Monday, December 30, 2013

I Have Something You Don't Have

My class is so great!  At our holiday party last week, they presented me with a basket full of my favorite things.  They had baking books, lots of chocolate, and Tic Tacs. They know me very well.  And then they surprised me with a very unique and fun gift that I never would have expected.  Can you find it in the picture below?  

If you missed it, check out the close up picture here -->

Yep.  That's right.  I received a mirror ball.  A disco ball.  A Time's Square NYE ball or whatever you want to call it.  

I couldn't wait to hang it up.  And although I raced out of the school on the last day before break to head to the airport and catch a plane, I stopped into my classroom today to get it hung up.  I strategically placed it by a light so it will reflect, and on a hook so it will turn and move. I wanted it hanging up when the kids return to school. 

Words cannot even begin to describe how cool this gift is.  First of all, it was such a surprise.  Never in a million years would I ever have expected to open a gift from eight year olds and find a mirror ball.   Secondly, it's shiny and bright and sparkly.  Classroom bling, if you will.  Super!  What classroom wouldn't be better off with a reflecting, silver mirror ball?

It's rather coincidental that my formative years occurred in the 70's.  You know.... Saturday Night Fever, Go-Go boots, mini skirts, polyester pant suits, Farrah Fawcett hair styles, Studio 54, the Hustle, and disco. So the fact that I received a mirror/disco ball is perfect.  The parents probably had no idea how spectacular this gift would truly be.

I have to admit, I loved disco music in the 70's and I still love it today. Now before you get the wrong idea and not talk to me again, it's not like I have a radio station on all disco all the time in my car or anything.  But truth be told, the only way I can run on the treadmill for more than ten minutes is if I have my iPhone playing Pandora's Disco channel.  Hey people.. it works.  I can run a fairly decent 5K with Funkytown, Brickhouse, and We Are Family blasting.  It's much more motivating to run to that music genre than some of the others.  [think: rap]

After receiving my gift, I had to call several people and let them know that I had, in fact, received the BEST TEACHER GIFT IN THE WORLD.  Of course I made them all guess first what they thought it could be and they all failed.  No one even came close, although one guessed wine.  Which, by the way, I also received this year.  And is also a great teacher gift.   

I'm thinking I'll introduce some 70's music into my playlist of songs when we return to school in January.  Up until now, The Beatles and Chubbie Checker's 'The Twist' have been pretty popular in my classroom.   [Don't judge me people]  Mostly, I stick with classical music, but nothing settles down a roomful of wigglers more than doing the twist for five minutes.  If you don't believe me, give it a try.   I'm thinking I'll try some Kool & The Gang:  Celebration

Teacher friends, although I'm sure I do, indeed, have something you (and 99% of the population) don't have, please stop by when we return to school for a look at the mirror ball.  

And if we happen to be doing the Hustle, don't hesitate to join in.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Fifty Shades of Cray-Cray

If you ever get the urge to find out what you are really made of, go teach in an elementary classroom a week before a holiday break.  I promise you it will test your patience, your flexibility, your organzational skills, your presentation abilities, your self-control, and your sense of humor.  Case in point, today marked just six days shy of the much anticipated and needed upcoming Winter Break. Even for the most experienced teacher, these days can be quite challenging.  

It's not really the kids' fault.  They are so excited about the prospect of two full weeks out of school, and presents, and fun that it can be very difficult to try and listen to your teacher rattle on about a "Step Inside" writing piece as a Native American or how interesting the commutative property for multiplication can be.     Even the animal research project that they are all very excited about doesn't hold their attention for very long.

They arrive loud and take longer to settle down for the day.  They dilly dally in the hallways and bathroom.  Their shenanigans are constant.  They talk and they talk and they talk.   Today at lunch I even took away their normal "Friday Magic School Bus Lunch Movie"  because they were misbehaving so much.  As a teacher, I mean business.  After announcing that there would be no lunch movie today, they became eerily quiet.  For a minute.  And then they began chatting and laughing and carrying on.  I fought the urge to give in and play the movie just so I could have some peace and quiet at lunch.  But I stayed strong.

As I wandered around at lunch, I overheard a table of girls talking about the upcoming Variety Show (a.k.a. Talent Show).  They were excitedly discussing ideas of what they might do in the show.

"Mrs. Jeppson!  Mrs. Jeppson!" called out one little girl waving her hands in the air. 

"What? What?" I replied turning back to their table as I ate my yogurt.  During these 'days before a break' teachers need to be always on high alert, thus I was eating my lunch as I walked around the room.

"Can teachers be in the variety show?" she asked. 

"We ARE in the variety show," I reminded her.  "Remember? We all do an act at the very end of the show."   Although calling it an "act" is quite the stretch.    

Teacher Act: Last Year

"Oh, yahhh..." she drawled and all the others at her table giggled. 

"Way's always a good time!   Remember that super act from last year?" I said.  "What kind of act do you think we should do this year?"

