Thursday, January 26, 2012

teacher pride

On the way home from school yesterday I heard this story on NPR- about a Broadway play staring Cynthia Nixon. What I've kept thinking about though, is that it is written by a teacher. Not a former teacher- or a teacher soon to be retiring because she's found a better way to make money- a teacher. A current teacher. A teacher so happy and proud of her job that she continues to teach. For whatever reason you don't hear of that very much. We hear a lot about former teachers who go on to do great things, but it seems rare that someone stays in the classroom by choice, because they love it, even as they do great things. It made me proud to teach knowing that someone out there was choosing teaching along with their other dreams.

The article says:
Teaching has been Edson's vocation for well over a decade now. She found out she won the Pulitzer Prize for Wit while she was teaching kindergarten. She now teaches social studies to sixth-graders, even as her show has been previewing on Broadway.

"Teaching is me, teaching is alive," Edson says. "I'm on my feet all day; I'm with my people all day. I'm not separate from anyone, and I'm in the mix. I'm out there doing my job, every day."

miracle workers

While I was on maternity leave my coworkers were working their tails off for one of our students. When she entered our class she came with paperwork indicating she had a behavior problem. After getting to know her my coworkers realized that she couldn't hear- she wasn't trying to be obstinate, she just couldn't hear the instructions.
Months have gone by. My coworkers set up doctors appointments, organized meetings, translators, doctors appointments, more meetings with more translators that led to more doctors appointments and more meetings. By the time I came back the whole movement was well on its way. There were lots of tears (on our part) as we waited for this little girl to be able to get hearing aids. As we waited she went through her day like she always had, desperately trying to comply with adult directions, trying to communicate with her peers, trying to figure out what she was suppose to be doing day in and day out. She smiled and nodded and tried to please us, guessing everyday about what we wanted her to do. It was heart breaking to watch her try to communicate- try to do whatever we asked, but never quite on target.
Today, after months of my co-workers' hard work and dedication, she entered school with shiny new hearing aids tucked behind her ears. She grinned at us and immedietly brushed her hair aside so we could check out her new jewlery. She could hear us. She could hear everything around her.

What was truly amazing was that it was as though she was seeing us for the first time as well. She noticed everything around us- asking us to label signs and materials in our room. She seemed to notice our class frog for the first time ever- she stared at him multiple times during the day, giggling and laughing as he splashed around in the tank, and begged multiple times to feed him. It was as though for the first time she could relax during the day and look around the room- no longer trying to stay on her toes to catch when she may be called on she was able to truly notice where she was.
When she drew pictures she included ears- something she had never done before. In pictures of herself she included her aids.

When we met with her in the speech-pathologists' office to awe over ears one of my former friends, now a third grader, appeared. She was coming to visit our SLP because, well, she had her own brand new ear jewlery. She isn't deaf, but her hearing is improved when she is aided. We got to watch the third grader and the kindergarten student compare equipment and stare at each other. Suddenly they were not alone with their hearing aids. We didn't even plan the encounter- but it couldn't have worked out better.

There were so many times we welled up with tears as we watched her explore her new world for the first time. My coworkers made this happen. They worked so hard, with ridiculous patience and love for this child as they struggled to make this happen. But they did it.

I love where I work. I am so blessed to work with so many dedicated people.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Outside factors

When I first started working at the think tank we had a little more than 500 students. It was easy to find parking in our massive parking lot. There were even classrooms used as offices or conference rooms, leaving them empty most of the time. Over time (but not that much time, I'm not that old), this has changed. We have classrooms in trailers and we keep adding trailers, or sets of trailers. We have such a large staff that it is impossible to find parking if you get to school late. Our classes are maxed out and it's hard for classrooms to find time to use the bathroom- as we added trailers, teachers and kids we didn't get to add new bathrooms. Our cafeteria is overcrowded and our poor pe, music and art teachers have so many classes to teach that they barely get a break. We are literally bursting at the seams.
To help with our over crowding the district is opening a new school and re-districting our neighborhoods. We should lose around 200 plus students, which might sound like a lot but all things considering isn't actually going to reduce our numbers by that much.

