Sunday, September 30, 2012

Quick- check out the address of this blog...

See anything different? Notice a blogspot in the title?


Mr. Lipstick surprised me the other day with my own domain name.

I feel so official now!

Oh, Lovely Mud!

Of course the day after writing a post titled "Giddy Job Love" is bound to be a reminder of everything that is NOT giddy or love. It's Murphy's Law. I mean, no teacher can write a post like that and then have a day of flowers and sunshine. It's just not possible.

My Friday started with a fire drill. A fire drill in the wet, soggy, almost grass-less field. And since it was Friday I was wearing my fun, red, canvas Friday shoes. Does anyone know what happens to fun, red, canvas Friday shoes when you wear them to stand in mud for ten minutes? The canvas fills with mud and water, sucking it up from the field as though it's trying to independently dry it up. This of course makes the canvas shrink and cling to one's skin.

In the words of Mrs. Wishy Washy's crazy farm animals, "OH lovely mud!"

So perhaps my Friday wasn't really so awful, it was just that teaching all day with wet, cold feet is bound to make anyone grouchy. Perhaps I need to keep my rain boots in school for this exact reason, although I don't think I'd really be permitted to change shoes specifically for a fire drill. The fire marshal might frown on that, although I'd like him to try to keep his patience all day with wet, cold feet?

Monday will be better. Monday I plan on having dry feet. I will be patient and thoughtful and forward thinking. I will use appropriate teacher language. I will reinforce good behavior and redirect unproductive behavior. I will not put my head on my desk and wonder what caused me to write about giddy job love.

*I should add that the one bright side of my Friday was finding the note the sub left me that said, "good plans." In ten years of teaching I have never, ever had a sub tell me I have good plans. The hours I've put into writing subplans- detailing every part of my class' day for ten years- and nothing. It's funny how two words could make me so illogically pleased. And of course after getting such praise my first thought is, "Oh yeah, next time I'll make them even better." It's amazing how inspirational a bit of praise can be.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Giddy job love

I. love. my. job.

I took the day off for my daughter's one year doctor's appointment. I ended up taking a full day off after realizing that going in for the morning would be confusing for the class and that it would just be easier for them to have a substitute for the whole day.

All week we've talked about how I'll be out. We made our "Guest Teacher Handbook" where we list the important information a substitute might need to know- like how we line up, what we do for snack, our favorite times of day (quiet time when we get to read books) and where we go for the fire drill. We marked the calendar with a sticky note to know when I'd be out. There was lots of reassuring to everyone that it was still going to be a great day even if I wasn't there.

There was also a bit of horror that I was taking my daughter to get shots.

"You know she's going to cry," one of my older students said in an accusatory tone. "If you give her shots she's going to cry."
"Is her mom driving her?" another asked.
"I am the mom" I replied.
"NO, you're a TEACHER. Is her mom driving her?"
"Why would you take her to the doctors and not stay with us? Why do you want her to get shots?!?"

This went on all day.

When I got home last night I realized I was going to miss them. Like, a lot. Don't get me wrong, I'm loving cuddling (ok, it is no longer cuddling, it is following her around trying to keep her from getting hurt and/or making a massive mess in our house) with baby Lipstick, but I love my job.

Last night I found myself frustrated that I wouldn't be there to carry out some of the routines we'd put in place this week. I had an idea for how to make one of my friends enjoy read alouds more that I can't wait to put in place. We've made so much progress in reading with one of my kiddos- I can't wait for the next time we have our reading group.

I come home almost giddy- tired, but giddy. The kids are awesome. I love the work. I find myself wondering why anyone teaches anything but this population. It is so much fun.

Don't get me wrong, I am exhausted and overwhelmed and always feel like there are at least 10 different things I could do better every day (at least), but despite all that- I love it. I kind of wonder if Mr. Lipstick is slipping something into my coffee every morning that's making me so happy.

So for right now I'm going to embrace the awesomeness of my kids, the job and my coworkers. I'm going to celebrate all the fun we have, our tiny baby step successes that we're making every day. I'm going to keep reflecting on what I can do better and try to stop worrying about everything that COULD go wrong. IEPs and paperwork and stress will come down the pike soon enough, but for right now life is good.

Monitoring my own teacher language

"Carpet Time!" one of my friends cheered from across the room. "Carpet time!" She waited until one of my friends came to the carpet.

