Monday, September 7, 2015

Grand Opening Soon

Tomorrow is the first day of school.

Here's how I'm feeling tonight..... (if you're a teacher, I'm sure you can relate)


I wonder if there is a word for that.


 Have a great year teacher friends!  

Thursday, August 27, 2015

I'll Take Door #2

Teachers in my school district returned to school two days ago and began the process of preparing our classrooms and being professionally developed.  This is a process which takes 100 7 days and actually helps the teachers become accustomed to once again getting up early, learning again how to clear the paper jams in the copier, and remembering passwords that haven't been used in months.  It's for the best, as by the time the students arrive teachers have settled in and are more than ready for the little cuties to arrive that first day.

Being a morning person, I have arrived at school early to jump into "setting up my classroom" before the meetings for the day begin.  I'm sure it goes without saying that the venti skinny vanilla latte helps fuel my energy so by 9 a.m. I've accomplished quite a bit in a short amount of time.  As one might expect, being a morning person, by mid-afternoon I'm usually dragging.

This morning was allocated to cleaning my desk.  Jeez.  I can't really talk about kids and their messy desks filled with more things than one could imagine, as mine hasn't really been sorted through and organized for five years.  Whoops!   But I soon quickly had the drawers emptied and, if I had not been distracted so many times by the interesting and cool things I was finding in said desk, would have had it all back in order and ship-shape in less than an hour.

My teacher friend across the hall stopped in to say good morning and I saw her eyes admiring the stack of post-it notes, stickers, and other random, still packaged items piled high on my desk awaiting their placement back into the desk.     She casually strolled closer and picked up some cute name tags.

"Hey, if you have any extras can I buy them off you?  I don't really want to have to go all the way over to the teacher's store," she asked.  "For just name tags."

Sounded logical to me. I stretched my arm out like Vanna White.  "Sure!  Take whatever you'd like.  I have plenty."  That was obvious from the leaning tower of name tags spread on the desk before us.

"I'm finding some good stuff in my desk," I bragged to her holding up some colorful stickers.  "You should see all this stuff."

But she COULD see it because it was covering up the entire top of my desk at this point.    She picked up the name tags and left, probably worried that I would start showing her stuff, or perhaps she decided she had a few minutes and should clean her own desk. Either way, I continued with the cleaning and organizing and had everything finished by the time our meeting began! Yay me!

Later today after our meetings wrapped up, I returned to my room to see what other things I could get done before I left for the day.  But first, I sat down at my desk and opened each drawer to admire all the little things in their little organized places.  It almost brought tears to my eyes it was so beautiful!
What next? I asked myself.  If I could make my desk look this good, there was nothing stopping me.

So I turned around to the large closet behind my desk.  It loomed over me, practically taunting me as it is the spot where everything goes during the school year.  I slowly opened it, thinking about how I left it in June as I merrily skipped out the door for summer without a care in the world.  A few of the shelves are organized with notebooks and books and a few other things.  The bottom shelf has posters and bulletin board stuff, maps, and other assorted large paper items.

And then I saw it.  Directly at eye level, the huge pile of papers stacked in the cabinet from last year.  Things I'd copied.  Things I'd printed.  Things that were extra copies of things. Things that hadn't been filed.  Things I had copied twice because I couldn't find it to copy.  I contemplated if it might be better just to pull the stack out and burn it.  That would sure be easier than having to sort through the massive pile and then figure out where to put it.  I took a five inch stack from the top and began looking through it.  I thought about what if I just put the entire stack in the recycling bin?   I'm sure one of the other three wonderful teachers I work with would have a copy of whatever was in this pile.  I put the stack back into the closet and closed the door.

I'll tackle it tomorrow morning when I'm fresh and caffeinated.

Happy back to school teacher friends!   This is going to be a great year!  

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Put On Your Dancing Shoes

This is what teachers in my school do for fun to celebrate the last day of school!   Happy summer, Way staff and students.  