They looked at one another, thinking about what teachers could possible do in the show.

"Gymnastics!" shouted out one little girl, smiling.  "You could all do gymnastics!" 

With that, I laughed out loud, picturing twenty or more teachers doing cartwheels and somersaults on stage.  It was amusing. 

"Well, I'm not sure that all of us would be very good at gymnastics," I told them. "And we probably don't have the right outfit.  Got any other ideas?"  

They shook their heads no and got back to eating as I wandered off to see why one little one was under the table and another was sitting backwards on his chair. 

Soon, one of the little girls approached me again.  

"We have another idea of what the teachers can do in the show," she informed me, smiling ear to ear.  

"Super!" I said.

"Can you roller skate?" she asked.  

"Of course I can roller skate," I answered.  "And I'm sure all the other teachers can do that too. But I'm not sure we would all fit on the stage."

"You could always Tango!" she added.  

"Tango!!!"  At this I grabbed her hands and danced around the room a bit, trying out my best Tango while she giggled and the other lunchers watched in amusement.  At this point, if you can't beat 'em, you join 'em.

Today, all of my skills were tested.  Patience. Flexibility.  Self-control.  Sense of humor. But there was a lot of positivity in the day, as well.

This morning our principal and office secretaries made all the teachers a pancake breakfast.  I received a wonderful positive note from a teacher friend.  One little one grounded himself off the Netbook when he was playing a game that he shouldn't have been playing.  My team is really getting our act together this year and accomplishing so much.   

And, we are one day closer to the two week break.  

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Cold Hands, Warm Heart

We've been in the midst of a little cold snap this week here in the mitten state.  Yesterday it was so cold we had indoor recess but today, luckily, the temperature (with wind chill factored in) crept up to a toasty 11 degrees so the kids could bundle up and head outside to play.   Snowflakes circled around, turning the playground into a wintry wonderland.  Spectacular to watch from inside, as far as I'm concerned.   

But, they are kids, so when outdoor recess was announced, they cheered and clapped and looked out the window, anxious to get outside and have some fun.  I stood in the hallway before recess and watched the little ones shimmy into their snow pants and squeeze their feet into their winter boats.  I watched as they tried to zip their coat with their mittens on.   Trust me, that one never gets old.  And yes, there's always one who decides he/she has to go to the bathroom after they are completely dressed and zipped.

I stood at the end of the coat racks and stretched my arms out blocking their way. 

"Nobody can pass go without a hat, gloves, zipped coat, snow pants, and anything else you brought from home on," I announced as I surveyed the empty coat hooks and the hallway now covered with bags, shoes, and other miscellaneous clothing.

"It's C-O-L-D outside today!" I stated and some of them nodded their heads.  We had checked out during lunch and they all understood how chilly it would be outside today as we discussed temperature and wind chill.  If you live in Michigan, wind chill is important information in the winter.

At this, the bell rang and most of them began waddling towards me, swishing in their nylon pants barely recognizable in their bundled up outfits. They were so excited to get out into the snow.   I smiled down the hallway as the last of them stomped around the corner, and headed back into my warm classroom to grade the mound of papers I had been accumulating.

But first, I watched out the window as the kids slid, screamed, laughed and played in the falling snow, seemingly oblivious to the frigid air. They rolled around on the ground, picked up snow, and twirled in circles.   Just try not to smile when you watch a kid playing in the snow or sticking their tongue out to taste the falling flakes. It's impossible.

Soon enough, they were back inside, bringing with them an enormous mess of wet clothes, melting snow, and boots, tangled together in the hallway and spilling into the classroom.  I walked around them, helping pick up and hang up.  Picture twenty-four pairs of boots and coats along a fifteen foot wall space.   Their bright red cheeks and sparkling eyes told the story of recess.  Cold. Fun. Snow.   Worth every chilly minute.

No less than seven students came up to me and asked me to feel their cheeks or hands.  One even asked me to feel how cold his feet were.  (I declined).   One little darling stepped up to me and held out both her tiny hands, now bright pink from the cold.  

"Feel how cold my hands are," she demanded.  As if I've never felt cold hands before. Sheesh.  

I reached out both of my hands to clasp hers together inside of mine and gently rubbed them together.  When the others saw this, a line instantly began to form.  Apparently, just like in the classroom, if you wait in line for me, I will help you with anything.

"My! They are cold!  Did you have mittens on?" I asked her, as I shooed the others towards the classroom.

"Um-huh," she replied inching closer to me.  "But it's 10 degrees outside.  Even mittens won't keep your hands warm today."  

She had a point.  Tonight temperatures are dropping to single digits - below 0 with wind chill.  Now that's cold. 

Although the kids love going outside, even on the coldest of day, hats off to the women in my school who head outside on these bitterly cold days for recess duty.   

Just promise me in this weather, you'll keep your hat on. Or you can't pass go.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Time Of Your Life

All of my life I have been a clock-watcher.  An 'always on-time' kind of person.  When I truly want to relax, like for example when I go on vacation, I remove my watch and try to not think about what time it is every minute of the day.  It's a challenge.