"Sit!" she said loudly and cheerfully again. "Good! That's sitting!"

I sighed. "Whose the teacher?" I asked giving her that 'I mean business' teacher look. 

"Ugggghhhh! YOU are." she admitted with frustration and sat herself on the rug right beside the friend she'd been coaching to the carpet.

The thing is, she pretty much mimicked everything we'd say to the friend to bring him to the carpet. The two behavioral coaches I've worked with over the years have recommended using simple language and making it BIG- excited and animated to command attention. So that's what we've been doing. It's one thing coming from a teacher, it is quite another coming from another student.

The thing is they are ALL copying our language. Until I caught them talking to each other in 'teacher-speak' I didn't even realize how much we are adapting our language for each individual child- and apparently do this all day long- or enough that they've picked up our methods.

One friend benefits from having "this is the direction" stated before I give her a direction, or "this is the question" before the question. Another is given non-verbal warnings of her behavior- simply holding up one or two fingers to indicate where she is on the 1, 2, 3 Magic scale. Another benefits from the loud simple directions, while yet another is frequently joked with and given friendly teasing to encourage participation.

And they copy this for each other. In talking with each other I hear, "This is the question- do you want to sit by me at lunch?" or "Hey dude! Are you baby sitting for Mrs. Lipstick tonight?" I see fingers waving when one friend calls out on the rug to indicate "that's 1". At least I frequently hear "THANK YOU!" in an upbeat, pleasant voice- apparently I say thank you a lot. 

Although our method of communicating with each friend works I need to carefully monitor myself. If everything I say or any small pattern I use to communicate gets copied I have to be extremely mindful of the classroom community. What message am I sending to the other children when I alter my direction? Is my "this is the direction" voice sounding exasperated or just matter-of-fact? Do the other children think the student is in trouble when I phrase things in a certain way because I'm letting my own lack of patience shine through? Am I differentiating appropriately while still maintaining the right amount of respect for each student?

It's eerie to hear our voices through the kids after only 3 weeks of school. It's a huge reminder to watch my own teacher language. I need to make sure that anything that comes out of my mouth is something I am comfortable with them repeating to each other. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Reading to everyone

At the end of the day today my aid said, "I wish one of our kiddos would participate more during read alouds. When we work with her individually she pays attention, but during read alouds she zones out. It's like she's not even there."

She's right, and I can't stop thinking about it. For all of our fun read alouds, all of our dancing and chanting to Pete the Cat, yelling at Mrs. Wishy Washy, and arguing with the Pigeons he just sits there because that's what we're suppose to be doing. While everyone else is repeating lines or yelling back at that naughty Pigeon she's quiet, off in her own world.

I have her turn the pages in the book- sometimes- usually when I can tell that she's not paying attention to us- but even then I have to take her hand and help her turn the pages. When we're in a whole group lesson she's put up a wall keeping us out.

We'll ask her questions and give her visuals that she can use to point to, but she won't even look at the visuals with her eyes- she just gazes in the other direction and lets us gently take her hand and put it where it belongs.

I have physical objects I use for some read alouds that we hold up at certain parts in the story- but even then she doesn't seem interested. 

So much of our class community is build around our read alouds. We use read alouds as the basis of every lesson and every activity. We use read alouds when we need a break or we want to be silly or when I just can't decide what we'll do next. We HAVE to find a way to reach her and help her participate. 

How do we break down the wall and help her enter into our read alouds? 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Does no one care about cleanliness anymore?

After a month of pouting because my new school didn't order any Mrs. Wishy Washy books I finally discovered why- it's not that they hate children and children's literature or that they don't want children to read- it's that IT IS OUT OF PRINT.


How am I suppose to teach reading without Mrs. Wishy Washy?

Or entertain myself wondering about her crazy cleaning lifestyle?  

I don't understand.

What is wrong with you people? Did EVERYONE stop loving Mrs. WW? Did you find something better? Am I missing the next best thing in children's literature? 

Did she find counseling that helped her stop cleaning her farm animals? 

Why, oh why would they stop publishing these books?

They're not fab literature, but they get the job done. Now I'm desperate for book recommendations- what children's books are out there that:

-Tell a good story with a beginning, middle, and end that is easy to retell
-Using simple language and vocabulary words that most children know
-Use just a few lines on every page
-With entertaining pictures that get kids to pay attention (any other books out there that have a huge pig rear-end on the page??)
-Aren't obviously babyish so that they can be read by kindergarten through second graders?

