue box way back there? and the pencils and pens in the far distance?

Before this occurred the same friend walked around the room sprinkling puzzle pieces around his fellow students as though he was Hansel and Gretel leaving bread crumbs. 

It's hard to believe from today, but we've come a long way. If I wasn't so tired there is a lot I could write about the strategies we're using and what we've put in place. Today was just not so great. On a positive note, Pixie continues to make my day, even if she does give hugs at the wrong times...

not a good day

Today was not a good day. A lot went wrong today, and a lot of the items from my desk ended up on the floor. Someone was really, really upset with me, so one by one he picked up items from my desk and sent them flying across the room. (luckily partner-in-crime and I were able to rescue my swan statue before it too hit the dust.)


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Cruella d'Ville of Kindergarten

Pixie loves to give hugs. She gives hugs whenever she feels the spirit move her- which is almost any time. She gives hugs when she feels she hasn't seen her teachers in awhile- first thing in the morning, after lunch, music, or PE, or, after we're out of her eye sight for more than 5 minutes.

"Oh! Mrs. Lipstick!" she cheers, and throws her arms around me, even though I was just with her two minutes ago in another place in the room. It is almost as though she forgot I existed and was so excited when she remembered me that she needed to hug me to be sure I was real.

Over and over again.

We're working on good times to hug- which means Pixie throws herself around me and I stand there roboticly repeating "this is not time to hug" over and over until she lets go.
Sometimes I have to remove her hands from around me myself.

She looks up at me and smiles while I stare down at her repeating "We don't hug right now". I must look like I hate all children, not even hugging her back. I feel evil standing there, but it must be done.

One year I had a little girl who had to be taught to ask before she hugged someone. She self-appointed herself as our class greeter. Before she learned to ask permission she'd throw herself at whoever came in the door, stranger or not, and grope them. After she learned to ask a stranger would entire the room she'd run at them and then stop before she fully launched the hug. "Can I touch you?" she'd ask the stranger, who would take a step backwards and look at me like they'd rather not be in our class.  I never could get them to understand to appreciate the fact she'd asked before she touched.

Perhaps Pixie will need similar lessons on asking to permission to throw her body around someone else's...

Monday, October 4, 2010

wait, teachers working together?

And another shocking moment in the public debate over education... 
NPR reports that
Teachers learn from each other, they learn from collaborating with one another, and watching expert teachers teach.  It's not a competition.

I can hear the gasps from here. You're shocked, right?

No?  No?

Because you already know it's true. Because you're a teacher and you know you learn best from watching expert teachers- maybe when you were student teaching or during a teaching internship when you saw expert teachers at work. Or maybe during student teaching when you saw not-so-great teachers at work and made notes of what to do differently. Or maybe when you work on teams at your school to plan lessons and units together.

I love when I hear a media story about something we already know works. It's nice that good programs are getting press amongst the "fire them all", "merit pay" and "value added" debates, but it's also frustrating to know that this is news.

I heard this story on NPR on my drive home today- and was impressed yet frustrated with it. This is what works- and what many school districts already have in place. This is why the 9th Circuit Court ruled that a highly-qualified teacher should not be someone doing an internship while teaching- highly qualified teachers should have spend a year in the schools observing before they dive in. No one should entire a classroom as a teacher with only their memories of their own days in education- they should have seen many different models of expert teachers leading different types of lessons, dealing with behavior problems, balancing learners at different academic levels, and navigating the school system.

I don't think the 9th Circuit Court was out to get Teach for America- despite what I've been reading in education blogs that quote TFA as "the best thing education has going for it".  It is because true reform will not come from bringing highly educated people into the schools, but instead by giving teachers experience watching other teachers, collaborating together, and encouraging teachers to be thoughtful about their practice. As a parent you should be upset if your child has a first year teacher with no experience and no internship or student teaching. Those teachers have limited experience to pull from when problems arise- they are merely testing idea after idea that first year to see what works, making mistake after mistake along the way, having no idea someone else could have helped them from their own experience.

