Thursday, January 30, 2014

Quid Pro Quo

Many times throughout any given day students ask me for things.  A pencil, an eraser, a copy of the lost homework paper from the night before, help with [insert a wide range of things here], zipping coats, etc.  The list is endless, really.   Most times, I grab what they need or help them, all the while not missing a beat at whatever teaching I am doing at the same time.  

Every once in a while I like to create a ruckus by responding to their plea with the phrase, "And if I give you an eraser (or whatever), what is it you will give me?"  

Even though my students are by now used to my unusual(?) sense of humor and sense of play with them, they never quite know how to respond.   Over the years I have been offered food from lunch boxes, rulers, marbles, Kleenex (yes, I said Kleenex), Post-It notes, and a variety of other items.

More often than not, the student responds with wide eyes and a rather frozen look on their face.  Rather like a face that says, "Please make me invisible right now so I don't have to deal with her."  

Once the students catch on that this is all meant to be in fun, as well as a little life lesson in give-and-take, we have a lot of fun with it.  I always explain to the students that their return "thing" doesn't have to be material.  I offer up suggestions such as a hug, a smile, a compliment or some other positive action or deed. 

Today, a darling little one approached and asked me for a plastic baggie for his spelling words.  I could see him coming from a mile away. 

"Mrs. Jeppson?" he began, tentatively as I was involved in some spelling activities with a small group of students. 

"Hmmm?" I said glancing his way while I pointed to the past tense words we had been discussing in the group. 

"Can I have a baggie for my words?"  he asked, holding out his little hand with twenty-three rectangular pieces of paper with spelling words on them.

As the spelling group at the table got busy on their assignment, I turned to look the little boy in the eyes.  

"Welllllll, If I get up and walk all the way across the room to get you a baggie, what will you give me?" I said, arching my eyebrows with just a hint of a smile.    "Sounds only fair that you would give me something if I give you something."

I waited.  He shuffled his feet.  He twisted up his mouth.  The spelling students were much more interested in our exchange than their spelling and were listening in intently.  

"How about a pencil?" he said, offering a two inch stub towards me. 

"Ew.  No, thanks.  It's barely big enough to write with.  And besides, I have an entire drawer full of pencils.  I certainly do not need another one." 

"Well, I have an eraser shaped like a doughnut," he continued, trying to sell it.

"Interesting, for sure.  But that would make me hungry for a doughnut, so that won't do," I countered. 

He was running out of ideas.  The spellers started to chime in to bail him out.

"Give her this blue dry erase marker," suggested a fellow student. 
"I bet she would like that bracelet you made," said one girl to another.
"Maybe she wants some chocolate.  She really likes chocolate," suggested another helpful student.

(Sigh) "Nah.  I really don't like blue, and I wouldn't want to take your bracelet.  The chocolate sounds great, but I need to cut back on the sweets," I answered.  

"I know!" said the student who had started this whole thing by wanting a baggie.  "You are the best teacher in the world!"

OK.  Hard to top that one.  Even with chocolate.  So I caved and quickly walked across the room, handed him a baggie, and returned to my spelling group to finish up the lesson.
Later in the day, a student straggled in from another 3rd grade classroom to ask if I could give him a copy of tonight's homework for his teacher.  Of course every student in my class had stopped, pencils in midair, curious to see why this intruder was interupting us. 

"Welllll..., " I began, looking at him.  "If I give you that homework page, what are you going to give me?" 

And I winked at the two students sitting closest to us. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

One For The Books

Last night the temperature here fell to -10, a new record.  Tack on the winds and most areas experienced temperatures plummeting to -20 to -30.  In addition, we broke the record for the most snowfall in January with 34.6 inches.   And the month isn't even over yet.  Brrrrrrrr doesn't even begin to cover it.  Makes me glad that while I was doing my online Christmas shopping this year, I managed to find time to purchase a heavy-duty winter coat for myself.  

So, to all of you that read this blog and haven't had the pleasure of experiencing this phenomenon known as the "Polar Vortex 2014", let me try to explain what life is like lately.   And for all of you that read this blog from a warmer, more tropical spot, shut up.

First of all, do not, and I mean do NOT go outside unless you absolutely have to in this kind of weather.  We Michiganders are tough, but this is even too cold for our blood.  If you do choose to go outside, pile on the layers until you are at least five times your normal size. Boots and gloves are a must and I don't mean the fashionable ones.  You need the ugly, warm ones if you don't want to get frostbite on your toes and fingers.  Trust me, you won't care what you look like and no one can recognize you anyway with all that snow stuff on.

