Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Few... The Proud

It was a bit of a difficult week, positivity wise.  Probably just the month of September in general, with all the crazy, hectic things taking place as we returned to school.  Thank goodness for all my wonderful teacher friends who wouldn't allow me to wallow in self pity or negativity.  I received gifts on my desk and even some flowers.  So, how could I not feel happy and positive?  

This week I've been thinking about what a teacher does.  How we put all our problems or
worries aside each day when the bell rings to devote our attention, and ourselves to the kids.  We teach and nurture our students - that is our focus.  The morning bell signals "game on" and not until the end-of-day bell do we return to our own lives.  We don't get to leave the building for lunch or come and go as we please.   We can't get phone calls or schedule doctor appointments during the day.  We have more important things to do.

Who else but a teacher can manage twenty-something students of all abilities, personalities, anxieties, and make it look easy? Five days a week.

Who else but a teacher can quiet a room full of kids down in under ten seconds flat? Anytime.  Anywhere.

Who else can supervise a classroom full of kids eating lunch, while opening pudding for one, monitoring the microwave operator for safety, and eating their own lunch at the same time?

Who else can make studying geography feel like a trip to Disney World?

Who else can make a kid want to do better, be better, and become better?  

Who else can get a kid excited about writing? Or math? Or reading?

Who else can push a little one to build independence and confidence to be the best student they can be?

Who else is so outnumbered yet somehow manages to be in charge?

Who else is simultaneously a nurse, a counselor, a leader, a role model, a tutor, a coach, a friend, and a teacher, all day long?  And, remember, I'm talking about with twenty+ kids.

Who else can do science experiments, quiet a group of kids by reading a book, coordinate rides home and activities at the end of each day, supervise a playground, model and teach respect and compassion, find missing homework, and smile, smile, smile!  

Friday, I had my students think like scientists and sort and organize beads into different categories and explain their reasoning.   Yes. That's right.  Twenty-four eight year olds with a cup of 50-60 small multi-colored, multi-shaped beads on their desk.  All at one time. Of course, I explained to them that we needed to try and keep the beads on the place mat where they were to organize.   Did I really think they could do it?? You bet I did.  Even more, I knew they could do it.  I told them so.   And then they began.  I watched as they carefully (in partner groups) poured the beads onto their sorting paper.  When a bead would go astray, they quickly set it back into place.  It was a true work of art.  They were so proud of themselves.  I was proud, too.  That after only eighteen days of school, my class was already becoming a true community of learners.

Did a bead or two race across the floor?  Yes.  Did some kids play with them for a bit before sorting them?  Yes.   Did they learn?  Yes.  Did they discuss ideas with their partner?  Yes.  Did they argue a bit?  Some.  But that's all part of the deal. Learning can sometimes be a messy, loud, busy thing.

I'm happy to report that my negativity did not last long last week. It's like that when you work with small children.  You can't allow yourself to not be, and give 100% to the students.  

And since they handled the beads with such care, I can't wait to see them with all the fun activities we have planned this year!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Two Week Notice

The students at my school are lucky.  They have the most fabulous Spanish teacher in the world!  Just ask them; they'll tell you.   I always try out my Spanish speaking skills, learned forgotten from way back in high school, as I drop my kids off and pick them up.  She always smiles and nods as I crudely pronounce and mispronounce words and expressions!

"Muy caliente!" I proclaimed to her one day as I motioned out the window last June and fanned my face.   She giggled.

And then she explained that it's best to say, "Hace calor" as "muy caliente" is translated more as "I'm hot".  As in a hot chick, type way.  I giggled back at yet another epic fail in my attempt at bilingualism.  

Our Spanish teacher always has a bright smile on her face.  Even though she teaches over four hundred and fifty students every week, she glides through the hallways cheerfully. Occasionally, she has to give her room up for meetings and then she takes to her cart and wheels around the school, colorful paper flowers and fun games precariously hanging off the cart.  

Two weeks ago, as I picked up my little ones from Spanish, the Spanish teacher walked with me as she often does down the hallway, chatting and catching up.   She told me that she was moving to New York and would be leaving in two weeks.  She had the brightest smile on her face.  She beamed ear to ear. I joined in, and although all I could think of was how much I would miss seeing her, I smiled back.  

"That's fantastic news!" I said, congratulating her.  "But I sure will miss you."  I made a sad face.  

With that, I led the twenty-four little boys and girls back to class, silently thinking of how happy I was for her and her upcoming adventures. 

[flash forward two weeks]

"Why did Senora leave?"  one of my little ones asked, yanking on my arm as we headed to Spanish.  

"Well, I think it was time for a change," I told her, smiling down at her head of curls, trying to cheer her.  "Things change.  People change.  Life changes..."  I trailed off, lost in my own thoughts for a few moments.    The little one looked confused at my ramblings and struck up a conversation with a more interesting friend in line about recess. 