Today during "Take Ten", the morning snack time for my little ones, one of my CEOs (Classroom Executive Officers) went over to my computer to set the countdown clock for their precious ten minutes of snack and talking with friends time.  They get to choose
from a variety of fun little timers, like a snail race, hour glass, swimmers and more.  

Suddenly four or five students started pointed, laughing and screeching at the Promethean board where the countdown clock was displayed.  It read 90:30:00.  The boy had mistakenly input the nine minutes, thirty seconds to read ninety hours, thirty minutes.  A real cause for alarm in the classroom.  They were in a tizzy.

"Simmer down!" I exclaimed as I headed over to my computer.  "I don't think we'll be having a ninety hour snack time today.  We have way too much to do!"  

A couple students giggled as the red-faced boy was clearing and resetting the timer.

"Boy!" laughed one.  "I would be an old man by the time the clock ran out!" he said to his table of friends.  They all nodded in agreement. 

Really?  Ninety hours?  I smiled to myself, thinking of the many weeks where I worked ninety hours.  Well, alright, maybe not ninety, but it felt like that.  How adorable that this little one thought ninety hours would make him an old man. Eight years + ninety hours = old.  If that were the case I'd be in the Guiness Book of World Records.  I guess in all honestly, four or five days is actually quite a long length of time to a kid. 

Time can be a funny thing.  We run out of it.  We give it.  We get punished with time-outs as a kid and we never have enough of it. We get time off from work and put in time on the job.  We enjoy time and we waste time.   We mark time and we take our time.  We watch time fly and time is of the essence.   
Time is different in a kid's life.   A day can seem like an eternity.  Waiting for gym time after lunch can be like a life sentence when you're eight.  On the contrary, in an adult's life, time seems to speed up every year as we get older.  

We all could benefit from being reminded to take time to smell the roses.   Live in the present.  I'm lucky that I get to spend the majority of my time with young, enthusiastic, happy, curious, excited little ones. 

Let's enjoy every minute of the time we have. 

(Listen to one of my favorite songs: Green Day: Time Of Your Life)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

I've Fallen And I Can't Get Up

I can't quite put my finger on it, but this has been a rough year as far as keeping a positive attitude.  Last year at this time, I was still smiling every day, happy-go-lucky,
blogging my brains out with sappy, optimistic posts of life in a 3rd grade classroom.  Any non-teachers reading would have wanted to quit their job and go back to school to get their teaching certificate pronto so they could have as much fun as I was every day. 

Last year, at this time,I had to actually choose which story I was going to write about each day as there were countless positive moments throughout the day that I kept track of for later blogging.  I responded to each and every teacher's greeting in the hallway with a vibrant, "I'm great!  How are you?" as I bounded down the hallway.  And I meant it.

Honestly, this year every morning as I drive to school, I complete a checklist in my brain of positive thoughts in an attempt to put myself into a happy frame of mind.  It usually goes something like this:

Today is going to be a great day. I work with fun people.  I have a great family and friends.    My class has wonderful little boys and girls who look to me every day to teach them, take care of them, and encourage them.  My mood will become their mood so I owe it to them to be positive and happy.  Forget about the little things.  Don't let all the BS be so overwhelming.  Live in the moment. Be happy for all you have.   

It works for a while.  I greet the students in the hallway and quickly put out a few "issues", and hang up several coats, as I herd them into the classroom.  I smile and welcome them and tell them we are going to have a fabulous day of learning as I review the daily schedule on the board.  Everything seems right on track to be a positive day.

Usually it's just after lunchtime that I begin to feel the slide.  Instead of joking back with a shouter-outer during social studies, I'm more terse and demand more focus.  Their silliness catches like fire around the room many days and I spend way too much time trying to contain some of them.  It's utterly, completely, 100% exhausting.  There are twenty-four of them and one of me.  

I'm only human.  Sometimes I lose my patience.  Sometimes my replies to them are short and clipped. Sometimes I make them do it over.   Sometimes I refuse to repeat the directions for the fifth time. Sometimes I just want to sit down at my desk and put my head down and not have to do anything.  

I've been searching high and low for the cure for this more negative attitude.  But I know deep down, it's not the kids.  It's not all the issues happening around the state with education.  It's not the lack of respect for my profession or the incredible amount of paper work. It's not the extra hours of work at home or the testing, testing, testing.  

It's me. 

Last year I told myself I was going to have a very positive year and look on the bright side.  And it worked.  I guess this year I've lost my focus.  

But no matter what it takes, I will find it again and get back on track.  So if you see me in the hallway, please give me a reminder of the reason teachers do what they do every day.

Smile.  And just give me a minute while I get back up.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Hot Potato

My new "hot potato"
Last weekend while out running errands, I saw a "Hot Potato" game at the Five Below store for $3.00 and picked it up thinking it would be great to use in the classroom somehow.   You see, us teachers are always, and I mean always thinking about school, our kids, teaching, no matter where we are or what we are doing.  The fact that I didn't know what or if I would use it didn't matter.  I had to have it.  