When you open the door you are hit with a frigid blast of air that, literally, takes your breath away.  Any exposed skin tingles immediately and the only thing on your mind is to get back inside quickly before you  No joke. Making it to your car is somewhat of a relief, even if the temperature inside your vehicle is -3 and it will take your car twenty minutes to warm up.  At least you are out of the wind.  Your best bet is to just stay inside your house and postpone doing anything that would require you leaving.

Today was another snow day for my school, which really should be called a "cold day".  In these temperatures it's even too cold for the snow to fall. Which is a good thing, since we have over two feet of snow already on the ground. We don't really need anymore, thanks anyway.  This marks our fifth day in January that we have been out of school - something that has never happened before. In all honestly, I kind of miss school.  Now don't get me wrong.  Snow days are like a wonderful surprise gift and I enjoy them as much as the next teacher.  But there is so much to do and I admit, I miss the kids.  

Just about every school district was closed today due to weather.  When watching the weather channel, I saw that even the southern states are getting hit with some colder air.  It must be awful to have your temperatures fall into the 30's!   Someone I know in Louisiana even posted pictures of *gasp* snow on the ground.  Although, technically, it looked like no more than an inch which certainly wouldn't even qualify for snow here in the mitten state.  I imagine the southerners are amused and tickled by this freakish snow  and chilly weather.

We Michiganders, however, are no longer amused.  Enough already. I think I speak for all of us when I say that we do not feel the need to break any more cold records, or snowfall records, or windchill records, or snow day records.  And for all my friends and family in the south, since we sent you some snow, how about reciprocating and sending us some warmer temperatures and sun?

Wah.  How long until spring?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Sweet Dreams

I've never met a teacher that doesn't have dreams about school.  And by dreams, I mean nightmares.  In fact, for the first five years I taught, I think I had a "school dream" almost every night. It was exhausting.  When I woke up every day I felt like I'd just spent seven hours in front of kids teaching.  And I had to get up and do it all again.   Sometimes I taught complete lessons in my sleep filled with uncontrollable students heckling me  and missing materials.  And yes, all you Freud lovers, I even had the dream where I arrived at school in my underwear.  

Thank goodness, every year I teach results in more infrequent school dreams.  The exception to that being in August when the new school year is a few weeks away.  Watch for teacher facebook posts around mid-August and you'll see them proclaiming that the "school dreams are back!" or some such reference to the start of school.  This dream always sadly marks the return to school mode for us and the end of summer.

The subconscious is a funny place.  Although I think of class management as one of my strengths, it never fails that my school dream is always one where the students are being defiant and unruly and I am unable to control them. Needless to say I wake up from these  dreams, heart pounding and filled with anxiety, worried that I might get a class that I am unable to handle. 

As the years have passed, some of the dreams are now happier, less nerve wracking dreams and I'm sometimes even able to dream up an activity or lesson that I actually try in my classroom. Although,speaking honestly, it always sounds better in the middle of the night.  I take this as a sign that I am finally, after fourteen years, adjusting to life in a classroom.

So last night I had a dream that a teacher friend across the hall died.  Very unnerving as this dream was pretty clear and not as jumbled up as many dreams are with time and place.  She is a young, healthy teacher and of course, I became distressed and sad in my dream, awakening feeling uneasy.  So, naturally the first thing I did was google dream interpretations and looked at what that dream might possibly mean. Bottom line was that it said there will be a change in our relationship, perhaps by distance or a move.  This magical dream interpretation computer site declared that I was trying to deal with the upcoming change.  Hmmmmm.  

As soon as I arrived at school this morning, I stopped by this teacher friend's room to relay my dream.  At first a little horrified by the darkness of my dreaming of her death, she clapped her hands and smiled when I informed her what Dream said it all meant.  

She clapped her hands together. "I'm ready for a change.  Or a move!"  

Way to look at the positive side. 

If you are a teacher, you know the school dreams I am talking about.  The places where all of our insecurities and fears turn into monsters.  And my, oh my, we already have enough stress and strife in our waking teaching life.   