Please, please help me! 

Monday, September 24, 2012

And then... *gasp, turn page slowly*...

A few years ago my Partner in Crime and I found that we had a group of kindergarten students who absolutely had no idea how to listen to books. Most had never been read to so they had no concept of the fact that if they sat and listened books could be fun. They didn't understand that they could hear a story, or that the pictures would entertain them, or that they needed to listen quietly to hear the exciting parts. After working with our literacy coach we decided to take one giant step backwards, throw out our current lesson plans and teach how to listen to a book.

This involved many dramatic and involved read alouds. Lots of singing and jumping with the text, pointing to the words and laughing, acting out stories, asking the kids to turn the pages, and just general "read it with me" whenever we read repetitive texts. We read stories over and over again, with the same amount of enthusiasm and energy each time. We looked for books that would excite them- not our favorite books, not books with beautiful pictures or good lessons- books that would hold their attention and make them want to see what happened next.

My teaching has never been the same.

Ever since then my beginning of the year read alouds are the equivalent of a one woman play. They are dramatic and engaging and fully involve the audience. We build community and our literacy skills all together and really spend time celebrating these books. We practically sing and dance to each book. Although some of my children cannot write their names or identify the letters in their names they can pick up a book from our "read aloud" pile and "read" it to themselves. They get lost in the books just like we adult readers do. They start to build the reason why they are going to work so hard on learning to write their names and learning their letters.

Here's a few of my favorite interactive read alouds:

-Anything by Mo Willems (The Pigeon Wants a Puppy, Piggy and Gerald, Knuffle Bunny)
-Mrs. Wishy Washy
-Pete the Cat (any of the books, but especially Rocking in my School Shoes)
-The Recess Queen
-Purple, Green, and Yellow by Robert Munch
-Thomas' Snowsuit by Robert Munch (OK, I save this one for winter, but it's a great interactive read aloud)
-Rhyming Dust Bunnies by Jan Thomas
-PJ Funny Bunny

What are your favorite exciting read alouds?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Kid-Lit Geek Moment

Why yes, that is me meeting Patricia Polacco. Yes, I was the crazy adult who rushed the stage in the PBS Kids tent after she finished reading her latest book. To my credit I did wait patiently while she talked to the child in front of me. 

Other than Sandra Boyton (because Little Lipstick is a such a huge fan of Hippos Go Beserk that we read it at least 5-10 times a day) I am not sure if there is another author whose books I've read so many of, so many times. Reading Thank You, Mr. Falker to a new class each year is one of my favorite moments of teaching.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Happy Book Festival To You!

The air is getting crisper, the leaves are starting to turn, Starbucks is selling their pumpkin latte again and the students are *starting* to settle into somewhat of a routine. It's mid-September which means only one thing...

The National Book Festival is almost here!

I don't even know where to begin with my excitement.  Let's see...

John Green, the author of some of the best teen books around (why, oh why wasn't he writing when I was going through my own painful teenage angst) will be speaking at 10. His books are quick reads- you still have time to read Will Grayson, Will Grayson, or The Fault in Our Stars before Saturday!

Anna Dewdney, the author the Llama Llama series (if you haven't read these books aloud you absolutely need to) will be speaking at 4:25.

Lois Lowery, nothing further needed, is speaking at 12:45.

Peter Reynolds, author of Dot and Ish (who I got to meet last summer at ISTE) is going on the story telling stage on Sunday at 3:55

And then...

my favorite author of all authors...

Patricia Palocco on Sunday at 12:55. Her book Thank You, Mr. Falker pretty much sums up why I teach.

Now, just a slight problem with the fact that I have to work around Baby Lipstick's nap schedule.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

My turn, your turn

Last week I sat down to start my first guided reading lesson of the year. Unfortunately one of my students was absent so I ended up with a group of one. After my very peppy and excited book intro where we looked through the book and labeled the pictures, I planted the needed vocabulary words I handed the book to the student.

"You're turn!" I said with excitement. "Let's read and find out what happens!"

The student responded with a huge smile, "Great!" she said and practically grabbed the book from my hands. Ahhh, such a love of learning, I found myself thinking, taking a moment to bask in the excitement of a student with a new book.