I tucked it away in my closet at school Monday morning, noticing the "Two AA batteries not included" notation on the front of the box.  That would probably be the biggest obstacle in using it in my classroom.  It wouldn't be the first item to sit in my closet all year simply due to the fact I didn't have all the pieces. 

I open and close that closet several times a day as I get out our classroom Netbooks, grab a piece of chocolate for myself, or search for paper plates or plastic utensils for kids to use with their lunch.  Kids being kids, they love to look inside and see all the very interesting things that "teachers keep in their closets".  After all, it is also the closet where I hide away the birthday gifts that I give to students that I purchase through Scholastic book order points.  I imagine it's a very magical closet to a kid.  It's the closet where, no matter what we are searching for, can always be found inside.  Yarn, magnets, paper bags, you name it, it's probably stored somewhere inside this closet. 

So, today, during indoor recess, I noticed the kids had a little ball and had arranged themselves in a circle on the back carpet and were playing a game of "Hot Potato".  
Hmmmmm.   Interesting.  We've had several indoor recesses already and not once had they played this game. In fact, in all my years of teaching I have never witnessed a game of "Hot Potato".   I couldn't help but wonder if one of them had seen the game in my closet and decided to organize a game today during recess.

So, as the kids were reading at IDR time, I came into the classroom, strolled over to the closet and took the "Hot Potato" game out.  Instantly,the class was riveted.  Their eyes got big and they mouthed "HOT POTATO" to each other.  I walked to my desk and opened the box.   

"Are we going to play "Hot Potato"? squealed one little one, bouncing in his chair with excitement.  

"Maybe," I answered.  "But I need batteries."   I pointed to the notation on the box.  

In a flash, one little cutie raced to my desk.  

"I can bring in the batteries on Monday!" he offered.  "I'll remember!" 

Such exuberance.  For a $3.00 game. I loved it. 

"Well," I began, looking seriously at the little boy at my desk.  "If you want, you could go and ask Mrs. Payne if she has a couple of batteries."  

I barely had finished the Mrs. Payne part of the sentence and he was out the door.   The students pretended to read as they waited for our little friend to return, suspended in anticipation. 

Withing seconds, literally, he was back at my desk, beaming ear to ear as he dumped the two AA batteries into my hand. 

"There!" he announced. "I did it!"  

The majority of heads smiled and bobbed up and down.  They wanted to play.  They hoped we could play.  But they weren't sure if I would let them or not.  In our busy day, there's not time for playing silly games.  Besides, I like keeping them in a bit of suspense sometimes.  So I told them to put up their books and their reading folders.  I explained that we would be reading our weekly Scholastic News next.    At this point they were torn, as they love Scholastic News (we use the Promethean board so it's interactive and has videos) but they also really, really, really wanted to play this "Hot Potato" game.  

But they are kids.  And I am the teacher - the one in charge.  So they dutifully put away their book boxes and returned to their seats.  They saw Abraham Lincoln appear on the Promethean - the cover of this week's issue.  And they are kids.  So they immediately were sidetracked with Abe and excited to see what was in this week's magazine.  

After we finished learning and reading the Scholastic News, I clicked on the game, a favorite with the kids.  It is a Jeopardy like game that lets the kids review the important elements of the week's issue.  I picked up the potato.  I clicked it on.  

"Hot Potato!  Ready?" it screeched.   

"Well.  Are you ready?" I asked the students, as the toy began playing a tune. 

And before they could respond I gently tossed it to a student.  He laughed and tossed it to another and on the potato went as the music played.  Suddenly the music stopped and we all froze.  

"You're up!" I told him.  "Go select a category on the board and answer the question."

They were so excited.  Although the game is usually enough to keep them engaged and on task, the hot potato was something new and fun.   

"Does this thing get hot?" questioned one as he quickly tossed it over to a friend.

Third graders can be so fun.  And so literal.

After the game, I put it back in "the closet" and closed the door.  It had been a hit.  It had helped make learning more fun today.  

This week, I've felt like I've been in the middle of my own "Hot Potato" game.  Being tossed back and forth.  Rushed.  Running out of time.  Afraid I will get stuck with the potato.  

Lucky for me, I work with wonderful people that are always there to help me keep the potato in motion.   And let me tell you, it is not easy some days.   

Friday, November 15, 2013

How Do You Spell Fun?

Some days as an elementary teacher are fun.  And some days, meh, not so much.  Every day is an exhausting one filled with lots and lots of activity.  Every day is filled with kids talking, singing, laughing, shouting, running, jumping, whining... well you get the picture.  Anybody who has children of their own can certainly see my point.   Honestly, lately I haven't been as diligent as last year in finding the positive and happy parts of every day.   I've been stuck in  a kind of rut, feeling overwhelmed and under appreciated.  