So to all you dreamers, and teachers, here's hoping your nights are filled with sweet dreams. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

I Brake For Food

The thing is, in the life of a teacher as soon as the bell rings, you take off running at about 100 miles per hour.  All day. We can multi-task like no other human being on earth.  For example, today as I juggled a stack of freshly copied papers with my morning cup of coffee and some laminated pictures and headed towards my room I was already planning what I needed to do in my room once I made it there.  Or more like, if I made it there. 

The morning arrival is an onslaught of kids handing you notes and homework and asking you questions or telling you stories.  Throw in checking attendance, making sure lunch count is being done, reviewing the morning schedule, organizing the notes and lunch money for the office and by 9:15 I'm already tired.  Good thing little kids are full of energy, that in turn, energizes me.

Lunch time is the one time where things slow down for a short time and I always wander around the room, talking to some of the kids or just eavesdropping on their conversations. They are so cute and interesting, innocent and positive.  They are not afraid to speak their mind and watching them interact conversationally with their peers is always a treat.  They are like mini-adults at a cocktail party, carefully picking topics of interest and sharing their thoughts as they sip their little juice boxes and tiny cartons of milk.  

Today as I rifled through one of my classroom closets for something that would no doubt not be found in there anyway, I overheard several little ones at a table talking about burps.  Sad to say, that this is not a rare conversation but what was interesting is they appeared to be competing about how much their mothers burped and selecting  a winning mom.    I tried not to laugh as I edged closer to the table.  

"Well, I'm telling you, my mom never burps," stated one as he bit into his ham sandwich. 

"So, then you lose," declared another.  "Cuz my mom burps all the time."  

One of the girls giggled at this point.  Then she picked up a cheese stick as she added, "Well, my mom can burp, but she only does it when it's appropriate." 

Her friend validated her with a nod.   "Yeah.  Burps are disgusting. So my mom only does it when we can't hear her." 

I love girls.  Somehow in this conversation they were making their moms out to be burpers, but in the most delicate way possible.

I would have hung around to listen in some more, but I could hear a nearby table talking about who could eat their lunch backwards the fastest.  

And I certainly wasn't going to miss that.

Friday, January 10, 2014

24 Carrot

So, yesterday when I pouted about not getting a snowman built outside our classroom window during recess, one of the little darlings commented, "Well we would have built one but we didn't have a carrot!"
(spoiler alert)

Today, when I packed my lunch I opened up the produce drawer in the frig and grabbed a nice, fat, orange carrot.  There would be no excuses today!  The temperature would reach 35 degrees by recess  - the perfect weather for snowman building. These little darlings have twenty-five minutes outside to frolic and play and certainly could spare a few minutes to roll and create a snowman.  It's what kids do.

Once at school, I sat the carrot on the back table and forgot about it until the kids arrived.  As per usual, it didn't take more than a nanosecond for two or three of the cuties to notice the unexpected item in the middle of the table.  

One ventured over and picked it up.   "Is this a carrot?" he asked waving it in the air so the others would see.  

I was ignoring the commotion on purpose just to see what would happen.  I was trying not to smile.   "Come on.  Hustle up people.  We have a busy day," I said waving them to their seats.  

Meanwhile, there was a small crowd at the back table passing the carrot around trying their best to figure out this anomaly.  A carrot on the back table just had to be explained.  But I remained deadpan and somehow managed to corral them to their seats, leaving the carrot behind.

When they were settled I zoomed in my focus on the carrot commenter from yesterday.  

I pointed to our daily schedule on the board and reviewed each activity as I do every day.   But when I got to "Recess" I squealed, "Well, I don't know about all of you, but I simply can't wait for recess today.  You can build me a snowman because I brought you in a carrot!" 

The majority of them broke into a relieved laugh and nodded, mostly because they were glad the carrot was simply just a carrot and not some crazy experiment or idea that their teacher had conjured up.  You never know. 

The carrot sat there all morning as we worked around it for math and writer's workshop and lunch.    And then, a few minutes before recess I collected the carrot and handed it over to the boy who insisted a snowman was impossible without one.  

"You are the keeper of the carrot," I informed him.  "You can make sure it makes its way to our snowman.  Outside my window.  That you're going to build."  

He beamed ear to ear as he took the carrot in both hands.  He had a big responsibility and he was not about to let it get away.

As they bundled up in their snow stuff, I noticed he carefully handed the carrot to a friend to hold while he zipped up and tucked in.  It was handled with a careful touch. 

They didn't disappoint.  If I haven't yet mentioned this year, they are an amazing bunch of kids.  Kind. Considerate.  Honest.  Curious. Helpful. Smart.  