So more of this- more talk about collaboration, teachers working together, watching one another, and teacher reflection. Let's focus on what works and then get back to what matters- teaching the kids.

the glory of free-choice play

This year I have a few children who are constantly keeping me on my toes. Although I have a set schedule of when I go into my three classrooms, this year I've been pretty limited in my ability to follow it. It seems that someone is always in need of me right when I'm needed somewhere else.

Last week this was stressing me out. The children in my classes have set hours a week when they are to receive special education services- hours that legally must be met. They have specific goals we need to work on, short term objects to complete, and routines to adjust to. I hated not being with them. We were falling behind on our goals, and being the data-obsessed teacher I am, this was stressing me out. I had nightmares of being chased by blank data sheets.

I finally managed to slip into one of the classrooms during free-choice last week. It wasn't an academic period, but I figured I'd get some good anecdotal data on their social skills. By the time I left I'd taken data on almost all of their goals- all because I sat down and followed along with their play- occasionally asking leading questions like, "wow, how many blocks are there?" and "How many blocks are there when you put the white and blue blocks together?" 

It's amazing how children who would normally refuse to respond, find a crayon to eat, or suddenly need to go to the bathroom during actual classwork time if asked such questions were excited to "play" with me as I listened to them count their blocks, add their blocks together, or read the class morning message as they played school. Somehow in the context of free play the activities seemed safe- they were willing to take a risk and count, or perhaps their excitement of building a large tower lead them to truly wonder how many blocks they'd used. Maybe play made the content questions meaningful?

I collected more data in the thirty minutes of free play than I would have if I'd been in the classroom for math or reading.

It helped that I had multiple set goals in mind when I was "playing" with the children. I wasn't determined to only work on math- if a child was playing school with a stuffed animal I switched to the reading goal and suggested some activities that let me see the child's letter identification. If I'd forced a math lesson it could have back fired. But I also wasn't just sitting down for a tea party (not that there is anything wrong with this- sitting down for a tea party is an excellent way to build a relationship with them). I knew I had objectives I wanted to cover, which gave me some sense of purpose in leading their play.

 This week I'm trying my best to actually get into all my classrooms for their academic periods- but it is great to know that with some planning and flexibility I can spend a happy half hour "playing" in the afternoon and still work with my children on their academic goals. Who else gets a job where they get to play?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

home visits begin!

The line leader stood proudly in front of me, his hands in a "duck tail" behind his back (hands in a duck tail mean you can't touch all the tempting art work lining the hallway walls) and his cheeks blown into big bubbles (if your cheeks are making bubbles you can't talk), showing me how ready he was for the hall.  I gave him a thumbs up and he stood up a little straighter. Then his excitement got the best of him. leaning toward me he lost his bubbles as he whispered,
"You're coming to my house today"
I know we don't talk in line, but I was just as excited as he was.
"I am" I nod.
"My house is number 4." he says, holding up his fingers in case I misheard the number. "When you get to my neighborhood drive way, way, way to the back, the walk a few steps, then go up one flight of stairs and you'll find me!" he explained seriously, not wanting me to get lost. "Number 4, don't forget."
Then quickly, as soon as he finished his explanation he returned to his line-leader duck-tail and bubble status, continuing to be a role model.

That afternoon when we walked into his house he grinned with pride. He showed us his bed, his computer, his window. His little brother stood in the doorway and shouted "no go!" We caught up on middle school gossip with his older sister (middle school is hard!).

I adore home visits.  I love how excited the children are the day we are coming to their house. I love their faces when we walk in the door- a teacher, in their house, can you believe it?

I love chatting with their older brothers and sisters, seeing their special stuffed animals, sitting at their kitchen table listening to their parents share their baby stories and their concerns. I love hearing the loud voices of shy children- the ones who wont speak in school but at home shout, laugh, and chatter away. I love when we leave that we are followed by waves from the window- they watch us go until we are out of sight.

My partner-in-crime and I started conducting home visits last year, and it was such an incredible experience that we knew we had to continue this year. Even though we were both exhausted Thursday afternoon and the idea of holding two conferences in the evening filled us with dread, the minute we arrived at our first house all the stress was gone. I love this time of year.