I was quickly brought back down to earth when I realized that the student was holding the book up in front of me, just like I'd done moments earlier, and was copying my book talk with just as much pep and excitement as I'd shown.

"Mrs. Lipstick, what is the baby doing? Is she crying or laughing?" she pointed to the picture using her best teacher voice, even pausing to give me just enough wait time to answer.

Needless to say she was a bit disappointed when I explained it was her turn to read the book, not be the teacher. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Differentiating Responsive Classroom- Logical Consequences

After years teaching a general education classroom I have forgotten how to teach without using logical consequences. Because they are exactly what they say they are- logical- they are so easily naturally embedded into the classroom that I find it's easier to use them than not use them.

Last week I tackled teaching the beginnings of logical consequences- 'You break it, you fix it', or as I like to call it, "Be a problem solver".

In the general education classroom I'd have children brainstorm the possible scenarios that might fall into a 'you break it, you fix it' category. Knocking over crayons, ripping a friend's paper, spilling water on the floor. Then I'd have the children each draw a pictures on index cards- one picture for the problem and one for the solution.

This year, because drawing isn't one of the things we enjoy as much as some children- I found it was more meaningful for me to act out the problems. I physically dropped the crayons on the floor and then asked the class how I should fix it. I'd choose someone to come model for us what we should do. I took pictures of the problem and the solution so we'd have a visual reminder of how we fixed the problem.

We tackled the same issues that we'd tackle in the gen ed room- trash on the floor, bumping into a friend, spilling juice- we just used interactive modeling and the digital camera instead of asking the class to draw it.

Then I gave our whole class a hands-on task. All of our linking cubes were "broken". When we'd gotten them they were in sticks of ten but now they are all separated. We'd better fix it! I gave each child a set of cubes and asked them to fix them with us. We'd broken them together the week before, so now we need to fix it.

It was a meaningless task- I have no intention of actually keeping my linking cubes in ten sticks, but it gave us all a chance to practice "you break it, you fix it". It also helped solidify the lesson into our memory. We all repeated the phrase while we worked on fixing our problem and we celebrated when we'd finished fixing our problem.

The next day when I brought out the poster to make review what we'd done the day before the whole class immediately cheered, "You break it, you fix it! Be a problem solver!"

Just like I would in the general education class I am continuing to watch them closely and label when I catch them fixing a problem. When I see someone picking up crayons I refer back to our poster and talk about how this is all a part of our rock star plan.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A present to our class

Every year my favorite opening of the year activity is wrapping up our books and presenting them to our class as a present that we'll use every single day. Is there anything better than the gasps and excitement of listening to children rip open packages only to find boxes full of books?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Saturday morning home visits

As I walk up the steps of the building I can see the little heads peaking out the windows, hands waving with excitement at the idea of a teacher coming into the neighborhood- the building- the house. The head disappears from the window as I knock on the door. My knock is followed by a long pause- did they hear me, I wonder, as I hear whispers and what sounds like last minute cleaning. Something bumps the door on the other side- children fighting to peek through the peep hole. I try to smile, not knowing who is watching me.

The door opens and I'm greeted by the extended family. A tour of the main room- the child's baby pictures displayed proudly on the walls, art work from previous years taped up with pride. Notes from previous teachers stuck to the refrigerator. This is a family proud of their child.

We laugh, all of us- the parents, the child, the cousins, the uncles, the aunts. Someone translates for those who don't speak English, even if it means calling a relative to translate by speaker phone. We talk about how the year is going, how proud of the child we are, our shared hopes and dreams for the child. I listen as I hear their fears, their dreams, their concerns. I promise to try my hardest to make those dreams happen, to prevent those fears from coming true.

We high five and hug, laugh some more and promise to see each other Monday.

I leave the building with little heads peeking out at windows watching me walk away just as they watched me walk in.

I get into my car on a home-visit high and drive home to my own family, my daughter waiting for me to cuddle and play with her. I can't think of a better way to spend a Saturday morning.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Differentiating Responsive Classroom- Our class rules

Typically in opening a classroom following the Responsive Classroom philosophy we develop our hopes and dreams and then use our hopes and dreams to talk about what we need to do to get to achieve them. From there we come up with a long list of all the rules we need to do (safe hands, raise your hand, sit quietly, listen to the teacher... all the mundane rules) and then we'd sort that long list into 3-4 categories like "Take Care of Yourself", "Take Care of Others" "Take Care of Your Environment". Those categories would become our class plan (or rules).  I usually made a cute poster that we could hang in the classroom to refer to.