We all know we have to lose students. We look forward to the hallways being less crowded, teachers being less stressed and for kids to actually be able to have time to go to the bathroom. But reality is slowly setting in- losing students means actually losing real students, not numbers. Kids we love. Families we've worked for years.

They drew the boundaries so that our poorest neighborhood will go to another school. A school that is not walking distance from the neighborhood, for a neighborhood where most families do not drive.

Our school worked hard for years to bring these families into our school. We understood the importance of having these parents be partners with us in their children's education and we worked hard to make it happen. It was essential to bring these parents in, teach them about the American school system, and help them understand how they can support their children. We spent years building trust between these families. We know these children will have a chance because their parents are on their side and involved.

And now they have to leave us, for a school they can't access. This means they won't be able to come to parent teacher conferences. They won't be able to pick up their sick children from the clinic. They won't come to after school activities and take advantage of school programs.
What's worse is that to the school it will look like these families just don't care. Teachers will get frustrated and the relationship between school and home will start to crumble.

It's beyond frustrating. We know our school is too big- it has to shrink. And to shrink we have to lose some of the students we love. But to make our school smaller means taking the neighborhood that needs us the most. What will happen to those kids? It is such a reminder of all the factors that play a role in a child's success in education besides what happens directly in the classroom.

I hope the transition goes well. I hope the parents find a way to get to the school easily. I hope the relationships we've built transfer over to the new school.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Writing Workshop Conference

Me: Magical, what are you drawing?

Magical: My feet.

Me: Hmmmm.  Those look like a lot of lines. How many feet do you have?

Magical: I don't know!

Me: Well, let's look at your feet.

Magical: I can't- they are in my shoes!

Me:  Ok, well let's count your shoes.

Magical....  Hmmmm....  ONE.... TWO....  I HAVE TWO FEET!!!

I heart my job.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

third grade conversation

The Story Teller and his brother Brown Bear are currently homeless. They've been in and out of temporary housing since this summer and their parents are frantically looking for a new place to live. It's been heartbreaking to a third grader rely all of this information to me.

This morning the Story Teller came up to me with his large story-teller eyes.  "Mrs. Lipstick," he asked, "Do you know D?"

Of course I know D- The Story Teller and D have been together since their second year in kindergarten. I taught both of them for 3 years straight.

"Yes, I know D" I replied.

"Yeah, he said he's going to give me the number."
"A number for what?" I asked, figuring that D was just going to give the Story Teller his home number so they could have a play date.

"For a house. So I can call the man. And find a house to live in."

I was silent for a moment. How do you respond when you hear that two third graders have been chatting about their housing situation and that one third grader is planning on getting a number to help another third grader find housing?  Shouldn't they be talking about Godzilla and robots and playing soccer?

I love the empathy and love they show each other after being in the same class for 4 years. I just wish they didn't have to.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


I've spent the morning working on my students' progress reports. For students in special ed they get a numerical assessment and a comment for each of their personal goals and objectives each quarter along with the traditional report card. Although its time consuming I like that it is personalized specifically for them, and that I can write a comment. I'm not just giving a student a '3' (making some progress), I'm able to write that 85% of the time she can identify the number 3, which is up from 25% of the time last quarter. Since the goal is to identify the numbers 1-5 she still isn't close to getting a '4'- significant progress toward achieving the goal- but she is making progress.
Still, it's hard to sit here, going through pages and pages of data, wishing it showed more progress. I've been so proud of what they've all accomplished- felt everything was going so well. But to see the cold numbers- 85% of the time is lower than I thought- I thought we'd mastered the number 3. I thought one child never needed prompts to complete work but the data shows that no, I've been giving her a lot of prompts. My perceived progress isn't actually real progress. We still have a lot of work to do.
With students with special needs you can't just teach the material, you have to teach, reteach, sing, dance, repeat the material. It has to become so engrained in them as learners that they'll never forget it, and that no matter how much difficulty they have retrieving information in general, they'll always be able to access what you need them to know. 85% isn't where we want to be.
It's hard to write their progress reports and not reflect the progress I think we've made. Progress is happening everyday, it's just still progress and not achievement yet. I want to walk the line between cheering for what's been accomplished so that the parents can be rightfully proud of their children while still giving them a realistic assessment of where their child is.