"We're gonna get a MAN Spanish teacher," one of my boys exclaimed as we neared the Spanish room.  

"Oh, no you're not!"  I said.  "You're gonna get a señor!"    

They chuckled as they headed off into the Spanish room.  I have no information as to the new spanish teacher, señor or señora, and wondered for a moment where he had obtained his news. 

As I walked back to class, I thought of our wonderful Spanish teacher.  I envied her for getting the chance to move somewhere new and decide what she wants to do next. I loved hearing her stories of summer travels, and attempting to speak Spanish with her. I admired her stylish outfits and her sense of humor. I looked forward to seeing her when I dropped my kids off and picked them up two times a week.  Even though we work in the same school, many days, that was the only time I got to chat with her and see her. 

So, dear Spanish teacher, I know I speak for all of us when I say that we will miss you very much at Way.  After fifteen years of working side-by-side, It just won't be the same without you.  We wish you nothing but good times.

Adios.  Estamos en contacto. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Uber Germs

I've escaped the beginning of school sickness, a very common ailment, for almost five years, but apparently this year the strand of germs in my classroom is new. And strong.  I managed to stay healthy for the first week and even into the second one, before my throat started feeling raw and sore.  My voice became scratchy. 

"Why are you talking so funny?" asked one little cutie when I hoarsely barked a 'Good Morning' to him.  

"It's not me," I explained to him.  "It's my new back-to-school cold!"    He edged away from me and into the classroom as I coughed for added effect.

I hoped that it would just go away.  That maybe I had just been talking so much I had made my throat sore.   But, naturally as the long week of conferences began (late nights and early mornings), it hit full strength.  Stuffy head.  Raging headache.  Queasy stomach.  Sneezing & coughing.  Sniffles.  Ugh.

Every other teacher I passed in the hallway was clutching crumpled up Kleenex as they herded their kiddies off towards music or gym.  Many were sneezing and sniffling and we sympathetically nodded and greeted one another, making sure to comment on the fact that at least it was finally Friday.  I'm convinced the expression, "Thank God it's Friday" was originated by a sick teacher trying to talk herself into getting through the end of the day. 

So today, as I carried around a box of Kleenex and repeatedly sneezed (to a rousing chorus of "bless you!") I tried my best to stay positive.  All I wanted to do was sit at my desk and put my head down.  I visualized myself after school, changed into my comfy sweat pants and curled up on the couch with a blanket and some soup.  I looked forward to the luxury of sleeping in on Saturday morning. 

I was especially thankful today for my microphone and sound system in my room.  It allows students to hear me all around the room and I just speak in a normal voice.  Although I did learn today that I should turn the mic off before I begin one of my sneezing fits! Yikes!

My class has already started to become very comfortable in our classroom and with me.  They were concerned that I wasn't feeling well and I had students asking me all day if I was o.k.   Other teachers, some who were also sick, stopped by to check in and tell me they hoped I would feel better.  

So, as I sit here curled up on the couch, enveloped in a blanket, I'm so glad it's Friday.  

I hope my system is busy building up resistance to this year's new strain of germs. 

Enjoy another blog from last year about what it's like when you're sick and a teacher:
"Sick Day"

Monday, September 16, 2013

Time Out

This is for all the teachers out there who are completely and utterly exhausted from the first weeks of school.   In other words, every teacher everywhere.

Do yourself a favor and take some time today for a long walk to enjoy the cooler weather, sit in peace and quiet, read a book, and just try and relax.  Forget the school bag full of stuff to do for a few hours and just rest.  Never mind that Post-it note, stuck to your plan book that has so many things penciled on it that you can barely read it.   Ignore that folder stuffed with ideas that you want to look through.  It's not going anywhere.

If you are a teacher, you know that the first weeks of every school year are out-of-control busy.  There are conferences and schedules and planning and meetings.  There are new faces and names to learn, personalities to figure out, and parents to meet.  There is Curriculum Night and new curriculum, observations and testing.  A teacher's "to do" list is endless.  Every time you check off two things, you add four more.

Don't believe me??  Read my post from this time last year Is It October Yet?

So, it's time.  Give yourself permission to just take a few hours to yourself.  You deserve it and need it so much at this point.  Pat yourself on the back for successfully making it through the first ten days of school and still being able to get up every morning with a smile on your face. 

Put yourself in a time out.  You'll thank me tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Watch Your Back

The first week of school, I always ask my students to write me a letter.  They can write about anything they want.  I keep their letters and the last week of each school year, I ask them to write me another letter.  It's amazing how much their writing changes in a year and I love reading their letters.  