This year I didn't think we were ready for such abstract concepts. So we worked backwards. First I took pictures of them doing all the things we want them to do. In the first few days of school it isn't hard to catch kids sitting quietly, sharing, listening to the teacher, or walking slowly. And if all else fails, you can always ask a kid to model raising their hand for you so you can get a good snap shot- which is totally what we had to do...

Then from the pictures we talked about what we noticed that was great in each one. The kids came up with the labels on their own- Sarah is sitting quietly. Her mouth is closed. Her eyes are forward. Kerry is sharing with Johnny. Johnny is raising his hand. For each picture we'd settle on one main rock-star behavior- raising hand, working hard, sitting quietly, etc. We wrote that on the poster and then displayed that with the picture in our meeting area where we are sure to see it.

We did one at a time until we covered our main behaviors. In the general education classroom I would go for more general rules or "plans" as I called them then. I feel I need to be more specific and concrete with this population of children. However, that doesn't mean the plan/rules still can't be positive, meaningful, and feel child-generated. I hope my students still feel that they own our class plan.

Once we made all our posters then we talked about all the things we want to do in school. We made our hopes and dreams clouds and displayed them for the world to see. We talked about how our hopes and dreams can happen when we follow our Rock Star Behaviors on our wall.

Same theory, just a bit more concrete and specific.

Now that the posters are up we refer to them frequently. The kids love using themselves as models of good behavior- seeing themselves raise their hand in a picture is an excellent reminder that they can do it- and will do it!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Differentiating Responsive Classroom

When I was a first grade classroom teacher I didn't know how to teach without following Responsive Classroom's structure and philosophy. I followed it closely and truly believed in it's tenets. The books and workshops have made me a much better teacher.

Now that I'm back in my own classroom I find myself falling back to the RC methods frequently. Although my children are considered part of the "Intellectual Disabilities Program" and all have IEPs I find that Responsive Classroom still makes the most sense in how to open a classroom, set up routines and expectations. In fact, in some ways it makes even more sense than it does in the general education curriculum.

I follow the First Six Weeks of School pretty closely, and it's perfect for my children. We need to slowly open up our classroom together- learning how we'll use glue, pencils, markers, crayons and paper. We need to practice our routines, develop our class rules together and build a strong community. 

Most importantly, we need to learn to work independently. Many of my students are use to people doing things for them. They may take more time to complete an activity that other kids their age can do quickly so typically teachers and friends just go ahead and do it for them to speed things along or help them out. Because of that most of them will happily let you do anything for them- and aren't really excited to work by themselves. My entire goal in these first few weeks is to teach everyone that we work independently.

(Of course, when I was a general education first grade teacher that was my goal as well. Typical six year olds need that practice just as much as my current kiddos.)

Morning Meeting is essential for my kiddos with Intellectual Disabilities. It sets the tone for the day and naturally embeds teaching those social skills like eye contact, shaking hands, using a loud voice, and smiling when you talk to someone. Morning meetings pretty much run the same in my ID classroom as they did in my gen ed classroom. Same social skills expectations, same structure, same amount of fun.

I plan to keep tracking how I use and differentiate the typical RC experiences in an ID classroom.  

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


When I first realized that all the toilets in our new building automatically flushed the general education teacher in me thought "Brilliant! No more interrupting a guided reading group to remind a kiddo to flush from across the room. A kiddo whose been in the bathroom a loooonnnggg time so you know that if you don't remind him to flush you'll be interrupted by the next student who goes into the bathroom and is disgusted by what they find. Those mid-reading announcements are learning buzz kills. "Ms. L!!! Johnny left something brown in the toilet and it's floattttinnngggg...." " Now try to get your little readers back on track.

Plus I am tired of getting dirty looks from my husband every time I ask him if he flushed. It's not my fault that anytime anyone comes out of a bathroom my first instinct is to ask them if they flushed and then check their hands to see if they are damp from being washed. You remind enough children to flush and wash their hands everyday you'll be doing it to total strangers too.

Then the special-ed teacher in me took over.