I have outside my classroom window,  a 4' tall, carrot-nosed, rock-eyed snowman made especially for me.  

And as any teacher on earth knows, that is more precious than gold.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder

I realized as soon as I saw the kids this morning how much I missed them.  Promptly at 9 a.m. the bell rang and the hallways filled with laughing, talking, happy little ones, anxious to get back to school.  The teachers filled the hallways smiling and invigorated from their two week + three bonus snow days of vacation.  And it was already Thursday!

So what if a pipe had burst under one of the classroom sinks in my hallway late Wednesday night?  And the carpets had been removed from the classrooms, soaking wet from the three inches of water.  No problem that the book shelves were moved around the room and anything left on the floor was completely soaking wet?  What difference did it make that the classroom was a bit disorganized and "off" due to having to move things out of the way in the water clean-up?

I stood in the hallway as the students arrived, wishing them a happy new year and welcoming them back.  

"[student name], is that you?" I asked bending down and looking at one of my little cuties.  "It's been so long since I've seen you, I barely recognize you." 

(giggle) "Oh, you know who I am!" came the reply.

I continued down the row of coat racks attempting to be silly and unable to contain my glee at seeing them again.

"Aren't you SO happy to be back at school finally?" I asked several of them as they urgently pulled and jerked to remove their snow pants and coats.   "I have so many things for us to do today!"

They laughed and grabbed their binders and headed to the classroom.  

Naturally, they instantly noticed two things.  

#1  The disco/mirror ball was hanging from the ceiling. Sparkling and reflecting magnificently I might add.

#2  The room looked very different: bookcases were not in their places and the reading carpet was missing. 

"Let's hurry up and get settled so we can get started," I instructed.   

At this, one student noticed the note on the boy's bathroom door:  "Do Not Use" with a confused face drawn on it.  Because every note needs some kind of face on it.

Pointing to the boy's bathroom as he headed towards me I heard, "Why can't we use the bathroom?"  

Simultaneously two little girls were asking me why the book cases and book boxes were all over the room. 

I held up both of my arms as if calling a touch down in a football game.  I clicked on my microphone.   "Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention?   I need to make an important announcement.  Last night a water pipe broke in a classroom down the hall and there was some water in our classroom.   They are cleaning the carpet and had to move some things to clean up the water.  You may not use the bathrooms in the room or the sink/drinking fountain because there isn't any H2O.  You may use the bathrooms and sink in the Media Center."

Fifteen hands were in the air.   How in the world can they have so many questions?  I explained the situation perfectly and completely. 

"What is H2O?" asked one, who had apparently heard only one word of the fifty.  

"Water!" echoed back at least four others.   "It means water."

"What if there is someone in the bathroom in the Media Center?" asked another.

"Well, you can do what you do here.  Wait." I replied.

At this, at least seven hands went down.  Seems that was an important question of the day.  I finished up the remaining questions quickly and we began.

In the middle of our math lesson, a hand shot in the air with urgency.  


"You have the wrong date on the board.  You have 1-9-13 and it should be 1-9-14," stated the little boy. 

"You are absolutely right!" I exclaimed as I headed over to the board to correct it.  "Thank you for being so observant.  I am a year behind the times."

It was great today to see the kids get right back into the routine and the flow of our classroom.  We have a great little community of learners and thinkers.  

I got called "mom" at least fifteen times today, typical for after a long break away from school.  At recess, I encouraged the students to make a snowman outside our classroom window as they headed outside.  When they returned, I looked out the window and shrugged my shoulders.  

"Where is the snowman?"  I asked with a pouty face.  "All that time outdoors and you didn't make a snowman for me?" 

At this two headed for the window.  They pointed far away to a giant snowball. 

"We tried.  We made the snowball but it was too big and wouldn't roll any more."  

Indeed, there was a rather large snowball in the middle of the playground.  

"Well, you can try again tomorrow!  I know you can do this!" I encouraged them as I headed away from the window. "Now, I'm certainly no snowman builder expert, but maybe you should start the snowballs closer to where you want them to end up," I suggested. "Just saying."

After all, last year my class put in lots of time and effort to build this:

Last Year's Snowman

After lunch it was time for reading.  "OK, please come and sit on the --  on the -- back carp--", I said pointing to the space where the carpet normally is. 

They giggled.  "Well, I guess that wouldn't be too comfortable to sit on the hard floor.  So you can just stay in your seat." 