So, today, as I sat on the back carpet giving a spelling test to one of my groups, I looked around the room in between words and felt a really warm feeling about all these great kids and their variety of personalities and styles.  I told myself that I would, starting that very minute, do more of what I did last year.  Look for positives.

It didn't take long for one to hit me smack in the face.  

"Number 6.  Information.  [Student name] couldn't find the information he needed for his animal report," I directed to my cute little spelling group.   

I always use names of my students in the spelling sentences I give.  Yep. That's just the way I roll.  The kids get a kick out of it so why not?  Personalized spelling tests.

A little hand waved in the air as the student continued to write next to the neat "6" on his paper.  "How do you spell that?" he asked.  In all seriousness.  

I laughed out loud.  The other three kids in our group caught it and laughed.   He looked up over his glasses and smiled.  Then he laughed.   

"Oops!" he exclaimed.  "I'm silly.  I am the one who has to spell it," he said, still chuckling. 

"Nice try," I told him, trying not to laugh.  "But no sale.  Spelling the word is what you are supposed to do." 

And from that minute on, my day got significantly better. 

At lunch, I peeked into the hallway and saw two of my little boys laughing and waving their hands in front of their faces.  Now, anybody who spends much time around eight year old boys probably already knows where this story is headed.  

"What's the story here?" I asked them, heading towards them.

[more laughter] 

"Well, it smells in our room!" giggled one as he exchanged looks with the other boy. 

"Yeah, it smells because he farted in the room!" added the other boy.  

[louder laughter]

"Well, let me get this straight," I started.  "You're out in the hallway waving your hands frantically in front of your faces, claiming it smells because of something in the room?  That doesn't make much sense to me," I said.

[really loud laughter]

And then, another boy who had walked out into the hallway and overheard our conversation chimed in.  

"There are about twenty smells in our room at any given time," he stated.  And he shrugged.   So I shrugged and walked back into the room. 

He was right, of course.  Step into an elementary classroom and you're bound to get a whiff of some smell or another.  Usually it's kind of a crayonpencilpizzaoldsocks kind of smell. Yummy.

So, maybe I felt more positive today because it's Friday.  Or maybe I can start to turn around this negativity and look, once again, for all the positives that surround me every day and appreciate them. 

We all have our own ways to spell "fun", but right about now, the word I'm thinking of starts with a capital "T" and ends with a "g".   

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

More Than One

Today during Writer's Workshop we were discussing nouns and plural nouns.  The third grade students have a pretty good handle on nouns and quickly wrote down and shared some common nouns.  

"What is the difference between a noun and a plural noun?" I asked them.

"Well, the plural noun is a specific name for a noun.  Like Target," voiced one little one in a confident voice. 

"How do you all feel about that information?  Agree?  Disagree?" I prompted.
I tried to keep my tone very neutral and not make eye contact so they couldn't detect that the answer was incorrect.

You see, the little ones can read a teacher's body language very, very well.  Our voices and tones as well as our stance can give clues as to correctness and incorrectness of information.  In the "old days" we would have just immediately corrected any wrong answer with a snappy, "No!" and wait for another brave one to attempt to guess the correct answer.  But things have changed.  We teachers now throw most things back to the students and let them think about things and figure them out.  We don't just give them the answers.  We make them work for it.

"Well, I agree," ventured one of the students.  "Because nouns with words that are capitalized are called whatever that word was you said before.  That p one." 

A couple supportive friends nodded in agreement. 

"No.  That's not right," interrupted one. "I remember that those kinds of nouns that specifically name something are called proper nouns, not plural nouns."

"That's what I meant," replied the student who had answered before.  "Like I said, it is a p word." 

I giggled a bit as did a few others with the "p" comment.  Never gets old.

"Yes, store names, like Target are indeed called proper nouns," I confirmed to the class.  "But have we decided what plural nouns are yet?"

"Toys!" screeched one student, smiling.  "A plural noun."   

Again heads nodded in agreement.  Anyone who can answer with such enthusiasm must be right. 

"Then if toys is a plural noun, is boys?" I questioned them. 

"Yes," came a round of voices.  

"Is desk?" I continued.

This met with about a 75/25 yes/no.  Their little eyes squinted and they tried to determine if I was trying to trick them.

"Desk is not," I stated.  "So what's the difference? Talk at your table about what you're thinking."

Within seconds, the little ones had figured out what a plural noun was and wrote several examples in their writing notebook.  They concluded that a plural noun means more than one and you spell it by adding an "s" to the word.  Case in point:  Boy --- boys and toy -- toys.

"Look!" I said suddenly, pointing towards the window.  "A deer!"  All heads turned and looked out the window. "Oh wait!" I added.  "It's three deers!"

A couple astute ones laughed and immediately corrected me. 

"It's not deers. It is deer," they said.

"Well I thought you said you just add an "s" to make a noun plural," I argued back.

You could practically see the little wheels spinning in their heads as they thought about this. 

"Well, not always," one explained.  "But most of the time you just add an "s" for more than one."

