Sunday, December 18, 2011

Winter Art

So I feel like my blog is usually just me rambling and/or b*tching about whatever I feel like... and I've decided it's time I actually show you something I've done in my classroom.

My old school in New Orleans is a charter school with an arts-based curriculum - which means that we had a lot of time to work on fantastic art projects. One of my favorites was our winter tree/snowman artwork. I decided to share it with my team at my new school.

The kids use crayon to complete their winter scene, then paint over the entire background with watercolors. Then - and here's the wow factor - you sprinkle salt on the picture. The salt absorbs the water where it touches, and it creates a "snowstorm" effect. Pretty cool, huh?

I apparently neglected to realize that this project only works on watercolor paper. Unfortunately several teammates did the project with so-so results using cardstock and drawing paper. (Sorry, guys!) I trekked out to the store and picked up the incredibly expensive so worth it supplies to complete our work. I think they came out well:





Merry merry!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Library Fairy

Something extraordinary happened in my classroom.

Yesterday, when my kids went to their enrichment block in the media center, I noticed that my library corner - something I take great pride in - looked a hot mess. The stuffed animals, bean bags, and pillows were strewn about willy-nilly, there were papers and pencils left on the floor, and even - gasp - books overturned on the floor getting wrinkled and probably stepped on by 8-year-old feet.

Not ok.

Not when I have spent dozens of hours and probably thousands of dollars building up a library of books so that my kiddos will have enough to read every day.

I had a meeting to go to, so I had to leave the library corner the way it was. In general, leaving a mess behind with a close of my classroom door is not a problem for me. But this time, I was not happy about it.

Cut to this morning.

When I entered my classroom, what should I find but my library corner roped off with notes reading that the Library Fairy had closed the library until further notice because it was not being respected.

Well, obviously I took this very seriously with my students. I explained to them when they arrived that this was how I found everything this morning, and I was as mystified as they were. It prompted a very important and long overdue discussion about respect for our classroom materials.

They have been mistreating the library corner, so it is closed.

They have been tearing up cap erasers and throwing them at each other, so there are no more cap erasers in the cap eraser basket.

They have been too noisy when they line up, so they will practice silence for the beginning of lunch.

I am sorry, but I am done. It is December, and they are in third grade. I don't expect them to act like miniature grownups, but I do expect them to pick up after themselves and take care of the materials that the school, myself, and their parents bought them. You should have seen the look on their faces when I showed them the book about Degas that I found upside down with bent pages on the floor and told them that it cost me twenty dollars during my trip to New York this summer. I explained that I am not rich, but that I am happy to buy them all the books I can so long as they treat them with respect.

Thank goodness that Library Fairy's got my back. ;)

Monday, December 5, 2011

You Better Watch Out, You Better Not Cry...

Oh, the holidays. It's a really fun time to be an elementary school teacher.

And I don't even mean that sarcastically.

Seriously, guys - how many of you with regular jobs out there get to make holiday crafts and read Christmas books at work?

So anyway. I'm not one of those crazy-obsessed-my-entire-month-of-lesson-plans-is-holiday-themed teachers. But today, I decided to read a short Christmas-themed picture book to demonstrate "Reader's Thoughts." That is, we read the book, and every time someone had a thought/question/opinion/epiphany about the book in any way, we stopped and talked about it. I'm trying to get them to think more deeply when they read, so this was our first step.

I chose to read Olive the Other Reindeer, which is a precious book about a dog who thinks she's one of Santa's reindeer. I suggest you give it a look.

Anyway, when discussing what we thought the genre was, my friend - we'll call her Humbug for the sake of this story - says, "Well this book obviously has to be a fantasy because Santa's not real."

Y'all. My heart sunk to my toes.

Literally one of my biggest fears is a child discovering that there's no Santa in my classroom. (When I was about 10 and I found out, I was devastated, and I told a family friend who was a few years younger. To this day I feel it is one of the most shameful things I've ever done.) Children have such a short span of childhood nowadays; I can't get over what my students know about (s-e-x stuff and everything!), watch (Paranormal Activity!), and play (Call of Duty!). The thought of them losing one of the few sources of wonder and magic in the world while in my classroom is horrifying.

And I'm not naive. I know that in the third grade, it's probably half-and-half as far as believers go. However, I am not about to let my non-believers ruin it for the rest. So after Humbug came out with that, there was fortunately a backlash of, *gasp* YES HE IS! followed by a reply from several kids of NO HE'S NOT! My blood pressure rose steadily after a few back and forths until I could finally get their attention.

I ended the discussion with the following: "Ahem. For your information, I believe very deeply in Santa Claus, and I hope you all do too. Because you know, you run the risk of no presents if you choose not to believe." That seemed to end the discussion definitively.

Oh! But I forgot! HIGHLIGHT of the discussion. One little boy - who is in fact very into his church, so I know his family is very Christian - said that he did not like Santa Claus. (Side note: WHAT?!?) Another kid replied, "You don't like Santa? So you don't like Christmas? You're Jewish!" And he kept telling the child (who is African-American, in fact) that he was Jewish. Apparently the only part of our "Let's talk about all the December holidays" discussion he remembered was that Jewish people don't celebrate Christmas. To him this translated to all people who don't like Christmas are Jewish. We had an interesting chat in the hallway.

Anyway, the point of my story is this: I went through my teenage period where I was annoyed that I had to pretend to believe in Santa because my baby brother is almost 12 years younger than I am. I rolled my eyes and was all, "ugh. How long am I going to have to put up with this?" I swear, in hindsight I don't know how my mother didn't either slap me or give me coal in my stocking.

Now that I've seen much more clearly how fast these kids are expected to grow up, it's clear to me that kids need Santa.

Oh -- and don't be this teacher.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thankful

Sometimes people seem to know just what you need.

As you may have guessed from my posts the past few weeks, I have been in something of a slump. I've been homesick and frustrated with myself and the way things are going at school.  Things have happened that have even caused me to doubt myself and whether I should continue teaching.

Thankfully, I had the opportunity to go home to New Orleans for the Thanksgiving holiday. I got to see my friends, spend time with my family, start Christmas shopping at my favorite local boutiques, and relax. One highlight of my trip was a coffee date with two colleagues and good friends from my last school.  One of them, who teaches 4th and 5th grade - and consequently my former students - does a Thanksgiving project each year. She asks her kiddos to choose a staff member from our school for whom they are thankful and write a letter to them explaining why.

Last year, I received letters from a handful of children. They were wonderful.  This year, I received more. These letters basically saved me from self-doubt and reminded me that, regardless of the day-to-day grind, what I am doing matters to the students I have.

A sampling from the 14 letters I received:

Thank you for all of the things you've taught me. You have been so nice to everyone, and you have always made sure that people can learn and catch up on things that they need to learn, but haven't.


I am thankful for having you as a teacher. I like your funnyness. I also like you fun projects! Finally I like that you have a big smile.


You would always make me feel better when I was feeling bad.


You are my favorite teacher because you always made me happy by caring about people. I could never imagine someone not liking you. In second grade I didn't know much about S.S. and in fourth grade I know evrything because you taught it to me.


I want to thank you for teaching me multiplication and for being a great teacher! Also I appriciate that when I finished one of my multiplication tests, you gave me a high-five. That made me feel really good.


You were a totaly awsome, funny, nice, cool teacher. You made that year awsome, thank you.


I am thankful for the fun we had in class. Your laugh is like a cool brees (yes, spelled like Drew Brees! highlight!) on a hot day. I miss you so much!


I have a subject and predicate test today, and I would fail it if you hadn't taught me all about subjects and predicates.


Thanks for being my teacher. The book discussions were unbeatable!


You are still my favorite teacher, because you make someone feel good in side.


I hope you stay awesome. I hope you have a great time in North Carolina.


