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.