These toilets flush- automatically.

They make a big, whirring noise without anyone telling them it is acceptable to do so?

So, the child who is terrified of the loud noise in the bathroom- the child who would rather use diapers than have to flush the toilet- that child will now have NO control over whether or not the toilet suddenly decides to yell at him.

The child who previously would only be coaxed into the bathroom on the promise of not having to flush will now be forced endure the dramatic bathroom hurricane coming up behind her when she's done nothing to indicate to the toilet that she'd like it to take her business away.

Let's face it- the flush is about control. It's about saying, "OK, I'm done. Now be gone with you!"

 "Now, I've decide it's time for you to make your loud poop-eating roar."

Yet now the toilet has the loud noise AND the control. And if you are in a battle with someone who is louder than you and has more control than you everyone knows that your best option of winning is clearly not to acknowledge your opponents existence.

Toileting training will go well this year I see.

*Also, how about all those poor gen-ed parents who previously benefited from their kids learning to flush the toilet at school? Now kids will just assume that all toilets flush for you. They'll hop off and run away without thinking twice- leaving a whole bunch of homes smelling like roses, I'm sure.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Quiet (or not so quiet) time

My absolute favorite time of day so far this year is quiet time. Right when we get back from lunch the kids go sit on the carpet. We keep the lights off and I put in this CD with quiet music (I got it years ago on a morning Starbucks run and it is seriously the best kids music album ever- Sarah McClachlan singing The Rainbow Connection? Yes, please). In baskets beside the carpet I have books- one basket for books we've read as a class, one for books we've written, and another set of whatever social studies/science theme we're studying (right now it's back to school books). The kids get cozy with books for a few minutes while we calm down from the excitement of the cafeteria and try to regroup for the afternoon.

This group of kids loves quiet time. I find myself saying, "You can read it again during quiet time" all day long because all they want to do is get their hands on our read alouds.

So far this year I don't have a lunch time or a planning block so I'm usually frantically eating my own lunch while watching quiet time take place. In just six days it's become this totally independent event. The kids each get one of their favorite books and "read". The carpet isn't exactly quiet- one girl is rocking out to Pete the Cat while another is re-enacting a Piggy & Gerald story- but they are each independently absorbed in a book for an extended period of time. There is nothing better than looking up to see five children totally immersed in texts.

One little girl was essentially non-verbal the first few days of school. Except when we read Pete the Cat. Now during quiet time she reads loudly and with authority. "Rocking in my school shoes!" she sings, and then turns the page. "Goodness no!" she exclaims, and turns the page again to sing the book one more time. No adult near her, no one telling her to stay on the carpet, do her job, turn the pages correctly, or read the book. Nothing but self motivated reading.

I love my job.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

What's inside?

I continue to absolutely love my class. They are amazing and are going to push me to learn so much.

Most of them have already surprised me in so many ways. As many children with intellectual disabilities do, they can appear as though they are not as capable as their general education peers. Yet in only the second day I'm already seeing amazing glimmers of their bright abilities shinning through. I give them activities I think they are going to struggle with and they fly with them independently. Some rarely speak but when prompted in just the right way they are able to share what they know. Now it's my job to figure out exactly the right way to prompt them in order to see what they know and then determine the best way to build onto what they have.

Right now I can barely keep a linear thought- I have so many goals and ideas for each child that by the time I pick up the pen to jot myself a note I've thought of something else and I've lost my original thought. The classroom community is coming though. It might not be pretty yet but we're working our way there. If I can just stay focused on one idea long enough to pull out a coherent lesson plan we'll be good to go...

Book Love

As I called my students over to the carpet today one of my little girls squealed with delight. She'd caught the corner of a Gerald and Piggy book and just KNEW we were going to dive into reading it. I hadn't actually planned on reading the book- I'd planned something much more boring- something that didn't involve me making different voices in front of the other teachers I'm still getting to know- but how do you NOT read Gerald and Piggy after such pure delight?

So we did.

I thought most of them weren't very engaged. Gerald and Piggy have a sense of humor that can be hard to follow for some students. I tried to make it as engaging as I could but I closed the book a bit disappointed. After the friend's original squeal I'd set my Gerald and Piggy expectations way too high.

Later in the day I was frantically getting things ready for the next activity while I had the children sitting on the rug having quiet time. Two little girls cuddled up beside each other.