We started learning a ton of new things in third grade, and nobody could've taught it better than you.


I remember when I was in your class. You taught me most of the things I know today. In your class I was sad at 3:15. All good things have to come to an end though, right?


I hope everything's fine in N. Carolina. Are you teaching? I hope peeps are lucky enough to have you in 3rd grade.

I am so thankful to have wonderful children to teach who build me up and teach me every day. And I am especially thankful for my colleague who made sure her kids show their appreciation.

As we go into the holidays, I am trying to remember every day to be positive and remember why I do what I do.

And it has nothing to do with test scores, reading levels, or state standards. Happy Sunday.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday, Sunday

One of the downsides of being a teacher (I know, opposite of the blog's title... go with me here) is that your work basically never ends. No matter how early you get there (I arrive before the custodians some mornings) or how late you stay, you are never. finished. There is always one more set of papers to grade, a new math game to cut out, or more teacher sh*t to find on the internet. (I'm looking at you, teammate...)

We teachers tend to obsess. I, however, am also a procrastinator. I am in complete awe of my colleagues who can plan weeks ahead of time, or who get everything done for the following week BEFORE Friday afternoon so they don't have to do anything that weekend. I think I've done that once. It was awesome, but not awesome enough for me to manage to ever do it again.

As a result, I've come to feel about Sundays much as I did when I was in middle and high school. AKA, oh crap, I have a TON of work to do tonight before school tomorrow.

When I was teaching in New Orleans, I got into a great routine. I went to a fantastic local coffeehouse or over to my teacher bestie's house and we got everything done relatively early in the day, leaving me with the afternoon and evening to quell the impending sense of Monday doom. (I'm an anxious person. Sue me.)

Here, I have done that a fair amount, but I've yet to get into a really solid Sunday planning routine. Why, you ask? Two reasons:
1. Hubs has been working 6 days a week, with Sunday as his only day off. So I've been trying to free Sunday up to spend with him. This means I've been attempting to plan on Saturday. You can imagine how well that's been going.
2. Football season. I am a crazed New Orleans Saints fan. We signed up for NFL SundayTicket specifically so we did not miss a single game. Most of the games have been at 1 p.m., which completely throws a wrench into my day, as there is not enough time beforehand to finish planning, and not enough motivation afterwards to get back to it.

Today, however, I feel great. Hubs is off to pick up breakfast, we are actually making it to church (something I plan to be much better about), the Saints are at the top of their division and have a bye week, and I only have 2 days of school this week.

I am so excited to actually enjoy my Sunday. Who Dat.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Root Cause

Today, I had an average day, capped off by a really crappy round of test scores from the seemingly 1029494th district assessment my kids have taken. I don't want to get into it - there are flaws in the test, many of the items are too difficult in my opinion, I have kids with attention issues and great academic need, it's supposed to take 45 minutes and takes 90, yada yada. It's not a valuable use of your time to hear my rant on the subject. And I'm really tired of talking about it.

The reason I'm telling you about the negative end to the day is to put into perspective one valuable, meaningful moment I had with a student today.

This boy in my class is a freakin' darling. He is bright, polite, kind to others, careful in his work (and if you're a teacher you know how rare that is!), and just all around a stand-up kid. Lately, however, he's been really struggling with his behavior. Talking all the time, making noises, unable to control his body when he moves from place to place, even repeating what I say in a funny voice and getting into issues with other kids at his table. He always apologizes profusely, promises to change his choices, and then 5 minutes later is making mouth noises again.

I like this kid. A lot. The thing is, there's only so much I can take. Today, I decided some info needed to go home. I wrote his mom a long note describing how fantastic her kid is but that he's been really struggling. I sat down with him so he could read the note over with me, to make sure he agreed with everything I'd said and wouldn't be blindsided when he got home.

What ended up coming out from him was that his parents haven't been getting along, and his dad is "staying with his friend" for a while. I'm not sure exactly what's up, but it sounds like his dad "made a mistake" (his words) and his mom is worried about paying the bills by herself.

And all I could think was, I'd be a basket case too, kid.

It put his behavior change so clearly into perspective for me, and I let him know that. And here's what else I told him: it's normal for stress or problems in your life to affect your behavior at school.

Um, hi. Can I please take some of my own medicine?

I myself have encountered a great deal of change in the past few months - the new marriage and 900 mile move alone are plenty. On top of it, I don't get to see my husband nearly enough and don't really like being alone. Add the stress of helping start up a new school with a very different and much needier population than I had at my last pie-in-the-sky land school and you have a whole heaping pile of homesick plopped into an already anxiety-filled brain. Much as I consciously attempt to put that aside while teaching, I know that it has seeped in, and I have not been my best self as of late.

Wow. The guilt of knowing that is as crushing as the relief of admitting it is cathartic.

I keep trying to think of a concise way to end this post, but it keeps morphing into another long, tangential essay. Here's my final attempt:

All I know to do at this point is keep on truckin'. Try to find the upsides, take care of business the best I can, and try to release control and accept that this is where I am supposed to be right now. And remember that, just like me, my kids are probably crazy for a reason.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Little Amnesiacs

One of the hilarious things about being around kids all day is their extremely short memories. Obviously, this has its negative side (What do you mean you don't remember how to add? We learned that last quarter!) - but really overall, its incredibly beneficial to teachers.

Case in point:

I've expressed in previous posts how - ahem - challenging my kids this year can be behaviorally. Specifically, they don't listen or stop talking. Like, ever. By the end of the school day (3:45 p.m. is waaaay too late, btw) I am hanging on to the last minute shred of patience left in my body. Inevitably, every once in a while, one child gets to be the lucky straw that breaks this here camel's back. It might be, "Wait, what do we have to do?" or "I left my folder at home." Or any of the other 192945394093 things I swear my people do just to irk me.

I confess. There are days I lose it. I get loud and lecture the class at the top of my lungs - making sure to work some praise for the friends doing the right thing in there somewhere - and basically do everything I swore in ed school I would never do. There may be screaming involved.

I always get this knot in my stomach afterwards. I feel incredibly regretful and am sure that I've ruined my relationship with my class. I just know that from now on, I'm going to be the teacher that the students and parents dread getting. I'm the mean teacher and I've crushed all their little spirits and am going straight down to hell.

And you know what happens, fifteen minutes later? The former hellion who caused my meltdown hugs me as I walk out the door, parting with, "I love being in your class. You're the best teacher!"

And I'm like... come again?

So it's great from that standpoint. But sadly, the students not only have a short memory for my behavior; they also have a very limited ability to recall their own. Often the kids who get on your nerves all the dang time haul off and give you things. (You get a lot of adorable handmade presents from elementary school kids. And you have to keep them all and display them somewhere near your desk.)

Here's the thing, though - and I'm going to sound like such a b!tch - I don't want your artwork, small child who demands my attention 75 times per hour. Please skip the lopsided flower or the three-legged horse picture.  Next time you want to show how much you appreciate me, listen to what I say. The first time I say it.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Honesty is the Best Policy

Cliche but true.

Anyone who is an elementary school teacher will tell you that you spend at least as much time teaching social/behavior/life skills as you do academic ones.  About a hundred times a day, I am forced to utter something to the effect of, "Poking someone when they asked you not to is not kind" or "It's not ok to tell someone that their mama is ugly."

This class at my new school far surpasses my previous classes in their need for lessons on appropriate social interactions. They are just in each other's business. all. the time. We can't have a single 5-minute mini-lesson on the carpet without at least 3 people going, "Stopp touchinggg meeee!!" in that obnoxious whiny child voice. I end up spending tons of extra time each day discussing how to deal with other people that you may or may not like. It's exhausting.

This behavioral teaching extends beyond just interpersonal skills, too.  Take the title of this post. I make it very clear to my class that I value truth-telling. If you take responsibility for your mistakes, then we make up for it and move on. If you lie and deny, we have a much bigger problem.