 Special thanks to our art teacher, Mallory!  Another fantastic idea and movie.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

How To Survive The Last Days

10.   Count down the days remaining in the school year.  Post the number on the board each morning in the brightest dry erase marker available and circle it.  Write clever FB posts for your teacher friends to decode.

 9.    Take down things from the walls one small section at a time while students are away in a special.   Challenge the students to tell you what was hanging there.

 8.   Play calming, classical music loudly in your classroom from the minute you arrive in the morning and don't pause it until all the students arrive and get settled.   Pretend you can't hear them because you are listening to the music.  

 7.  Up the size of your desperately needed morning Starbucks skinny vanilla latte to a venti.  Ponder adding another shot. 

 6.  Allow students to watch a movie at lunch even though it's not Friday Movie Day just so it's quieter.

 5.  Use your ultimate power of allowing an extra recess to bargain for better behavior throughout the day.   Act very serious. 

 4.  Spend any available time that used to be used for prepping, planning, copying, and collaborating with your team now talking and bringing no thoughts about teaching whatsoever to the table.  For once, talk about your family, your vacation plans and not talk about curriculum and kids. 

  3.  "Forget" to bring in to school, or out of your car when you get home, your large school bag that is essential on any other days except the final few.  At this point, you've got this.

  2.   Wonder how you possibly got through teaching 176 days, seven hours every day, with eight and nine year olds and are still standing.   And remarkably sane.  Or at least not too crazy that a few weeks of summer won't fix you right up.

  1.   Look around the room at the wonderful, unique, funny, happy, smart, little ones that you've grown to love, and realize you are really going to miss them.

But whatever you do, don't start to think about next year just quite yet.  Give yourself some lazy, sunny, fun-filled days to do whatever you want.  

You sure deserve it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Tree Hugger

So today was our yearly field trip to the district nature center to travel back in time and "live like a pioneer".  For any of you not versed in Michigan history, that means visiting the log cabin and barn, and heading to the "Sugar Shack" to see how sap is magically turned into maple syrup.  The kids absolutely love, love, love it!  They get to try out tools the pioneers used (saw, corn planter, grinding wheel, etc.), bake cookies in the cabin, make candles, play with pioneer toys, tap a sugar maple tree, and watch sap being boiled into delicious maple syrup.   It's a full day of learning and fun.  It's exciting to see the kids of today experience how different life was years ago.

But today, being March in Michigan, the weather was chilly and rainy and just yucky.  I had reminded all the little ones to make sure and wear boots and bring coats and hats today.  And being the wonderful group of kids they are, today they arrived with their little sack lunch in hand and dressed in boots and rain gear.  They were ready!  No weather was going to stop us from having fun today!  Lucky for me, my daughter had purchased me the perfect gift last Christmas - a pair of rubber rain boots with warm socks.  I was prepared!  For once, I wouldn't be freezing and improperly dressed for an outdoor, all day field trip.  

The best part of the day for me was when we were in the maple trees.  The guide was showing the students how to tap the spile into the tree.  They had just measured the tree to make sure it was big enough to be tapped.   (See how much we learn in 3rd grade?)  As one little girl turned the hand drill into the tree, another little boy skipped off to another tree.  And I overheard this as he wrapped his arms around the tree and hugged it:

"Oh, hi, maple tree.  You are a strong, good tree.  But you aren't big enough yet to be a tree to give me maple syrup.   You need to wait another 10 years.  Don't be sad, tree.  One day you will make sweet maple syrup."

I smiled as I watched him join us again as the sap dripped into the bucket and the amazed little students watched and oohed and aahed.  They tasted the sap and smiled and giggled and made faces and asked questions.  

As we left today, I thought about my little tree hugger.  This wonderful, sweet little boy talking to the trees.  

And that, my friends, is one of the many reasons I love my job.  My day was spent in the trees and in a "Sugar Shack" and in a log cabin making cookies.   