Here are two of my favorites from this year: 

Perfect!  A promised gift and a hand drawn heart  

Not sure why I only have one leg and no hair.  At least I'm smiling!  The
circles on the left are my students.  The doors in the background are labeled:
Kitchen, Bedroom 1, Bedroom 2.  
Because ask a kid - teachers only exist at school, so we must
sleep there too.

I'm definitely looking forward to our cruise together......

I'm thinking with just six days into this school year, I'm going to have a blast.  I'm already the "best, best, best, BEST teacher ever".  That normally takes at least a few months to accomplish!  :)  

My husband better watch his back!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Sweetest Sound

There is nothing in the world that sounds as sweet as a child's laughter. And by laughter, let me clarify.  I mean the real, true kind of laughter.  The kind where your eyes twinkle and crinkle.  The kind where once it starts, it's hard to stop.  The kind that, when you hear it, you want to join in.  

Being a third grade teacher, and therefore surrounded by eight year olds the better part of any given day, I can honestly say, that there is much laughter around me most days.    And I can also add, that last year (a.k.a. my "year of positivity") I effectively sought out both laughing more and creating more laughter in my classroom.

Now, when you interact with kids every day, there are endless opportunities to cause laughter and have fun, even while you are sparking their brains with state mandated curriculum.

During the first couple of weeks back in school, I always gather the students on the back carpet once a day and share with them some of my daughter's favorite books when she was younger.  On Friday I read one of my daughter's favorite books that always got her giggling, The Dumb Bunnies, by Dav Pilkey.

All I had to do was read the title and I had hooked all twenty-four of them.  It's not every day your teacher reads you a book with the word "dumb" in the title.   Let's just say we had so much fun reading it and laughing at all the silly parts, that I heard most of the teachers in my hallway close their door. Sorry about that!

Later that same day, we were reading and discussing a Scholastic News.  I had called their attention to the "Words To Know" section before we began reading.   They could tell me what artifacts and ancient meant, no problem. A few even explained to me that someone like their Grandma was old, or ancient, so I quickly moved on before someone compared me to that word.  But the third word was the word "port".  They could all say it, but when I asked if anyone knew what it might mean, most cocked their heads to the side or suddenly looked very interested in a spot on their table.  A couple brave ones hesitantly raised their hand.

"Is it like a court?" asked the first.  [sidenote: in little kids brains, they sometimes try and make connections to a word by using a rhyming word.  In this case port:court.  Notice I did not say this is a good strategy.]

I pursed my lips.  "Ahhhh....  no."  I made a funny face so as not to deter them from guessing.

"Is it when you pour something?" asked the second.  [sidenote: this student was using sounds of the word and finding another word like it.  port:pour.  A better strategy than one above.]

"I think I know," came the third, before I could reply to the prior student. 

"Super!" I told him.  "What do you think the word 'port' means?"  

"It means to port!"  He had a huge smile on his face.  Totally makes sense, right?

After discussing for a few more minutes about how ships arrive "in port" and "leave port"  and trying to help them make connections from being on a cruise ship or something they might be familiar with, I figured they were good.   Until one little one said, "Yeah, port is when you come in to go to the bathroom!" 

"Say wh-at?" I asked him, saying the word as two syllables. "Silly!  Ships/boats have bathrooms on them.  You don't need to come back to shore!"  Several nodding heads agreed.

Later, I probed a little bit more with him one-on-one to see what he was thinking.  Come to find out he had a smaller boat pictured in his head; he had never been on a large cruise ship.  And when he needed to go to the bathroom, his Dad had to come back to shore.  

On the way home Friday, I was thinking about relationships and the importance of building trusting, caring, and respectful relationships with each and every student in my classroom.  I put in a lot of time in the initial weeks of school getting to know each child and helping them get to know me. I want them to feel safe in my classroom.  Safe to ask questions and take risks.  Safe to say what they think without fear of ridicule.  Ready to enjoy the moment when you want to laugh.

The first few weeks of school, more than any other of the year, it's important to take advantage of the times we can laugh.   To share and show a sense of humor.   To keep smiling.  

Because it really is true.  Laughter is indeed, the best medicine.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

When In Doubt, Throw It Out

One of the best parts of being a teacher, is the beginning of every year when you get to meet and know a bunch of new little kids. And, even though you miss the ones from the previous year, it's quite refreshing to acquire a whole new batch of personalities. Challenging, but in a very good way. 

So, here it is, the 2nd day of school and I'm getting to know the kids little by little.  The shy ones.  The sensitive ones.  The bold ones and the social ones.  The perfectionists and the silly ones.  The nervous ones and the self-assured ones. 

On the other hand, they are also getting to know me.  I tell the kids right off the bat, that I am three things:  Friendly, fair, and firm.  And definitely not in that order!  They look at me funny when I try to make silly jokes.  They laugh when I laugh and quickly get back to business when I frown.  They try very hard to live up to my expectations, be it challenging them to follow three directions in a row without a reminder, or asking them to spend some more time thinking and wondering.  So far, I'm quite impressed with these little ones. 