The lie-and-deny business is the worst -- especially when it involves the blame game, its even more annoying cousin.  I'll say to one student, "Johnny, were you talking?" and instead of just replying yes, the first thing out of his mouth is, "Well Sally was talking too!"  And I'm like, I didn't ask you what Sally was doing, I asked you to own up to YOUR behavior.

Anyway. Cut to today. We were doing a whole group writing mini-lesson on the carpet after recess. I noticed a girl in my class (whom I have nicknamed Miss Thang in my head because she has some serious attitude and disrespect issues) chewing gum. Now, come on. I'm a professional educator. I can spot gum a mile away. So I asked her, "Miss Thang, are you chewing gum?" To which she merely shook her head in an incredibly guilty manner. So I said, "Open your  mouth." I got a sheepish look and then she headed for the trash can to spit it out. I sent her into the hallway and spoke to her for a minute calmly about the fact that gum wasn't that big a deal, but lying was.

You'd think it would be over at this point. You'd think her friend who was ALSO chewing gum would take the opportunity while I'm not in the room to spit hers out.

Not so.

Five minutes later, I'm talking to Miss Thang #2 about her writing piece. I notice her chewing motion, so I ask her if she has gum. She shakes her head no.  I send her into the hallway so we can talk about the lying. While in the hallway, she denies to me six times that she has gum in her mouth, despite the fact that I can see it and smell the minty freshness coming from her mouth. Only when I begin walking her to the office does she relent. (Thank goodness the special ed teacher arrived so I could follow through right away!)

And by relent, I mean descend into a full-out temper tantrum. She is crying hysterically, begging, pleading with me not to bring her to the office. But as far as I'm concerned, if you're going to lie to me six times about something as stupid as gum in your mouth, it's too late.

Anyway, I had to literally drag her down the hallway, fighting with me and continuing her histrionics. I'm sure any other teachers or adults in the hallway were ready to call social services on me. But honestly, I was determined to get her to the office to talk to our fantastic principal intern for a few reasons:
1. When I say I'm going to do something, I do it.
2. Lying is unacceptable. She should have made the choice to tell the truth BEFORE there were consequences attached to lying.
3. I wanted her to see that a talk in the office is not as bad as she made it out to be.

So anyway. I finally got her close to the principal intern's office before she collapsed in a hyperventilating heap on the floor. In the end, the principal intern and I talked to her about her choices and she calmed down. The day went on as usual.

The point is, as teachers we often try to model the appropriate behavior or thinking strategy we want our students to exhibit. Today's exhibition by Miss Thang #2 got me thinking about honesty when it comes to adults vs. kids.

Frankly, the only difference is that adults learn when it's appropriate to lie ("Your new haircut looks great!"), whereas kids are too honest when they should lie ("You have a squishy belly, teacher!"). Adults lie all the time - "I totally sent you that email! Didn't you get it?" "Oh, I wish I could help you with that, but I'm busy that night" - but maybe we shouldn't do that so much.

Next time you get caught for something you did or didn't do, just do what I ask my students to do.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Back On Track

So... I got kinda sick this week, as I tend to do every fall. I think it's the weather change + stress + 20 small germ-infested bodies around me all day. It's the gross mucus cough/sore throat combo. Anyhoo, by Thursday afternoon I had zero voice. So on Friday, as per Hubs' suggestion, I spent most of the day on "vocal rest." I whispered to the children and asked them to be respectful of my hurt voice, and I taught in the quietest voice I know how to use. (Which isn't all THAT quiet... but whatever.)

I also got observed by my principal on Friday. This was a big deal, mostly because the man hired me after a phone interview and has never actually seen me teach. I let the kids know he was coming, in hopes that they would be on their best behavior. In the end, they behaved just like a normal day (i.e. making me repeat directions/wait for them to be quiet), which was what he wanted to see anyway. His feedback after school was really positive - so yay for me!

The real reason I titled this post the way I did is that for the first time in a while, I spent a huge block of time on a weekend purposefully planning my week. Another teacher on my team and I got together at a coffeehouse and workworkworked. As much as I would prefer to be outside on a gorgeous Saturday, the change in my mood/anxiety level is worth every second. I actually feel like I've gotten a jump on things, which is great because I am leaving town Thursday night to go home to New Orleans for weddings on Friday and Saturday.

Once I got home from planning, I actually did housework. My kitchen is actually clean and fit for cooking food. I have loved so much being out of town/having family and friends in town the past few weekends, but it's taken its toll. I'm not good at getting ahead during the school week, so I've been operating in last-minute-emergency-wing-it mode for a while.

Now that I'm actually remotely ready for the week, I don't have to push guilt/anxiety to the back of my mind before my fun portion of the weekend. Hubs and I are leaving this evening to drive to Charlotte because our beloved Saints play the Carolina Panthers tomorrow. I have missed going to Saints games every Sunday SO much; for a few years now it has been a major family pastime. Watching on tv is just not the same.

I'm just so excited to finally feel marginally on top of my game. I still have a lot more to do - unfortunately work begets work, it seems - but I am planning to let Hubs drive to Charlotte while I work in the car.

Have a great weekend and WHO DAT!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Letting It Go

OK so I have been SO remiss in updating this thing, but sadly that's what happens once school gets into full swing.

And full swing it is.

At the moment, I oscillate between totally stressed out/anxious (most of the time) and unable to focus/get work done. It's a lethal combination that guarantees my being in a constant state of frenzy, either external or internal.

Most recently, this has been due to all of the "formative assessment" that our district has implemented in math and reading. For those of you not in the world of education, the purpose of a formative assessment is to inform your instruction. In other words, you take the data you gather from the assessment and use it to improve your instruction and the kids' learning. In this case, the kids take the test, and the results are scanned and available to us online the same day. Then, we spend the rest of the week doing "corrective instruction" with students who need more work and enrichment or extensions with the kids who already know the material well.

Sounds fantastic in theory, doesn't it?

Besides having issues with several aspects of the assessments (2 right answer choices, reading passages that are too long for my kids at this point, etc.) - I really do like having the data on my kids, and it enables me to better meet their needs. It's great feedback on which concepts give the kids trouble (estimation, anyone?)

Where the problem really lies is my expectations. When I look at my kids in the "red" section of scores, and how many of them it is, it gets me thinking about what I need to do to get them where they need to be. I mentally and emotionally tend to take the burden of getting them there entirely on my own shoulders. I am so competitive and driven, and it leads me to doubt myself when I see my class' scores lower than others'.

Basically, all of this converged into the following: during a data meeting with my team, two administrators, our AIG teacher, and our instructional facilitator, I lost my sh*t and cried.

So. Embarassing.

Anyway, the story has a happy ending. It comes down to the fact that I need to let go of some of the emotional burden I attach to my job. My teammates and the administration have been so supportive and positive, and I've gotten such good advice from them.

Hubs is also, of course, fantastic about it. I feel like I've been such an insane person lately - alternating between apathy and anxiety. I've got to find some balance and begin to let some of it go.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Conundrum

I'm in a great mood right now. Why, you ask? Several reasons.

1. I just had LocalYogurt. It was delicious.
2. I have SO many fun weekends to look forward to. I figured out that I have something going on the next five weekends in a row. Plus it's football season, so... yeah.
3. I just got back from my first tap class in Chapel Hill. It was awesome and so relaxing. I love going to class because it requires me to be fully present and put all of my mental and physical energy into dancing. So I can't think about anything else that is stressing me out. Despite being quite the brain workout, it actually ends up being a brain break. Generally speaking, my brain works about a million miles an hour. I literally can't turn it off, which can be problematic. (Case in point: I've actually woken up at 3 in the morning with an entire week of lessons in my head. Thanks, dreams!) Forcing it to pay attention fully to one thing (crap! what was that step?) enables it to relax a little.