It just doesn't get much better than that.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Nap Time

We have been learning about life in the 1800s in Michigan.  Mainly about the settlers and how many arrived in Michigan via the Erie Canal and how Michigan became a state in 1837.   The little kids really love reading and talking about Michigan history and they always make great connections and ask good questions.  It's fun to watch the little wheels turning in their head as they understand big ideas and generate more questions to help them learn.

So today, as we sat on the back carpet talking about how tough (and different) life would be in the 1800s in Michigan, I directed their attention to a picture in their book of a pioneer woman pushing a plow.
If you look carefully you can see a little box by the handle of the plow with a little bundled up baby in it.  I asked them to look at the picture closely and one little darling quickly noticed the tiny baby on the plow.

"If you lived as a pioneer in the 1800s, everybody worked," I explained to them.  "The men, the woman, and even the kids!  Boys and girls your age would have had chores to do every day that kept them busy," I explained.  The pain on their faces was evident.  The thought of working all day had them worried.

"Life as a pioneer was tough," I added.  "You had to cut down the trees to build your cabin, plow the fields to plant, make your own candles, wash your clothes by hand, and make all your food."

They looked displeased at the mere thought of a life so drastically different than their own.  So I said it again for affect.  "Everybody had to work!"

"Even the baby worked!" interjected one little one, pointing to the baby in the picture.

"Yeah........ he worked on a nap!"  said one funny boy.    And it was quite clever, so we all had a good little chuckle.

I don't know exactly what it was, but something about that picture with the napping baby, and my classroom of little cuties, had me smiling the rest of the day.  

Sometimes, it really is the little things.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Stars & Stripes Forever

It's not like there aren't funny things that happen every day in my classroom and inspiring stories to blog about.  There are.  Last year I walked around with a notepad in my pocket so I could record the funny little stories and the happy moments that go on constantly during the day.   This year, with no notepad in my pocket, the spontaneous and silly things that happen are, sadly, forgotten most days by the time I arrive home exhausted. 

I'm so relieved that this week it is staying lighter longer at night (daylight savings time) AND our cold, cold winter has let go of us a bit and we've had temperatures in the 40's and 50's. The sun has even been shining.  It's like a collective sigh of relief as our spring begins to slowly arrive.  Soon, teacher friends, we'll be able to go out for *gasp* an extra recess to enjoy the nice weather.

So today, this happened.

I was asking the students to finish up their reading and put away their book boxes.  One student, who had just returned from a reading class plopped down in his seat and caught my attention.  As the other students hurried about, he looked at me and said, "What should I do?  Just sit here?"   

It seemed a very silly question with an obvious answer so I looked him in the eyes. 

"Well... no.  You should stand on your head and do a headstand while singing the National Anthem," I said to him with a serious face.   I even motioned towards the back carpet area invitingly.   He smiled.  

I arched my eyebrows as best I could.  A challenge.

And then he pushed his chair out, stood up, hustled over to the back carpet and kicked himself up into a perfect headstand.   

"How does that song go again?" he asked me with his upside-down face.  

"Ohhhh-oh say can you...." I began.     And he picked it up from there as his face turned a faint shade of pink.

Let's just say it took about a nanosecond for the other little ones to see that something very unusual was going down at the back carpet.  And they certainly were not going to miss it.  Soon, they gathered, from near and from far.  They joined in the song.  Because they are kids.  A couple of them danced a bit and they circled around him singing and encouraging him.  They may not have known all the words, but they made up for it with their determination and resolve.  

And he did it! He brought his legs back down to a very appreciative audience who were now madly clapping and shouting words of admiration.  I wasn't sure if his red face was from being upside down or from embarrassment from all the attention.

As I pointed them back to their tables to get back on task after the impromptu show, the little boy looked over his shoulder at me as he said, "You know, I can do back flips too!" 

"Impressive," I told him.   "But no."   

I don't just work with a bunch of energetic, spunky, talented kids.  I truly work with little superSTARS who are talented in so many ways.