Friday, January 13, 2012

True love

Brown Bear doesn't always like to comply with our rules and routines. Poor guy, school is a pretty demanding place and asks a lot of him. There are days when leaving our classroom is just too much and he refuses to go to music, PE or art. Today he'd refused to leave so he was in my room during first grade math time with my Rock Star.
I haven't written about Rock Star in awhile- but she continues to absolutely shine. She has an intellectual disability but is somehow sweet and spunky all in one. I've noticed that among her typical developing peers she is quiet and reserved- hesitant to even speak. She's fully aware of the gap between her and the other children. It's almost painful to watch her try to hide her difficulties from them. In my classroom however she let's herself shine- feeling safe around peers like herself.
Brown Bear is similar to her in a lot of ways. They both are mostly nonverbal and have intellectual disabilities. They both can be very strong willed when they want to be, but sweet other times.
This afternoon it was time to take Rock Star back to her room which meant Brown Bear had to come to. I didn't think this would go well at all. Brown Bear hates transitions and the idea of walking him to the first grade classroom and back filled me with dread. I looked up and down the hallway for help, hoping someone would be able to take one of the kids but no one was around. So I braced myself for the worst, and told them both to line up. Brown Bear yelled "no !"
Great, I inwardly groaned, this is going to be an amazing way to start my weekend- an end of day tantrum. Rock Star had other ideas. She stood up with one hand in her hip and one wagging a finger at Brown Bear. Stomping her foot she said his name sharply, pointing to his coat. Then as he sheepishly complied with her she carefully helped him into his coat and guided him down the hall. The whole way she kept her arm around him, coaxing him along. Both of them were grinning and I was fighting back tars. I've watched so many friends help Rock Star like that over the years. I've watched it transition from kids being friendly to friends bring inappropriately helpful to her- treating her more like a pet than a peer. I've seen what it did to her self esteem.
But here she was being the care taker of someone else. With just the right amount of firmness and friendliness she maintained the line between friendly helping and mothering appropriately. They both love the relationship- someone out there that gets them.
Seeing a kid look at Rock Star with love and admiration while seeing a kid look at Brown Bear with love and sisterly concern made me tear up. I love my job.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


Last summer when I was very pregnant and hiding inside the air conditioned house I submitted an article to Learning Landscape, a peer reviewed journal published twice a year. It was accepted and published this December.
Bored with nothing to do, or interested in teaching self-regulation? Check out the journal here:
I'm page 156.

Kindergarten literary jokes

This afternoon Brown Bear wanted nothing to do with us. My aide and I were in the midst of a power struggle with him and he was refusing to comply with anything we said. (I should point out that it was the sort of power struggle that ends with us wanting to go straight home and change clothes.)
He lay on his back and shouted "no!" whenever we asked him to go home. Then my brilliant aide bent over and whispered "purple sheep". Brown Bear started giggling immediately. "purple dog" she went on, and he practically balled up with laughter. We continued this banter all the way to kiss and ride with a suddenly very happy boy.
I love that he knows Brown Bear, Brown Bear well enough that merely changing the colors of the animals sends him into a fit of giggles. I love that he finds a purple sheep hysterical because he knows it really should be a purple cat.
I also love my quick thinking aide who knew what she knew about him to turn a frustrating situation into a happy one.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Oh, the boogers I've seen

I felt a light tap on my shoulder during reading workshop. I turned around slowly to find one of my sweet little girls standing behind me, holding out a tissue. A tissue filled with two of the largest boogers I've ever seen in my life. I don't understand how they came out of her nose since they were larger than her nostrils. She clearly didn't understand either because she looked at me in horror as she held out the tissue. As though showing someone
would make it less gross.
I don't know what's going around my room but everyone seems to be producing the same large, grey boogers. The joys of kindergarten.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Bad days

There are bad teaching days when the kids are crazy and even your best lessons fall flat. Then there are bad teaching days when it's totally your fault- lack of planning, no energy to react to misbehavior, not paying enough attention. Today was one of those days, with no one to blame but myself. Well, maybe also my baby who still isn't sleeping through the night. But she's too cute to blame.