Anyway. So far I feel like I'm doing a much better job this year of balancing my work life with my life life. (This is due largely to the fact that I'm now responsible for Hubs' well being and he for mine.) In New Orleans, it was hard to force myself to go out and do stuff because it's where I've always been and where many of my friends and family live. Now that I'm in a new place (that is closer to many of my college friends I haven't seen much), I'm sort of forced to find things to do.

Here's the downside: I can't get over the guilt. I was so unfocused today, and I found myself wanting to leave as soon as school was over. Obviously, I got my plans done and did what I needed to do, but my usual obsessively-perfectionist ways are kind of not happening this week. I can't get myself motivated to workworkwork. Which is fine -- except I'm just enough of a perfectionist to be TOTALLY bothered by the fact that I'm not up to snuff.

It's so frustrating.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Small Victories

So... the short version is that today went better.

I decided to make a few changes to help the kids avoid the debacle that was last week:

1. Split up the tables. I had had two large tables of 8 students (a square with 2 on a side) and a table of 4. No more. 4 to a table - 1 on each short end, 2 on one long end. (That way, no one is across a short side from each other.) It seemed to help somewhat.

2. Build in a better, more individualized management system. I put 3 popsicle sticks on each student's desk at the beginning of math. When he/she was either talking out of turn or off-task, I simply walked by and silently picked up a stick. Students who had no sticks left at the end of math "continued to practice being on a level zero voice" during lunch.
(For comparison purposes: On Friday, only 6 kids DIDN'T get silent lunch. Today, only 2 DID get it.)
Also, it took away the anxiety and stress of having to say to the whole class repeatedly, "Get back to zero," etc. My very special child seemed so much less stressed today!

After lunch, everyone started over with 3 sticks. Students who lost all their chances during reading block were not able to participate in the Magic School Bus science movie that we watched at the end of the day. (They did another, less fun plants activity elsewhere.)

Anyway... it's not perfect, but the kids got a lot more work done!

I still feel like I was run over by a bus today, but at least it wasn't a totally insanely angry bus.

Last thought: I would like to amend my former post Domestic Enemies of the Elementary Teacher to add two other things that are the bane.of.my.existence: inside recess and tornado drills/warnings. Blech.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Triumphant Return (after a not-so-triumphant week)

So in my last post, I'm sure it seemed like I was totally handling everything. I was giving advice to the new teachers! I was helping them de-stress and relax! I was in my Zen place and totally on my game!

Then Friday happened.

I can't say that there was one particular reason Friday was worse than any other day. It's just that my students never.stop.talking... and by Friday I was over it. I had big plans during math: I was going to pull each child to the carpet to work with me on a few problems so I could get a "checklist assessment" on each of them. I love doing this, because I end up with the entire class' data on one sheet of paper. It's easy to pull the groups for reteaching, based on who missed which problem.

Well. Because of the talking and off-task behavior, I got through one child. ONE. I was so frazzled and sick of saying, "Please remember to be on zero!" and "No talking, please" and "Oh, I love the way ________ is remembering a zero volume!" and all that BS. By the time I dropped my kids off at Spanish, I was on the verge of tears.

Enter my principal, who asked me how everything was going. You know how, when you're kind of upset and someone asks you how you're doing, you end up melting down? Yeah, that was me. To my principal. In the hallway. Lovely, Katie. Great job. I expressed all of my frustrations to him - about my unmanageable kids, how little time we had to teach during the day, how so many of them were reading below where they needed to be, etc. All the stress I'd been shoving to the back of my mind and replacing with Billy Joel songs came flooding out.

And you know what? My principal was amazing. He expressed how much he admires what we do (having come from high school, he did not really grasp how much work it is to teach elementary). When I told him I was planning to go up to Charlottesville for the weekend to see my college friends at UVA, he told me not to bring any work and to enjoy myself as thoroughly as possible the whole time I was there. It helped.

Until later that day, when I cried in front of my kids. And then they didn't get to dance in dance class because they were so out of control. I couldn't get them out the door fast enough.

Here's the thing: I'm not really upset about their incessant talking and lack of ability to get anything done for my own sake. What upsets me is the look on the faces of the 6 or so kids who are alwaysalwaysalways doing what they're supposed to do. One of those kids is one of my special needs folks, who is on the autism spectrum. The poor baby thinks I'm yelling at him whenever I'm talking sternly (ok, yelling) to the class. I explained to him that it wasn't his fault, but he still has been crying and melting down at the end of the day because he just.can't.takeit.

It is not fair, and it made me cry. A lot. To my principal, my class, my colleagues, my husband, and my mom. Most of the 3 hour drive up to Charlottesville was spent in tears.

Needless to say, I was not exactly in the party mood when I arrived in Cville. However, not having been back to visit during the school year once since college, I couldn't help but be so freakin' excited to be back. I drove past the Rotunda and a big, huge smile broke out on my face. I arrived at my friend's apartment and promptly proceeded to pour myself the first of several glasses of wine.

The weekend was exactly what I needed. I spent time with a few of my closest college friends, watched UVA whip up on William & Mary, ate a long-overdue lunch at my favorite sandwich shop, and sat on the porch people-watching.

Lesson learned from the weekend: you have to have events to look forward to - as frequently as possible - or you will go crazy. The stress incurred by being constantly "on" during the school day has to be tempered by the other parts of your life. Fortunately, I have a lot coming up to look forward to, that will hopefully make these weeks go by much faster:
-My beloved Saints open the NFL season Thursday night. We are having people over to watch.
-Two of my fantastic college friends are visiting in two weeks for the UVA-UNC football game.
-I am headed up to NYC again for a weekend in October, to see the stage version of Newsies with friends from high school.
-I am headed home later in October for two different weddings in one weekend. My principal has already told me I can take Friday off so I can actually make it to the first one.

On top of that, Hubs' hours this rotation have not been nearly as bad as I anticipated, and I'm going to start taking dance classes soon.

Basically, what I'm saying is that even if I have a stressful job, and I feel sometimes like I am doing a terrible job, it's not the be-all and end-all of my life. I am more than my job.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Relax.

This post is for the unbelievably amazing first year teachers at my new school. Y'all, I am barely holding my sh*t together with all uncertainty and the crazy schedule and the fact that no one has an answer because there is no "last year we did this" - I don't know if I would be able to be a new teacher in this situation on top of it. I admire them so much and know that they will get through it.

Because I did. If I can get past my anxiety, stress, and 103405903493 meltdowns, so. can. you.

I have always been a perfectionist when it comes to my expectations of myself and what I do. Even if to everyone else, I am teaching a great lesson, what I am thinking about is how I can make it better or what more I could have done. This has eased some as my teaching career has gotten underway, but it's still there under the surface.

I remember at one point, a few weeks into my first year, when I had a meltdown at 3:30 and decided to screw it and go home, I ended up melting down AGAIN to an administrator because I felt like a slacker for going home. She, in her infinite wisdom and fantasticness, told me the following: "Katie, when are you going to realize that your 'slacking' is most people's 110 percent?"

It put things into perspective for me. Perception is reality, people. And, much in the same way that 13-year-old girls are convinced that everyone notices the GIANT zit on their face when in fact you can't even see it, you are doing a great job and no one noticed that you forgot that one tiny step of the lesson except you. It's not a pimple on the face of your lesson.

One thing I did for myself my first year was create an iPod mix that I called Classroom Zen. I would sit in my car outside of school at 6:45 a.m., listening to "Let It Be" and bawling.