"Hey," one whispered to the other, "I'll be the pig and you be the elephant!"
"OK!" the friend giggled.

Together they pointed and giggled and "read" the story the best they could. I hung back, amazed and in awe at the unprompted book talk occurring under my nose on the first day of school.

Did I mention it is going to be an awesome year?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

First day reflections

I am curled up on my couch, nursing a glass of wine and trying to fully comprehend everything that happened today.

My kids are ROCK STARS. I mean, I absolutely adore my students. We rock. The other teachers I work with rock as well. We had lots of smiles, lots of songs and dancing and singing. We read Pete the Cat twice and sang along both times. We read two Gerald and Piggy books and giggled at those crazy friends and their antics.

It's my first time teaching in what is considered an "Intellectual Disability Program" which essential means that the children in our program are not necessarily the children who live in the school's boundaries. Instead they are children from around the county who are bused to a school that houses a program like ours. I still have a lot to learn in terms of how these programs work.

For one, the busing is a bit overwhelming. All of our students ride buses that are different from the school's neighborhood buses since they are coming from all over. This means the bus routes are not as smoothly set as the buses for the neighborhood. The buses are late, which means we get our children late and it means they leave late. I can't even tell you how sad it was to see our children sitting so quietly with their heads down, fighting sleep at the end of a very long day, when all of their peers had gone home. I know it will get better (we've already gotten an email about the changes they've put into place for tomorrow) and it is just first day kinks, but it was rough to watch them patiently wait for buses that seemed to never come.

Then there is the schedule. We don't have one yet. We're still working out when our children are included in their other classes and when they stay with us, which means right now I don't have a full schedule. No lunch break or planning period for me. I ate half a sandwich during "quiet time" after lunch and finished it off on my frantic drive to pick up Baby Lipstick (I was a full 30 minutes late). Again, just first week kinks- I have no doubt it will get better- I always just forget how hard the first week really is with so much up in the air.

I hate to sound like I am complaining because seriously, my kids rocked today. I know I have a lot of areas where I can improve as a teacher and a lot I can learn about teaching a class full of children with intellectual disabilities, but I think it is going to be a great year. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

It's about the kids

All weekend I've been a crazy nervous wreck about this upcoming week. It was my daughter's first birthday and even among the first birthday excitement I couldn't get myself to stop thinking about school. Yet as I worried and chewed on my finger nails and contemplated whether or not I was going to survive the year I realized something-

I was doing it again-

I was making it about ME and not about the kids.

Whenever I found myself getting truly nervous I realized I was thinking about myself. Does the principal respect me as a teacher? Last week when I said "x" and meant "y" and maybe he actually heard "I hate kids" ? Am I going to lose control of my class and the whole school will think I'm a terrible teacher? Will everything think I am lazy because I have to run out the doors to go pick up my daughter? Will the principal decide from watching me teach in a five minute block that I shouldn't ever be a teacher? Will I remember to turn in my emergency care cards in alphabetical order? Will I say the wrong thing to a parent and have the parent hate me from day one? Will I remember to smile at my coworkers or will my stress get the best of me and everyone will hate me? What if I make a mistake and no one will immediately judge me?

Ridiculous, I know, but I can't stop. The 'what ifs' and the trying to see how other people interpret my actions can eat me alive. Especially in a new place where everyone is trying to prove themselves.

Then, in the midst of all that 'what if' stress this weekend I found myself thinking about the kids I met last Thursday. Their smiles, their parents' smiles, their little faces, the fun we're going to have, and how I need to adapt and change the room for them. And in those thoughts- the thoughts about how I will actually do my job- I find myself calming down. My heart stops racing and I stop biting my nails and grinding my teeth. I start smiling at the thought of them coming into our room tomorrow. I find myself getting excited as I anticipate what we'll need to put in place to make everyone successful.

It's about the kids.

It's not about me and how others see me. It's not about whether or not the principal trusts me or thinks I'm a good teacher. It's not about whether or not I'll make mistakes. I will make mistakes. We all do. I will say things that can be interpreted two ways. I will feel self conscious and awkward. But none of that is important.

What's important are the five little friends who will enter my room tomorrow. The five families who are praying that their child will have a good year with a teacher who loves him/her. The five sets of eyes wondering what their year at their new school will be like.

It's about them.

I can't wait.