Today was our first full day back in school.   There was some more time spent with procedures and what not, but the majority of the day was spent on digging into some of the curriculum with a sprinkle of getting to know each other better by having a little fun.

The morning flew by and I was proud of myself for successfully being able to identify each new face with the correct name (sometimes this can take several days).  After lunch we headed to computer lab, where they settled in and, with very minimal help, got busy. I was seriously impressed.  It felt as if we had been in school for months (in a good way!)

After an uneventful recess, which in 3rd grade, at the beginning of the year, is a small victory in itself, I paired the students up for Think-Pair-Share and we gathered on the back carpet.  I asked the students to form a circle and watched as they worked together to organize.  

"Hmmmm..." I started.  "Great job on the circle, or oval, or whatever shape you made."  They giggled.  I sat down between two boys.  "OK if I sit between you?"  

At this, several others moaned and sighed and said they wanted me to sit next to them.  Talk about a boost to my ego!  So sweet!

"Well, we have a long year ahead of us, so not to worry - I'll sit next to each of you at some point, I promise," I assured them.  And we carried on.

One of the things I like to do in the beginning of the year is let students practice listening skills.  So I gave them a question and instructed them to ask their partner and then listen carefully to the answer.  If I called on them, they had to tell what their partner said.  Trust me, it's harder than it seems.  I'm sure many adults would be incapable of doing this same activity.   I also ask them to always use their partner's name or the name of any person they are referring to or agreeing with.  Usually within a few months, they are all joining in and having some great discussions.    

After calling on a few students, who successfully repeated in great detail what their partner had said, I called on one of my quieter students.   He cleared his throat.

"Well, my friend, [student name], explained to me that he would like to travel to Hawaii because he would like to learn to surf and he likes warm weather."

Wow.  Just wow.  Did I tell you it's the second day of school?  And instead of using the words, "My partner [student name] said", as I had modeled, he ad-libbed with "My friend explained"  .....  wow.  

So, naturally, I complimented him and all the other kids on their turn used the phrase, "My friend" because they thought he had just discovered the magic words to make your teacher happy for the whole year. (smile)

Shortly after, I had the students work on a reading survey.  I told them they could sit anywhere around the room and to think about the questions, and take their time.   Of course, within five minutes, the inevitable "I'm done!" rang out across the classroom.  Even though I have already asked multiple times that students not declare to the world, "I'm done!" when they are finished with something, it's a hard nut to crack.   It's like it's built into their little school brain that they must announce the words, "I'm done!" and then, if possible, follow their teacher around the room shaking the paper/assignment at them for emphasis.  I like to call it the "I'm Done Dance!"  

I casually walked over to the "done" student and pulled up a chair next to him.  He looked up at me over his glasses and pushed his paper over to me. His reading inventory was, indeed, neatly filled in with pencil. 

"My!  You are really quick with your answers," I told him.  "Let me see what your thoughts are about reading." 

"OK," he answered. "You can read it, cuz it's done." 

Great.  That's when I prefer to read things.  When they are done. 

I read each question aloud and probed further.  For example, when he wrote that his favorite place to read was "on an airplane" I asked him how often he reads on an airplane.  He countered with the fact that he reads every time he is on an airplane.  I smiled.   

But the best part was when we got to one of the last questions, which read, "When you don't understand something when you are reading, what do you do?"

I read his response: I look it up in the dictionary.

I asked him if it helped to look up a word in the dictionary.  

"Well, it's supposed to.  So I guess it does," he told me. 

He looked at me and I looked at him.  I arched my eyebrows.  "Well, can you think of anything else that might help you when you don't understand what you are reading?" I prompted.

"I could throw it in the garbage!" he announced.  

I couldn't help it.  I LOL-ed. Then he LOL-ed.  Every head in the room turned our way.  

I leaned in closer to him.  "That's an interesting approach," I told him.  "And you have a great sense of humor!  But, you don't really throw the book in the garbage do you?"

He laughed and smiled and his eyes crinkled when he smiled. I knew that instant that I was really going to enjoy this kid and I looked forward to more conversations to come.

I had noticed on his reading survey that he liked to read about hurricanes, so I went over to my classroom library and retrieved two books I have about hurricanes.  I approached his desk. 

"I saw that you like reading about hurricanes," I said.  "Here.  I think you might like these books I have about hurricanes.  But you have to promise me one thing."

I paused for effect.  

"If you come to a part you don't understand, please don't throw my book in the garbage!" I told him.  

He smiled, but he was already engrossed in one of the hurricane books, no doubt wishing he was on an airplane.