Another song on the mix is "Vienna" by Billy Joel. Whenever I am stressed I listen to it:

Slow down you crazy child
you're so ambitious for a juvenile
but then if you're so smart tell me
why are you still so afraid?
Where's the fire, what's the hurry about?
you better cool it off before you burn it out
you've got so much to do
and only so many hours in a day

but you know that when the truth is told
that you can get what you want
or you can just get old
you're gonna kick off before you even get halfway through
when will you realize - Vienna waits for you?

Slow down, you're doin' fine
you can't be everything you wanna be before your time
although it's so romantic on the borderline tonight
Too bad, but it's the life you lead
you're so ahead of yourself that you forgot what you need
Though you can see when you're wrong
you know, you can't always see when you're right

you got your passion, you got your pride
but don't you know that only fools are satisfied
dream on, but don't imagine they'll all come true
when will you realize - Vienna waits for you?

Slow down you crazy child
and take the phone off the hook and disappear for a while
it's alright, you can afford to lose a day or two
when will you realize - Vienna waits for you?


So to you stressed-out teachers, first year and otherwise: relax and remember, all anyone else sees is the 110 percent.

**UPDATE: I reread this post and realized that I forgot the r in 'borderline.' Obviously this is unacceptable and I fixed it. Perfectionism. Case in point.**

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Agenda

It took us 45 minutes to go over and write down our homework today.

Here was the aforementioned homework:
-Math: Practice Sheet 1-1
-Read for 20 minutes. Record it in your reading log.

Getting it from the board to their agendas took forty. five. minutes.

Yes, things always take a long time at the beginning of the year. But seriously y'all... I almost put a Dixon Ticonderoga through my eyeball. A rough sketch of this scene (and mind you, this is after going over both pieces of homework and opening our agendas to the right week.)

Boys and girls, your homework is written on the board. Please copy it down in the box that says Tuesday. That box says Monday, darling. Tuesday. What's your question? "What's my reading log?" It is the notebook we JUST labeled with the words READING LOG, remember when we did that? No sweetie, Tuesday. Not that Tuesday - see? The top of that page says October. We want AUGUST.

And Hubs wonders why I am snappy when I get home. I love my job, and don't get me wrong - being with kids all day is still vastly preferable to being in a cubicle all day - but holy hell do I forget every year how helpless they are in August.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Rollercoaster

Well.

The first two days of school with students - and more importantly, my first full set of lesson plans for the coming week - are finished. It's been such a whirlwind that I don't even know yet how I feel about everything. Depending on when you asked me in the past 4 days, I might have felt overwhelmed, overjoyed, overtired, overworked, or very much overly excited. Probably all of the above.

After the excitement of meeting the students at Open House, Wednesday was looking to be a great, great day. Then, I got to school and something unimaginably, ridiculously awful happened to me. I discovered that the USB flash drive I have everything - everything! - I've ever made for teaching on it was not being recognized by my computer. It had gotten bent and was, as it turns out, broken. Granted, there is still hope that the Geek Squad at Best Buy can recover the data, but once I take it in it may be several weeks and as much as $500. Needless to say, there were hysterics, tears, and approximately 17 meltdowns. Not a good way to finish the last day of teacher planning week.

However, the first day of school went relatively well, considering no one in the entire school really knew what they were doing. I have figured out that it takes approximately 10 minutes to do a bathroom/water break (waaaaay too long), and a full 5 minutes to get my class where they need to go (also insanely long). It also hit me that I really have no breaks during the day. We eat lunch in the cafeteria with our students, and our specials period isn't until 2:10 p.m. For the first two days, we stayed with our students and went around to meet all of the specials teachers, so I had no break until after carpool duty. I was literally punch drunk by the time the last car pulled off on Thursday (around 4:30 pm!) I know that all teachers work hard and deserve credit and all that, but there is a serious difference in the amount of planning/free time available to elementary teachers vs. secondary.

All things considered, though, things went pretty well. I don't appear (famous last words) to have any major behavioral problems - as in defiance, overt meanness, etc. - in my class. I have a few lovely darlings that I can tell have serious attention issues, but that's par for the course. They all impressed me with their desire to try and follow what I ask them to do, even if they don't succeed.

I went into this new school thinking it would be very much like my last school in New Orleans, partially, I think, to ease my anxiety about all this change. In many ways it reminds me of my old school - the crazy overachieving type-A teachers, the administration that puts faith in you to do what you need to do, the focus on the arts. But so many things are different.

For instance, at my last school, the "average" student was in fact very much above average. We had 100% pass rate for the 3rd grade on state testing, and most of the kids read above grade level. Plus, I was working with the gifted literacy kids. The population at this new school is much more varied - I definitely noticed a wide range of kids' levels. It's going to be a big adjustment not being able to assume a certain level of knowledge, and honestly, it's the thing that most terrifies me about this year. I am terrified that I will fail these kids who are coming to me below level. I have always had an easier time working to challenge the gifted kids. I lay awake the other night wondering to myself, What if I don't do them justice? What if I can't get them where they need to be? I put such pressure on myself - state testing and guidelines aside - that I am scared I will drive myself crazy.

The other big adjustment is not being in a school where if I sent an email to parents asking for X, Y, and Z for the classroom, five Xs, Ys, and Zs would be in my room the next day. By contrast, after two days of school and twenty students, I had eight pairs of scissors and only five boxes of tissues. I can tell that these are dedicated, loving, involved parents, but they do not all have resources. I am currently snacking from a giant tub of Goldfish I bought because a girl in my class told me she wouldn't be able to bring snack until her mom got paid. Don't get me wrong, this is not a super-low-income, incredibly needly population, but it's definitely a change from where I was.

Here's hoping the rollercoaster evens out as we build up speed.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

WELCOME TO OUR HIVE!

Today was finally the day!!!! I was so excited by the time I got to school this morning (giant iced coffee + Lady Gaga jam session in the car + Open House excitement + bee bopper headband my mom sent me = OVERLY ENERGENTIC KVH) that I think I may have freaked several people out at our 8 am training for our Bright Links interactive white board.

Anyway. The administration (bless them) gave us the entire day to get our rooms ready, so I was very productive and my room has never.looked.better. Organization has never been a strong suit of mine (understatement of the year) but with all of the storage (and so few supplies so far) I am actually managing!

Here are some pics and details about my classroom and school:
Main entrance/office in the background.

2nd -5th grade wing in the background.

beautiful playground.

My door!

Work display board... "the bee's knees!"

Classroom library view one.

Classroom library view two.

Ribsy (as named by my first class of students). Just hangin' out on my file cabinet.

The fab easel that my wonderful Hubs put together on Saturday.

Welcome Message for Open House!

"Bee Day" board... I'm pretty proud of my hand-drawn "hives"

Featured Student (or teacher, as it were, for the first week) - I don't do a ton with it, but they do get to put pictures up and we have an Oprah-style "Interview" at the end of the week. It's really high energy and dorky.

Carpet area white board / book boxes / fun stuff

My cubbies look super boring right now because I have no supplies or kids' stuff yet!

Since there's not very much wall space, I'm using cabinet doors for a lot. Here are our "Math BUZZwords" - where I will post math vocabulary words corresponding to our topic, and our schedule for Specials. (Theater, dance, PE, music, art, AND Spanish!)

"Help Yourself Shelf" - supply shelf that students have free access to.

Tables and names on chairs. I don't know how it never occurred to me to put names on chairs instead of tables - SO much easier when they switch seats!

The Giving Tree for parents who are able to take a leaf and donate extra supplies to our room.

My impression of the kids and families was very mixed. I can tell I have a VERY high-energy group, and we will have to work on routines and procedures A LOT. I also laughed about how many parents came up to me and said, "Listen, my kid loves to talk. If he/she's acting up, YOU JUST CALL ME and I will take care of it."

Hopefully I won't need to!

I'm going to attempt to post some of my "bee" themed classroom materials later this week. Wish me luck going into the first day on Thursday!

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Kindness of Strangers... or just my family so far.