We continued for a few minutes with a lively discussion about goose and geese and mouse and mice and tooth and teeth and wolf and wolves and cherry and cherries.
And then I wrote the word 'dress' on the board.

"What about if I have 10 of these?" I said tapping the marker on the word on the board.

"Then it would be 10 dresses," answered several.  

"So, I wouldn't have 10 dresss?" I hissed, spitting out the "sss".  "Have you ever seen a word  spelled with s-s-s?"

Our conversation continued for several more minutes and the kids were having lots of fun changing singular nouns to plural nouns, describing the patterns,  and having more fun saying them out loud.

It was fifteen-twenty minutes in a productive, entertaining discussion about words. 

It was a long, busy day at school but now it's time to relax.

My feets hurt.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Still Looking

Would love some more guest bloggers this year.  How about it?   There must be some brave souls (teachers or otherwise) who would like to have a go at blogging.  It's easy. Just sit down and tell your story.

The pay isn't great but the feeling of accomplishment is unmatched.  

Ray Of Sunshine

Teaching is the hardest job in the world.  I'm not kidding.  I'm utterly and completely exhausted as I sit here blogging and it's only Monday.  And I got an extra hour over the weekend when the time changed.  

Teaching is hard because you have twenty-some little ones that count on you every second of the day to meet their needs.  Academic, social, emotional.  They can be very needy.  They cry sometimes.  They get sick.  They are scared and fragile.  They are curious and rebellious.  They are naughty and nice.  There is not one minute of the day that a teacher can not be "on". 

I dragged myself into my classroom this morning and, after dumping my school bag, purse, and lunch in my room, immediately headed over to my teacher friend's room across the hall.  My reason was two-fold.  One, she has coffee.  And two, I knew she would listen to me.  In part because she would be trapped in her classroom if I stood blocking the doorway.

She mirrored my look of exhaustion and nodded as I began my tirade.  About how much I had to do.  About how much I did over the weekend.  About all the things in the upcoming weeks ahead.  Wah.  Wah.  Lucky for me, she is a good listener and understands the job - we've both been teachers for many years. 

"It's unrealistic and impossible to sustain our level of involvement and energy and work, day in and day out, year in an year out," she offered, no doubt trying to calm me down a bit and get me to leave her room so she could finish up all of her own work.  "Impossible," she added again for emphasis, even pausing for a minute from her grading to show her seriousness.   

You see, it's like that when you talk to a teacher.  We are so unbelievably busy every single second of the day, that when we do talk to one another, we are also undoubtedly doing some sort of paperwork or planning at the same time.  If we somehow manage to get a few extra seconds in our day, we either use the bathroom or scrounge up something to eat that does not contain 48 g of sugar. Time is of the essence.

"You're right!" I exclaimed, feeling a bit better.  And I headed to my room to attempt to get through sixteen hours of preparation, grading, and work in sixty minutes.

On the positive side, the days fly by!  Teaching certainly isn't a job where you are ever sitting around bored or watching the clock.  Although I'll admit, there are times I watch the second hand waiting for the bell to ring for recess!  My Nike fuel band registers at least 4,500 points a day with, on average, 13,000 steps.  I think those numbers rival the spinning instructors at my gym.  And I'm not even trying.   

It's a workout, mentally and physically.  And on days like today, emotionally.  These occasional days when I feel like I just.can'

Which brings me to my point.  Although teaching is by far the hardest job in the world, it also holds some one-of-a kind job moments.  And on days like today, it's those moments that revive us and sustain us.  I tried my best to be happy and positive, even when there were many times during the day today that I wanted to just sit in my chair and put my head on my (very cluttered) desk.  But, like the Energizer Bunny, teachers keep going and going and going and going.  We have to.    

And then it happened.  At the end of the day, three darling little girls approached me giggling and smiling.  

"Mrs. Jeppson?"  they giggled holding a folded up bunch of papers between them.  At this point, all the other girls in my class joined them. 

"Hmmmm?" I replied.  Honestly I was just hanging on for the bell.  I wanted to be home and finish up my pity party in peace.  I knew I would be better tomorrow.  

"We made this for you!" they squealed, unfolding a banner that read M R S . J E P P S O N
Each of my girls had made a beautiful, colorful letter on a piece of paper, and they had taped them together in a gorgeous display.  There were swirls and hearts and stripes.  

Several leaned in for a hug. 

"Do you like it?" they asked, hopeful little eyes looking up at me.

"No, I don't like it," I started.  And in a split second their eyes changed and stopped twinkling. "I don't like it because I LOVE it!" I finished.   "I am going to put it up right over the door so I see it every time I walk out of the room."

The bell rang and they all bounded out the door as I dragged a chair over to put up my banner before I went home.  My sunshine on this dreary Monday.

And suddenly everything seemed better.  