Thursday we had 2 visits, tomorrow 3 more. We'll slowly check them off one by one as the fall goes along, seeing our children in another setting, beginning to understand why they come to school so tired (they sleep on the couch and there are 2 other families living in their one bedroom apartment), why they try to mother everyone in the class (their mother works and so at five years old they are in charge of babysitting their little brother and sister) or why they are so cuddly (from a wonderful cuddly family).

Friday morning my line-leader friend proudly walked into the classroom and gave me a thumbs-up sign. "You came to my house!" he announced as though I didn't already know that.
He walked a little straighter as he headed over to his seat- hopefully feeling that much more loved and comfortable in our classroom.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


If there was one thing I learned from my Emotional Disabilities class in graduate school was that when we're working with kids with emotional disabilities (or any kids that demand a lot of our time and energy) we have to watch our own levels of stress and our emotions. Particularly when working with kids with ED it's easy for teachers to get so stressed and emotionally involved themselves that they start being ineffective. Much like the airplane safety message- put your mask on first before helping someone else.

I know this. I know it intellectually, I can explain it. I can explain it to my friends and colleagues and offer advice. That doesn't mean I follow it.

I thought I was doing ok, really. I knew I was stressed but I thought I was handling it. I let myself take a nap the other day, read for fun to take my mind of things (Has anyone read The Room?  Amazing!) and went shoe shopping. Still, Thursday morning my amazing instructional aid walked into the room and said, "Today, I'm going to give you a massage. I can tell on your face- you need it. I even told my husband, Mrs. Lipstick isn't doing too well. She needs a massage."

I love my IA. She is from China and I think her brother is a natural medicine doctor over there. She gives amazing massages. Once last year when she decided I needed one she caught me in the office and just quickly rubbed my back. I don't know what she did to me, but it felt inappropriate to feel so good in front of the secretaries and the parents waiting for meetings.  So I don't argue with her when she tells me I need a massage. Even if in previous years these massages are coupled with brochures on yoga, Buddhism, and general ways to control my stress. (I think she's on to me- I clearly need help).

It didn't happen Thursday for various reasons, but I didn't think anything of it. After all I'm fine- no worries- I'm handling it. Even if Mr. Lipstick told me my night time teeth-grinding has hit a whole new level of noise.

Then Friday around 10 o'clock we had an announcement over a surprise fire drill with new instructions on where to take our classes because of the wet fields. I lost it. I was so furious over the change in routine, the confusion of the email, the announcement over the intercom- I was torn between bitter anger and wanting to sit down and cry. Over something as silly as a change in routine.

I started to realize that I'm not ok. I deal with much worse events every day than a change in a fire drill. But those changes I can handle. This? Why did a fire drill set me off? Then splattypus came into my room to tell me about a change in a county policy over some testing information. I lost it again. I stormed up to the office. I'm not a stormer.

Later, after an hour long tantrum by my student I lost it with the school psych. Not at her- she's been amazing in all this- but I just vented in a way I usually reserve for a bottle of wine and Mr. Lipstick.  I also know I wasn't being my normal patient self with the kids either- I could hear myself and the words I was using and I was horrified by myself.

I'm not OK.  And I let myself get here. I kept telling myself I could handle it- if there was a problem I could do it. I know better than that.

This happens to us too many times as teachers. We spend so much time taking care of our students we don't take care of ourselves. And then we snap. We take it out on our kids, our co-workers, we gossip to feel better, we blame others, we wonder why our kids are playing so angrily with each other, we lose our patience with our spouses. I certainly don't have the answers to how to prevent this, but I know we have to be aware of it. Maybe if we're aware of it we'll be able to recognize our limits.

Friday afternoon my IA would not let me leave until she'd given me a fabulous massage, along with a lecture on exactly how to rub out the knots she couldn't get in one sitting. I have a lot to work on this weekend.

Now I'm headed to the Newseum for it's free educators day, and afterwards I plan to sit on my back porch and read my neuroscience text book- the interesting one, not the one that puts me to sleep. Then a long, slow run and a good dinner.