I promise, promise, promise I'm planning a major blog post tomorrow (or realistically, this weekend) with tons of fun pictures of my classroom. Once I learn how to get documents on here, I'm even going to share my bee-related cr@p that I've made for my classroom.

Sorry to call it crap. It's not that I'm not psyched about my room (my last classroom NEVER looked this organized!)... but I have a headache that just reached critical mass and I will probably be at school for 13 hours tomorrow, as we have Open House. I can't seem to keep up with the awesomeness of the teachers around me (no, I am not yet planned for the next 2 weeks and do not yet have units finished for math... good for you, though!) Seriously, it's hard to convey tone in print... but that snarkiness was directed only at myself and not the aforementioned awesomeness of the teachers around me.

I am actually REALLY excited about Open House! At my old school, we did not have one before school started, which I always thought was kind of weird. I am thrilled that my students will have a glimpse of where they are going to sit and get to know the "lay of the land" so to speak. I think it will make the usually bewildered and slightly terrified faces that walk into my classroom on the first day a little less bewildered and terrified. And that's a good thing.

The other thing I'm super excited about right now is that I put up a project on donorschoose.org. In case you don't know, that's a fantastic charity/website where people can browse teacher's project requests and help to fund them. I wrote a project proposal asking for sets of books on CD so that I can actually have a "Listen to Reading" section of my literacy block.

Anyway, I emailed my project page to my family and friends, hoping to get people excited to fund my (or even other people's, I guess) projects. So far my brother, dad, aunt, uncle, and friend have given. Amazing stuff! I highly recommend browsing the site if you're feeling charitable. (Even if you don't give to me. I guess.) You can give any amount - and so many of these teachers are working in incredibly underfunded schools with poverty-stricken students.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Day One

It's finally here! After all of the anticipation, training, and unpaid hours, I finally began work at my new school officially today.

I had not been in to the building in almost two weeks because of my trip and the floors on our hall being waxed. That second part should have prepared me for the state of my room when I entered this morning, but it did not. All of the hard work I had done arranging things, putting my classroom library together, etc. had been undone, and everything was strewn about on top of every available surface. Joy. So, most of the morning was spent redoing what I'd already done and rethinking the arrangement of things due to new additions to the room's fixins.

Around mid-day one of my teammates brought me my crack. AKA, my roll for my new class. I officially have 19 brand-new bundles of third grade joy. I have 8 boys and 11 girls. Two members of the class have first names I cannot begin to pronounce, and I'm on the fence about the pronunciation of about 4 more. (What happened to naming your kid something straightforward?)

Anyway, I am so excited to begin the process of putting students' names on everything, as well as finalizing the arrangement of the room and making everything just so. Then there's the whole planning aspect because, let's face it, I am going to have to teach them something - just making cute sh*t for the walls doesn't really cut it. My plan is to get my room in pristine shape ASAP and then spend the rest of the week I have before they get here (and, let's be honest, probably most of the weekend) focusing on the planning portion.

I am really happy that we will have an open house before school starts, so I get a chance to meet the students and parents before the chaos of the first day. With this being a new school, I feel like the chaos factor is going to be exponentially greater than the normal hair-tearing, teeth-gnashing, headache-inducing level of mayhem that marks the beginning of an elementary school year.

Anyway, I left right at 3:45 today (for the last time in nine months, in all likelihood) because my old friend Bryan the Orkin man was due at my house for our routine maintenance. Good news, folks! Bryan said we should not expect anymore rodent visitors, as all of the ginormous amount of poison he put downstairs in the basement had been eaten. Hooray for small victories and happy Wednesday.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Buildings vs. Students

It is the first day of school for my former colleagues and students at my school in New Orleans, and I can't help but feel restless and anxious that I'm not there. People keep saying, "We miss you!" and "We wish you were here!" and "It's not the same without you!" which is all very flattering and - come on - obviously true, but it's been making me wistful, nostalgic, and sad too.

I've also been emailing furiously with several friends who teach 4th grade, writing them notes and insights about my kids from last year. Since I'm not there, I feel a heightened sense of urgency to let them know who needs a little extra attention, who needs to be challenged, and (for their own good) which parents are nightmares.

But it's also got me thinking about the outcomes and legacies that we leave behind through our work.

While I was in New York last week, I spent a lot of time with my brother 23. If you remember, 23 is in his first year of architecture school, but he's spent a good portion of his time since high school taking architecture enrichment classes, interning for my uncle and another architecture firm, and even drafting the plans for the expansion of my parents' house in Sapphire, NC. Though I have no interest in architecture, I am slightly jealous of the nature of his work. There is something so satisfying about the idea of creating something. With architects, you can see and touch the results of their work. There used to be an empty lot, and now there's a building. There was no deck and hey look! a deck. They get to see a project through from a nascent idea to a realized, physical end. I have literally walked around, slept, and cooked inside my brother's work.

Let's contrast that with my job. Though I think it's the best and most rewarding career you could have (side note: talk to me in two weeks when the kids have been there a few days and I'm stressed out of my mind... I may recant), I don't actually make something tangible. Yes, my students produce grades on math tests and stories about aliens and endearingly scribbled artwork - but that satisfying start-to-finish aspect of my brother's chosen career will never be there, because inevitably, after nine months of teaching my ass off, they move on past me.

I don't think I will ever get past the mourning I do each May for the loss of my kids. I put my heart, soul, blood, sweat, and tears (ok maybe not blood. It's a phrase.) into them, and then they're on to their next favorite teacher.

So I don't really create anything. I contribute to the well-being and knowledge of children for nine months when they are eight and nine years old. That's my job in a nutshell. What tangible thing have I made - that I can pick up and hold in my hand and say, "I did that"? Standardized test scores? I don't think so. All I have to go on that I objectively produced something in them is their continued success and well-being beyond my classroom. That, my friends, is why I am such a crazy person about checking in on my people when they go to 4th grade - the need to reassure myself that I produced something.

Listen to the way I talk about them - my kids, my people. They are my product, our product - that is, the product of every teacher they have had. (For the sake of this post, I'm leaving out people like "parents" and "siblings" and "baseball coaches." Indulge me.) Each year we send them off to our colleagues and hope that what we created, stirred, and put into them sticks. What is the end result, the legacy shall we say, that we leave behind as teachers? I'll leave you with that to think about.

Happy school year.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sincerely, kvh(d)

Hubs and I got married in June. This was followed in rapid succession by honeymoon, packing, and moving almost 1000 miles away. He began what is, frankly, a hellish work schedule, and I have been kept busy by house stuff, setting up my new classroom, and obviously DVRed episodes of Law and Order and The Nanny. Don't judge my terrible taste in reruns.

The point being, I have not had tons of time thus far to think about getting all of these thank you notes written for wedding presents. Technically, etiquette dictates that you have a year to finish them all. Thank God. However, I know that my schedule will get crazy, and I will forget about it, and I will offend people who have been generous and thoughtful enough to send me a present. I've been trying to get these done but truly it is a monstrous undertaking.

Here's the catch: we had the biggest wedding, like, ever. This would not have been my first choice, by any means. However, combine two families who both live in New Orleans, parents of the bride who have entirely too many friends (what can I say, they're fun people), a large family on the bride's side, and the bride being an only daughter... and you get a very large guest list.

I am not in any way complaining, let me be clear: it was an incredibly fun party, and the more the merrier as far as that goes. The only semi-downside is that many guests means many thank you notes, which will take me a long time to get through. I'm going to risk sounding ungrateful I'm sure, but my poor little hands can only hold a pen for so many hours before they risk being frozen in that position. I'm too young for arthritis.