When students asked to go to the Media Center (bathroom), I told them to have a nice stroll and to not get into any mischief. 

As usual, the day flew by.  I know the kids were happy to be back to school on a schedule.    And I'm guessing that the parents were elated to have their kids back to school.

Most of all, I'm quite positive the teachers were glad to be back teaching and with kids.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Ice, Ice Baby

Well I am certainly no meteorologist, but the weather can be summed up around here lately in two words: POLAR VORTEX.   Now, how cool is that?  I have never in my life heard that term before and here I was right in the middle of this polar vortex thingie.  It sounded so serious.  And so cold.   I looked it up on Wikipedia and learned that it is also called a polar cyclone and a circumpolar whirl.  Those meteorologists!

So, this phenomenal polar vortex moves into Michigan late Sunday night, after at least twelve inches of snow were dumped on the area throughout the day.  Perfect!  Monday was for sure going to be a snow day.  A teacher's dream. Temperatures were expected to be -20 to -30, not fit for man nor beast, let alone a little eight year old at a frigid bus stop.

This was an extra bonus to have this additional day at the end of our two week holiday break.    School was called off Sunday night which made the Monday snow day even sweeter as I didn't have to stay up half the night monitoring school closings, looking out the window, and waking up my husband to ask him if he thought there might be a snow day.  Teachers have a lot of stress on snow day eves. We hang in limbo as we wait to find out if we will be staying home, or if we should, indeed, open up that plan book and finish up those lesson plans.   In addition, thanks to Facebook we now spend way too many hours posting about the possibility of a snow day.  It's a vicious cycle. 

Today marks our third, and unprecedented, snow day, or cold day, or stay-off-the-roads day at my school.  In fact every district for miles around has been closed for three solid days. I ventured out yesterday and today for a bit and the roads were very icy and treacherous.  Best to make the call and keep the little ones safe at home.

I don't ever remember it being this cold around here.  Snow days are meant for staying in your pajamas until noon and then bundling up and playing in the snow.  But with these below 0 temperatures playing outside is impossible.  I baked banana bread for the first time, cleaned the oven (well the oven cleaned itself), worked out every day, and called friends to chat.  I read a book, which sadly rarely happens during the school year, watched some movies, and cleaned.  

 In other words, I can't wait to get back to school.

I miss the kids.  I miss their smiles and their loud talking and their laughter.  I miss teaching and learning. I miss my classroom and my teacher friends.  I miss the routine and the constant activity of a day at school.  
We'll be back at school tomorrow, well rested, refreshed, and anxious to get back to the business of learning.  So, adios Polar Vortex.  Good-bye Snowmageddon 2014.  Ciao -30 wind chill.  And parents, you can go back to work now, we've got this.  

At least until the next snow day.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

10 Things I've Learned (to accept) This Year

Happy 2014!   Where does the time go?  I've learned a lot this past year and I've reached the point where I accept some things I just can't change.  So, without further ado, and in no particular order, here are ten things that I've learned to accept.

 1.  I can actually run on the treadmill (which I assume will transfer to outside when the weather breaks).  After decades of attempting to run more than .25 miles and failing, I've finally worked myself up to being able to successfully run 5K.  And by that I mean 3.1 miles.  It just sounds better when you say 5K.   Yay me! 

2.  I find folding fitted sheets exasperating.    I even tried watching a YouTube video over the summer and still can't get it.  So, I'm giving up.

3.  If I think of myself as a year older than I really am during the year, getting older doesn't bother me.  In fact, when my birthday arrives, I'm excited that I actually am not as old as I think I am.   You're welcome.

4.  Dry erase kidney tables are the bomb.   My students would whole-heartedly agree. 

5.  Hugging is overrated.  There.  I've said it. 

6.  There's an app for that.  And by that I mean everything.

7.  I am a morning person. With or without coffee.  I have high energy in the morning and start to fade by 3 pm.   No matter how late I stay up, I am still ready to go early the next day. 

8.  I can't sing and I can't dance.  But that doesn't stop me from joining in when we celebrate birthdays in my classroom.  That's because kids don't care.  They like me anyway.

9.  If you were to lock me in a room with a box of parts and directions to build an item (for example, from IKEA), I would not be able to do it.   This also applies to any sewing, DIY projects, drawing, or anything found on Pinterest.   

10.  Honesty is always the best policy.   

As the new year begins, may you be happy and healthy and ready for the new things coming your way.