Every last one of them. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

It's How You Look At Life

If you're ever having a bad day or down in the dumps, spend some time around a kid. They can always cheer you up.  Case in point:  last Thursday the 3rd graders had a big practice for their evening presentation of "The Drum".  Our wonderful music teacher, Mrs. Oberst, had been leading practice sessions for weeks and the 3rd graders were dizzy with excitement and nerves.   So, I lined my little ones up in our classroom to head down to the dress rehearsal in the proper order by announcing each name.  They pushed their chairs in and bounced over to their position in line.  You could feel the energy.   

We approached the back stage door and waited patiently for the first two classes to enter.  As my students walked up the steps back stage, I smiled at each of them and said, "Smile!" making a big sweep with my hands for emphasis.  They couldn't help but smile back as they hurried on their way.

The rehearsal wasn't the best practice I've ever seen.  The kids were noisy.  They were squiggly and full of nervous energy.  They missed some of their lines and forgot to go to their instruments.  By the end of practice, the music teacher looked a bit exasperated with them.   I reminded her how they always pull through for the performance and I assured her they would be great!

And then, later that night, when I lined them up in the classroom, for the real performance, I told them all how proud I was of them.  I told them to remember to smile and have fun!   And I said to them that if they got nervous they could look at me.  I'd be right up front in the first row.  
As their little voices sang in their cute little kid way, and they all perfectly executed their lines and played their instruments, I got a little teary eyed. I'm proud of them every day when they try their best and learn.  I'm proud of them when I see them invite a friend to play at indoor recess or say, "Excuse me" when they bump into someone.  I'm proud of them when I see them invite a younger brother or sister to eat lunch with them.  I'm proud of them when I see them ask for help or try something on their own. I'm proud of them when I hear them read to me and I see them excitedly looking for books in the Media Center.  

And I'm as proud as their parents when I see them on stage singing.  And smiling.

One of the songs that had been playing on repeat in my head every time I picked them up from music the past few weeks was called, "It's How You Look At Life".  

And as I listened to them sing and I watched the parents smiling, I realized it is, truly, how you look at life.  

We could all learn a lesson from the tiny little singers.  

Below Zero

Today we had our first "cold day" of the winter.  Temperatures today are struggling to get above zero and even though the sun is out, it's very misleading.  Every time I let the dog out I'm instantly reminded about just how cold it is outside.  Words don't even describe it.  Unless you've experienced below zero temperatures you really can't appreciate how cold it actually really can get.   And, then, just as I was writing this blog, I got a text that our school district is closed tomorrow also!  Oh, snap!

I texted my daughter in Chicago to give her the wonderful news.  Which, by the way, she didn't think was quite as wonderful as I did because she has to walk to her job in the cold.   She doesn't have snow or cold days.  She did muster up some happiness when I reminded her of the fun we used to have when she was in school and we could enjoy a snow day together.  I texted my husband who quickly texted me back "Yay".  Which I know he doesn't really mean since he has to drive an hour each way to work every day no matter what the weather.  But I appreciate his effort.  When you get a snow day, you want everyone else to be as happy as you are but that usually isn't possible.  So, I took to FB where all my teacher friends were gloriously commenting on the luck of, not just one, but two unexpected, consecutive days off school.  They posted comments and pictures and stories of what great things they were doing with their free time.   I felt validated.

So, what did I do with my day today?  I spent the entire morning zero tasking.  And, yes, that's a real word.  Look it up.  I'm sure you can guess the definition as it's the opposite of multitasking.  It's actually a bit difficult to do.  Urban Dictionary defines it as:  The act of doing exactly zero tasks simultaneously.  I also googled it and found it means "being, not doing".   There is even a "Zero Tasking Day".  What in the world did we ever do without the internet?

My zero tasking today included reading a book on my Kindle that I downloaded almost a year ago, sitting on the couch petting my dog curled up next to me, and cleaning the oven.   And by cleaning, I mean I pushed the button for the 2 hour self clean and left the room.  I figured that was a win-win on this cold day as it heated up the house rather nicely.   So, I'm not sure if I truly zero tasked, but I most definitely one tasked.