So, for you upcoming brides, graduates, etc. who have lots of notes to write, here are some tips:
1. Your husband should write at least some of them. There is no reason other than old-fashioned convention than the husband can't write some. Especially to people on his side that I don't know. He is neither crippled nor illiterate. I think he can handle it. (Hubs has been great about agreeing to do it, provided I don't rush him or nag him about it.)
2. Address the envelope first. The most annoying part of the process is having to find the people's full name and address within the giant list. For a while, I had a huge stack of fully written notes that I was too lazy/annoyed to address. So, write the address first.

(Note for people sending presents: PLEASE put your full name on the card. "Love Smitty and Poopsie" is not very helpful to me when I need to address the envelope. Just write Mr. and Mrs. John T. Smith or whatever. I mean, your name is Poopsie... why are you advertising that anyway?)

3. Invest in a cute return address stamp. It saves time and looks awesome. It actually gets me excited to write some notes for the first 12 and a half seconds.
4. Forget convention and call people you're really close to. I've done the "verbal thank you note" for a good number of my friends, aunts, uncles, etc. It's good for the environment! Thank you notes get read once, thrown away, and are left to rot in a landfill! I'm shocked there isn't a group of protesters shedding light on this very issue as we speak.

Anyway, I'm slowly working my way through the long list of presents. Our entire dining room is chock full of boxes, and whenever I go in there, I am overwhelmed with the level of generosity we've been lucky enough to be on the receiving end of. I fully believe that each and every person who gave of their time, money, and effort to send us a gift deserves time and effort in return to thank them, and I will succeed in completing every last one!

It's just going to take me a while.

**NOTE: If you read this blog and gave me a wedding present but have not yet received a note, I'll get to you, I promise. If you're willing to forego the note after reading this post, that's like a second present. Email me. I'll email you back a lovely, thoughtful and personalized thank you note. It would help me out a lot. Kthanks.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Housewarming

I'm taking a momentary break to write this in between chores. Hubs and I are getting ready for two of my best friends from college to visit for the night from Richmond. They will be our first house guests! (Houseguests is a compound word, I think, but then the friendly red squiggly line said it wasn't... hmmm.)

It's interesting how the best motivation to clean up your house is when other people will see it. I mean, a big mess does drive me a little bit crazy. But it never irks me enough to actually act as an impetus to fix the mess. (I mean, 10 DVR'd episodes of Law and Order: SVU is obviously a better use of my last few free days before work starts, right?) But really, when you think about it, shouldn't you clean up for you - the people living in the house 24/7? Why is it that we save our best efforts for others? There has to be some metaphor of life in there or something. I'll get back to you.

Another aspect that has been interesting of having this big new house is the plethora of DIY/handyman jobs we have on the list. This, I figured, would be no problem - I have Hubs! He's a man! All men are handy and know how to use tools!

False. This was something I had assumed because I have a very handy, tool-knowledgeable father. It's funny how there are things you just take for granted - I feel like we end up generalizing our dads out to be the way every guy is. Imagine my surprise when, during our trip to the Home Depot our second day in Durham, Hubs did not know what drill bits were. He had never owned a drill or power tool of any description. I realize now that this is perfectly normal, but I fear I accidentally made him feel bad slash emasculated him a bit when I balked at his lack of handy acumen.

Flash forward to what is currently emanating from our guest bedroom: lots of muttering and the occasional outburst of expletives. Hubs is installing blinds on the guest room windows so my friends can actually get some sleep. And funnily enough, I'm reminded of why I hated when my dad set out to do handyman projects: the muttering to himself and cursing. For all the ways that my dad and Hubs are very different men, maybe cursing during home improvement projects is a universally male trait?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Live in Living Color

I just got back yesterday from a four-day trip to New York City with my mom and two brothers. (I'll just call them 14 and 23.) Madre and 14 were returning from 14's performing arts camp in Upstate NY, and 23 was on a break from architecture school. Madre makes it to New York a few times a year, and we try to join her as much as possible. She frequents fabric and trim shops (I've been to Mood from Project Runway with her) for her business, and we always see a ton of Broadway shows.

Confession: I am a huge, giant, raving Broadway geek. I listen to the "On Broadway" station on my satellite radio pretty much whenever I'm in the car (until I hastily change it to something cooler right before I pick someone up). I even spent the night after my wedding this summer - in the Ritz-Carlton in Atlanta no less - watching the Tony Awards. I'll say it again: my husband is a gem.

Fortunately, Mom and 14 feel the same way. 14 is planning to be an actor and participates in any theater he can get his hands on. He's starting in an afterschool musical theater program this fall and can't get enough of his summer camp. And I must say, he is a pretty talented actor and musician. (The dancing not so much... but there's time.)

Anyway, I got a chance to see four shows this week: Sister Act on Sunday, How to Succeed... (yes, starring Harry Potter) on Tuesday, and a matinee/evening show combo of Anything Goes and Catch Me If You Can on Wednesday. This isn't a Broadway critic's blog, so I'll spare you the theatrical details - but I thoroughly enjoyed all four shows.

23 and I also had the opportunity to have lunch with two different friends of mine from high school, who are roommates in NYC. I actually have quite a few friends who live or have lived in New York after college. One of my friends works in the amazing Hearst Tower and gave us a tour. That place is freakin' amazing. (Excuse me, why don't elementary schools have organic cafes and huge gyms with complimentary workout clothes you don't have to wash yourself?)

So what do these two aspects of my trip - Broadway shows and lunch with my friends - have to do with each other, or anything for that matter? One word: regrets.

Every time I visit New York, I get the same feeling of low-grade longing to live there. Yes, I know it's difficult and expensive and the apartments are the size of an airplane bathroom... but I love that place. Hubs and I considered moving there for residency - he interviewed at two programs in the City and ranked them highly - but ultimately we decided that it made the most sense to come to Durham. But I know that I will always have a small tinge of regret that I didn't even get to try it out for a year or three.

As for seeing the shows, well, in hindsight I really wish I'd done more in the way of performing myself. I have loved to be on stage ever since my first summer at the Tulane theater camp I went to for a good chunk of my childhood. I've been dancing since about third grade (still am!) and was in the choir, school musicals, etc. While I don't think I ever had enough talent to make theater my career, I can carry a tune and tap circles around the average person... and I feel regretful now that I didn't make more of it.

I don't really know why, but I suspect it has something to do with fear. I'm an anxious person, and I struggled a lot with my self-image when I was younger. Add to that relentless academic overachieving. You end up with someone who desperately wants to be a performer - again, still do! - but never had the balls to actually try it out. It sucks that I have no one to blame but me, by the way. It's not like Madre forbid me to go into the theater, or I had some crippling injury that ended my ill-fated career before it began. Nope. I just wasn't willing to risk it.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Frame of Reference

**Note: I've been reading a lot of blogs to figure out how to do this better. What I've noticed is that most bloggers, for anonymity purposes, use nicknames for the subjects of their blogs. As my spouse is the only person I've referenced by name so far, he shall henceforth be known simply as Hubs.

"Frame of reference."
My mom likes to use this term a lot. When she says that someone has a similar "frame of reference," what she means is that they come from a similar type of background. Often this has to do with socioeconomics, family values, social strata, etc.... but when I'm using it today, I mean something more specific.

One of the things I love the most about my relationship with Hubs is that we have almost the exact same frame of reference. We grew up less than a mile from each other in Uptown New Orleans and we are the same age. Well, to be precise, I am five days older than he is - so I guess technically I'm robbing the cradle? Anyway, the fact that we are from the same geographic region, exact same era, and had similar families and education (though, come on - my school was far superior) makes for really hilarious moments sometimes.