Monday, October 28, 2013

Voted Off The Island

I'm loving that my class has tables this year.  It's so much easier to move students around and I like that the students can choose (at times) where they'd like to sit.  And, although I think my room is much louder with the openness of the round tables, I'm so glad I made the change from desks.  I think the room arrangement is better for learning.

Every Monday I move the students around to new tables.  I let them write their name on the table with a dry erase marker, as it easily washes off.  The kids love that.  The first time I told them to get a dry erase marker and write their name on the table, they just couldn't believe it.  Several wouldn't do it until I ambled over to them, put the marker in their hand, and said, "Go ahead!  Write on the table!  I insist!"

Of course, I clarified soon after that writing on the table would be reserved for infrequent times when I instructed them to and not just when they felt like it.  But today, during math while students were measuring things at their tables, it was a perfect time to tell them to write their answers on the table.  This time, it was much easier for most of them.  Probably due to the fact that it was now proven that it would, indeed, wipe off easily.  

At times, when the numbers are uneven, I need to move a student to another table to even out the numbers.  Today, was just such a time. It's great because, since they don't have their own desk, stuffed to the gills with junk all their important stuff needed for 3rd grade, they don't feel so tied down to a particular place in the room.  I asked a table with two girls and one boy to decide which one of them would move to another table of three students to get even numbers for a partner activity.  I didn't even notice one of them move as the activity had started and the kids were already busy talking and organizing their materials.  

As I scanned the room to check for engagement, I noticed the boy who had moved to a different table.  He didn't look too happy at the moment.  I headed over to the table.

"I don't know why I was the one that had to move to a new table," he began as soon as I was within earshot.  He put on a sour look.  "They just decided it was me."

"Looks to me like you got voted off the island," I told him, smiling. "It happens."

He smiled and his partner at his temporary new table laughed.

And life went on.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Hand Over The Chocolate and Nobody Gets Hurt

I admit it.  I love chocolate.  I would eat tons of it every single day if I could do that without expanding my waistline.  Thank God I have some self-respect and will power and usually only allow myself chocolate in moderation.  Unless it's Halloween.  Or a Friday.  Or a really bad day at school.  Or a really good day at school.  Or a Saturday.  Or a holiday.  

OK, so I guess pretty much any day is a good day for chocolate.   Bottom line is chocolate makes me happy and keeps me in a positive frame of mind.

With Halloween nearing, I feel myself being drawn to the bags of mini candies every time I stop by the store to pick up random items or fill a prescription.   Actually, I've successfully bypassed them up to now.  I even held off and didn't stop for chocolate/candy during my weekend drive back and forth to Chicago to visit my daughter.  Usually that long road trip merits some candy of some sort to help pass the time in the car. Yes, I'm that person singing loudly in the car while eating licorice or peanut M & Ms.    But with Halloween looming right around the corner, I told myself I would wait for that special day.

It doesn't help that my husband is a regular at Costco.  By the first week of October, he normally has already purchased the enormous fifteen pound bag of candy filled with  So when the first week of October passed and I didn't see evidence of the "bag 'o chocolate candy" I tried to casually ask him what was going on.

Me (in a slightly anxious voice):  "So, I haven't seen the big bag of Halloween candy anywhere yet..."  

Husband (nonchalantly): "I haven't picked it up yet."

Me (now with panic in my voice):  "Well, don't you usually have to get it by now?  Before they run out?"   Thinking to myself: OH MY GOD... WHAT IF THEY RUN OUT??

Husband: "I'm stopping there tomorrow so I'll get some then."

[The next day]

As my husband was unpacking his purchases, I noticed there was, not one, but two big bags of candy on the counter.  Now, seriously, I'm really not going to be able to possibly eat one fifteen pound bag all by myself.

But I guess I could give it a try.

Me:  "Two bags?  Why did you get two bags?"  

Husband (smiles): "Because I know you love chocolate and I don't want you to run out." 

He's like my pusher.

Me:  "Ha! Ha!  Very funny! Well I hope you purchased me some big XL sweat pants too, so I'll have something to wear after I eat all this candy!" 

I'm acting all huffy, as I head to the drawer to get some scissors so I can open the big bag and get started on the pounds of candy.  This might take a while. 

Now, I'm not proud of this, but just last year, I instructed my husband to hide the candy somewhere after he brought it home and not tell me where it was no matter how much I begged him.  I told him it was for my own good and that I would only eat candy when I handed it out on Halloween. 

Desperate, the next day when I got home from school, I called him at work to get him to tell me where the bag of candy was hidden.  He told me he forgot where he put it.  When I texted him multiple times telling him I was just kidding and really needed to know where he hid it, he ignored me.  He wasn't going to budge.  Can you believe the nerve?   So, the next day after I got home from school, for forty-five minutes I searched every inch of our basement until I found it.  He had cleverly placed it inside a suitcase inside another suitcase.  True story.

The scattered empty candy wrappers gave me away when he arrived home from work and naturally, since I was feeling guilty for eating so much candy, I totally blamed him for not hiding it in a better spot.  I guess this year, he figured he was not going to bother hiding it and getting blamed for it anyways.