I think I did a pretty good job today of just being.  Unexpected days off school have a way of giving you precious time to just do what you want.

Even if that "doing" is nothing.

Monday, February 2, 2015

As Good As It Gets

This snow day is better than most.                    

*  It is on a Monday
*  It is the day following the Super Bowl
*  It is the first snow day of the year
*  We were notified at 4:30 p.m. yesterday (not the usual 4:30 a.m. day of)

I'm staying in and relaxing and soaking up every minute of this perfect snow day. 

  Read some of my previous blogs below about snow days.  I'm too lazy to write a new one today.

Snow Day 2013

How To Enjoy A Snow Day

Polar Vortex

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Livin' The Dream

When you are a teacher, having "teacher dreams" just goes with the job.  School and the kids are never far from our thoughts and it's only natural that some of the anxiety and stress bleeds over into our dreamworld.   My first five years of teaching, I probably had dreams about school and teaching at least six nights every week.  By the seventh night, I was so exhausted when I fell into bed that I didn't even dream.  Some weeks I felt like I was teaching all day and all night.  In some dreams I acted out complete lessons, and upon waking, actually used some ideas in my teaching.  But more times that not, the dreams stemmed from my anxiousness and insecurities - one of the reoccurring themes was not being able to control the classroom.   Now, let me interject that classroom management is actually one of the things I think I handle fairly successfully, so it was always interesting that the majority of my 'nightmares' involved me having no control over the little ones. 

Over the years, thankfully, my "teacher dreams" have become less frequent and now, in fact, I rarely have them.  After over a decade, my brain has finally allowed me to rest.  A few weeks before the start of the school year, I always have one or two, but now they are more cheerful and involve less of my anxious thoughts.  Once a year I tend to have the dream where I walk into my class and I have fifty students, but even in my dreams I am now more experienced and better able to handle it. 

Last week, I had a "teacher dream" of another variety.  This one involved me as the student.  I had returned to school to keep my teaching certificate and needed two classes or I was going to lose my job.   I was late for my first class because I got lost finding the classroom.  (Note:  I am an extremely timely person and have been late on only rare occasions.  You could set your clock by me!)   Once in the classroom, I looked around and everyone was working on a test, filling in bubbles on the dreaded scantron form.  The teacher was walking around and I waited for her to approach my desk.  She began berating me for not starting my test yet and I looked around on the desk, locating the test and answer sheet.    At this point, several others had stood up and declared that they were done.   My heart began to race!  I had not even started the test!

I opened the packet and began to read the first question.  It was complicated and made no sense.  As my heart pounded, I read the second question, and then the third, but each one was worse than the one before.   I looked around at people scribbling in the bubbles as panic set in!  I didn't know what to do.   I could feel hot tears building up in my eyes.  What was I going to do?  I was going to fail.   I was stupid.  How could everyone else be capable and I didn't know anything?  Why was this test so hard?

And then somewhere a bell, or something rang, and I realized I had to get to my next class.  The teacher collected everything and I began to rush to class #2.   This one was located in a large computer lab and, once again, everyone was already at their computers, clicking away on the keyboards.  A teacher (who, by the way looked very like our own Media Center Specialist at my own school) pointed me to my computer and matter-of-factly instructed me to get started before I ran out of time.
I tried to log in, but kept getting errors.  It was horrible!   Finally I logged in and I once again read the first question and it didn't make sense.  I read and re-read it.  I asked for a piece of paper and the instructor told me that was not allowed.   She told me that I should be able to figure it out.

And, then, like dreams so often do, it abruptly ended and I was startled awoke, sweat on my brow, and my heart still doing double-time.   Ahhhh... transference at its finest.  Bravo dreamworld!  