When I looked for the candy after school today, it was nowhere to be found.  And my husband isn't answering his phone.

Let's just hope he gets home soon. Or someone might get hurt.

P.S.  I know this blog has nothing to do with classroom stories of positivity or keeping my attitude in check.  I'll get back on track.   As soon as I get some sugar.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Do Not Disturb

Starting today, teachers all around Michigan, began the annual state testing in their classrooms. Desks were moved apart, No 2 pencils were sharpened, and signs were posted on closed doors announcing that testing was in progress.  This is by far, a few days of each year that I hate the most.  

Do I think students should be assessed?  Of course.  Do I teach state curriculum (GLCEs) and check for understanding?  Yes, I do.  Do I feel I am doing a good job as a teacher?  Yep.   So, you ask, then why do I hate this test?  

A teacher's job is to guide and help students.  We help them with unknown vocabulary words when they are reading, we listen as they reread directions and try to problem solve, we ask them questions and get them to think.  We push them to work through problems but are there as a safety net when they need that little extra nudge or some outright help.   And then comes testing days.  The safety net is gone.  Ripped out from under them, leaving them all alone.  With a multiple choice test.

My students were talking about the test a little in the hallway this morning as they arrived.  Mostly they were excited because they had not had homework the night before and would have no homework tonight, due to the test.   A few kids were talking about me being there if they needed help.  

"I'm sorry, but with this test, I am not allowed to help you at all with anything on the test," I told the group.   

"But you can help me if I don't know a word, right?" asked one little girl, the anxiousness obvious.  

"Ahhhh.... not so much," I said.  "But let's get into class.  I'll explain to everyone what we're doing and how this all works.  No worries."  

And then I reminded all the little ones in the hallway to not bring in water bottles or anything else.   They would just need pencils and I had already sharpened many this morning.   "Use the bathroom and get a drink before we start the test," I directed them as they passed through the doorway.

They shuffled in, checked in for lunch and quietly sat at their empty tables.  None of their personalized little pencil boxes or cute little boxes decorated with stickers, stuffed with colored pencils and crayons.  Nada.

"Well, good morning," I began, in my most bubbling of voices. "I hope everyone did their homework and ate a healthy breakfast and got lots of sleep last night so you're at your best this morning!"  

Twenty-four little heads nodded up and down.   

"So, let's get started," I told them.  I passed out a perfectly sharpened No. 2 pencil and a test booklet to each student.  
"Please check and make sure your name is on the booklet," I told them.  "And please do NOT open it until I tell you too. And there can be no talking, no eating, no drinking, no getting up out of your seat, no leaning back in your seat, no playing with your pencil, no drawing on the test, no bubbling in outside of the bubble, no looking at someone else, no cell phones, no calculators, no dictionaries, no extra paper, no smiling, no crying, no sleeping, no cheating, no skipping questions, no asking questions, and no fun."   

OK, so I didn't really say some of that stuff.   But I was thinking it.  
I clicked on my mic and opened the 100 page administrator's manual to "Day 1: Part 1" and looked around the room.  Their eyes were focused on me.  Waiting. They looked as if they were secretly hoping I would channel all the answers directly to their brain and just make everything ok. They could sense the seriousness in my voice as I droned on with the directions from the manual.  And some of their eyes grew larger.  You see, in 3rd grade it is their very first state test and it's all brand new to them.  And scary. 

Every year at this time, I think of these little eight and nine year olds and how they must be feeling at this moment.  They looked so nervous.  They looked so little. 

And so it began.  After spending almost fifteen minutes on how to bubble in their birthday on the front cover of the test booklet, we finally moved on and they all began. "Just remember to do your best!" I reminded them as they turned to the first page.  They intently read the text and flipped pages back and forth as they carefully read and reread.  Their little tongues touched their lips as they painstakingly bubbled in their answers.  

As the clock ticked in the silent room, I heard a few little tummies growl.  I saw a few troubled looks and a couple of furrowed brows.  I heard several pencils tapping and one or two sighs.  As I patrolled the room, checking for correct bubbling technique a student here and there would catch my eye and smile weakly.  I returned each one with a big smile to signal my silent vote of confidence in their abilities.  

And, just like every year, a few little hands went in the air and when I walked over and whispered a hushed, "Yes?" to them, they pointed at a word and looked helplessly at me. 

"Can you tell me what this word is?" asked one.  

My shoulders slumped and I made a sad face.   "I'm sorry.  I can only read the directions to you again.  Just try your best. You can do it!" I coached as I patted them on the back and stood up.  

As I collected their booklets from this first test session, you could sense the relief in the room that at least some of this was over for now.  Now we could get on with our regular day of learning and talking and having some fun.  But first we needed a snack. 

When I think of our yearly state test, it makes me think of a whole lot of No. 2s.   

And I don't mean pencils.

        For a look at last year's blog about testing, click here:  Swirlberry With A Side Of MEAP