I'm sure by now anyone reading this blog who is a teacher already gets where this dream came from.  In fact, our staff meeting last week involved doing practice questions on the new Michigan state test on the computer.  It's a stressful time for a teacher, but, hey, we are used to that.  We deal with twenty-some kids and parents on a daily basis.  We juggle teaching writing, reading, math, and four hundred other things in a given day.  We write report cards, answer emails, and correct papers after school hours.   But it's not US we are worried and anxious and stressed about.. it's the kids.  These little ones are being asked to test and, in some cases, know things that little brains can't yet understand.  They are kids.  I've seen the stress and the anxiousness on their tiny faces when they take these mandated tests.  There are no words needed when a little one looks at you across the computer lab with such desperation and fear.   And all I can do is smile back and pat them on the back and tell them to try their very best.   Ugh.

Life is not a multiple choice test or a reading and answering questions test.

Life is problem solving and working together with other people, even ones you may not like.   It's being a good person and helping others.  It is learning and asking questions, and then asking more questions.  It's collaborative and engaging.   It's sharing ideas and reading good books. It's saying, "I'm sorry" and "What can I do to help?"  It's trying your best and when you fail, trying something new.  It's using your imagination.  It's learning and doing and trying. It's challenging and enjoyable.  It's taking risks.  It's being a good friend and making new friends.  It's understanding different viewpoints and appreciating differences.   It's being prepared and going with the flow.  It's up and it's down.  

But most of all, life is dreaming big and following your dreams. 

I hope in all that's going on in the world of education, we never lose sight of that. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Two For The Price Of One

For the first time in my teaching career, I have a student teacher this year. She started full-time with me on Monday but has been in my classroom once a week since September.  Now, obv I don't have much experience with student teachers and I'm certainly no "student teacher expert" but I would venture to say that I've pretty much hit the Student Teacher Lottery (if there were such a thing). 

For starters, she is an attorney and decided that her passion in life is to become a teacher.  So she went back to school and put in time and effort and $$ because she wants to do something that makes her happy. Teach. Now I'm sure without a doubt she is an excellent attorney and could probably make tons and tons of money and get to go to the bathroom whenever she wanted and take vacations in October, but she knew deep down  that being an attorney wasn't what was going to make her truly happy. I, too, after getting my teaching degree (100 years ago), went into the business world for almost twenty years.  But then I went back to school, earned my Masters degree and spent every minute trying to get a teaching job. I knew that was my passion.   Luckily for me I found a wonderful job in Bloomfield Hills and was fortunate to work my first few years with the best teachers on the planet:  Michelle Alt, Leah Heydenburg, Karen DiPietro, and Erin Marra.  They taught me more in one day than I had ever learned in an entire year in the business world.  Really.  There is a fine art to juggling twenty-five students and managing hundreds of learning objectives.

So, here it is Day #2 with my student teacher being in my classroom every day.  She arrives early.  She asks lots of good questions.  She listens to feedback and makes changes.  She admits she's nervous.  She spends countless hours after the school day preparing.  She listens to the students.  She takes copious notes and is organized. She strives every day to learn and grow and be a good teacher.  She's exhausted at the end of the day.

I think I'm very lucky to have this student teacher with me for the next three months.  But I think my students are even luckier.  They now have two teachers to help them, teach them, encourage them, push them, and learn with them.    They have two teachers  who care about them and, let's be honest here, their chances of getting more personal attention is now two-fold.   

This year I have one of the most wonderful 3rd grade classes I've ever had.  They are polite and kind and have a terrific sense of humor.  They are smart and curious and respectful.  They are fun and sensitive.  It's only January and I already know that I will miss them all very much when June rolls around.  

So here's hoping that my student teacher has a wonderful experience in my classroom this semester. She will be overwhelmed and overworked, but I hope she realizes that the passion she has for teaching is real, and that the fact that she pursued this profession at this point in her life means that she will be a really, really good teacher.  I hope she sees that the bad days can be wiped out in an instant by one good one.  I hope she learns a lot and grows a lot and discovers that even though this is probably the toughest job in the world, it also is one that is worth every ounce of effort.  And to anyone out there who is thinking about it.... always go for it and follow your passion!

                                                  Excited for her 1st day!