A while back, we were having some conversation about something, and for some reason I said, "Calm yourself." To which Hubs replied, "Calm yourself, Iago..." - a line of Jafar's from the Disney movie Aladdin. Now, we have never watched Aladdin together, talked about Aladdin, or mentioned Jafar to my knowledge. But because we were both babies of 1985, Aladdin was high on both of our lists as "movies we knew everything about because we were seven when they came out." (See also: Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid)

Example number two: There was a HI-larious commercial in New Orleans when we were little for a ridiculous furniture store called Frankie and Johnny's. (So hilarious that Conan O'Brien even had a contest for remakes recently.) Well, my family thought this commercial was golden, so we videotaped several versions of the four of us acting out the commercial. When we showed them to Hubs, he understood exactly how freakin' magical they were. He understood this because we come from exactly the same place.

This morning, there was yet another example of Hubs and I being on precisely the same page. While the Mickey Mouse Club has yet to return to our countertops (knock on wood), we do find several little insects on a daily basis. No big deal... but for some reason this morning when Hubs was doing away with one, I started thinking about the Sing-Along Songs videos I used to watch on repeat. There was one song called "The Ugly Bug Ball" - and Hubs remembered it too! Neither of us remembered the exact melody, though. God bless you, YouTube:

Anyway, I'm not saying that people from different places or who are different ages can't have very successful relationships - obviously that's ridiculous. All I know is that it's comforting and often hilarious when Hubs and I have those moments of, "Remember that _______? That was so funny!" It makes me feel like we have known each other forever, like we grew up together. Since we're planning to grow old together, it's nice to feel like we started early.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Domestic Enemies of the Elementary Teacher

A few months ago, a parent of a child in my class told me about a fabulous blog called stark.raving.mad.mommy, which chronicles the adventures of a fabulously snarky, honest mom. One of her children is on the autism spectrum, so it has been fascinating for me as a teacher to learn more about how these students function in their daily lives.

One recent post that she did was as a guest on the blog Rants from Mommyland for their "Domestic Enemies" series... in which moms of various types enlighten readers about their biggest nemeses. I was inspired to create my own list of "Domestic Enemies" of my profession:

-Mr. and Mrs. Denial: These are the parents who refuse to acknowledge that their child shows signs of having an issue affecting his/her academic performance. No, his lack of focus and inability to attend to a task for longer than 4 seconds is not because he's "just a typical boy." Last I checked, your male genitalia means you are a boy. Your lack of focus means you may have ADD. (*Note: for the sake of being PC, it makes you "under consideration for having characteristics of ADD." Which is the most I'm allowed to tell you about your child.) My problem with these people is that if a child has an issue - be it ADD, anxiety, learning disabilities, being "on the spectrum", etc. - it will help them if the issue is identified and addressed. It doesn't just go away. Usually I am already accommodating the child for the issue he/she is having anyway!

-Mrs. Overreacting Worrywart: No, there is nothing wrong with your kid. He got a B on the test. Sh*t happens, and it will teach him to study his vocabulary words longer next time. If you meet with his teacher every time he gets anything below an A, he will never learn to stand up for himself OR to realize that he's not perfect. By the way, don't tell me "he's always been an A student." He's eight.

-Mrs. Call-me-at-home: I seriously had a parent call me to ask about a project due Monday on Saturday night at 9 pm. Saturday, February 14. Valentine's Day. For your information, I do have a life, and it does not include acknowledging the existence of my students between Friday evening and Sunday evening.

-Mrs. My-Kid's-Feces-Don't-Stink: No, your child is not perfect, and yes, she did in fact call the girl at her table stupid and ugly. She was not "led into it" by a ringleader - she is the ringleader. Oh, and by the way - MTV is not appropriate viewing material for your third grader.

-Mrs. Jones: as in, the teacher you feel like you need to "keep up" with. She has a color-coded, alphabetized filing system, her graded work folder actually goes home on the correct day every week, her classroom is immaculate... I could go on. Seriously, lady - you're screwing up the curve for the rest of us.

-Papers in my "To Be Graded" bin: I hate you.

- Clutter: It is very difficult to keep a room straight when as many as 27 people operate in it at the same time, with 25 of those being eight- and nine-year-olds. I can't even keep my own one-person mess straight at home - what do you want from me? It's like the piles of paper mate and multiply each night after I go home. I decided a long time ago that given the choice between straightening up my room for an hour or spending an hour planning an amazing hands-on, cooperatively-grouped, high-on-Bloom's-taxonomy lesson, I will pick the lesson every single time.

-Standardized testing. Standardized curriculum. Standardized standards of standardhood. Children are not standardized. Believe me, there are times I wish they were - my job would be a bajillion times easier. But they're not. So quit stressing me and them out by deciding how many bubbles they need to fill in correctly to advance to the next grade.

I'd like to close this rant by noting a few things. First of all, while I have had parents who fall into all of the aforementioned categories, they are few and far between. In my experience, 99% of the parents are lovely, supportive people who just want the best for their child and want to know what they can do to help you. Thanks to all of you who have enabled me to survive three years of teaching still ready for more!

I'd also like to point out that not a single one of the "domestic enemies" that I've listed is a child. Yes, there are annoying kids and mean kids and kids with "issues" - all of whom require patience and often a lot of extra time and effort. The reason I don't have a single kid to put on my list is that the kids are, in fact, the good part of the job. I will love and educate the crap out of every last one of the children who walks in my door to the best of my ability. I'm not perfect, and neither are they. But the kids are the upside, not the enemies. Any teacher who says otherwise is looooong overdue for retirement.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ch-ch-changes

I don't like change. Not to the extent of actively avoiding it by wearing/eating/doing the same thing every day, but in general, I prefer things to be predictable and relatively comfortable.

I think this may be in part due to my upbringing. I had a very stable, pretty damn near idyllic childhood. I went to the same school from the age of three until I graduated from high school. There is thankfully no divorce in my family, and almost all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins lived in New Orleans when I was growing up. Things were blissfully consistent for me - even to the point of every Christmas Day being basically exactly the same as all the others. (Opening Santa presents under the watchful eye of Dad's video camera, breakfast and presents with Dad's side, presents and dinner with Mom's side, go home and crash. Lather, rinse, repeat next year.) I think that this level of predictability and consistency brings with it a host of good things, including a sense of being rooted in traditions and a close community. In fact, elementary school teachers learn that routines and predictability in a classroom are incredibly beneficial to children.

However, the slight downside is that I have not often in my life been forced to undergo major changes. My first new school (and class with boys!) was at UVA. I only moved to a new house once in my memory, and it was approximately 90 seconds away from the old one. In general, change is just not something that's happened to me that much.

That said, let's recap the past few months for me, shall we? Get married. Go on honeymoon. Return to pack up life and move 855 miles (yes, I Google Mapped it door to door) to a city with no friends. Start new job at brand new school. That's a lot of change for a girl who hasn't even had a freakin' Christmas that was distinguishable from all the others.

Honestly, I was really worried about how I was going to take all of this upheaval. The marriage part has been fine - as I said in a previous post, I don't really feel married (read: old and lame) because things aren't that different with Hubs, except that I see him less than I saw him before. Plus I don't have to take care of paying bills or taking out the trash anymore because he is more than happy to do those things. Score.

For the most part, the moving thing has been fine too; Durham is a town with a lot to like, especially as I've gotten to know some really lovely and fun people. But I am bothered by the newness of it. I don't even notice it most of the time, but my dislike of change rears its ugly head every once in a while. Yesterday, for example. I spent 2 days in Sapphire, NC with my family at my parents' mountain house. When it was time to leave to go back to Durham so I could spend time with Hubs following his week of nights, I got really upset. All I wanted was to stay with my parents, grandparents, aunt, uncle, and cousin and soak up the familiar vibe from them. The feeling passed after a couple hours in the car and a tearful conversation with Hubs, but it was there nonetheless. I didn't like it, and I wanted it gone.

After a great deal of thinking, I've decided that I don't know that there's anything I can do to fix my aversion to change except to keep forcing myself to undergo changes. I'm never going to be a person who up and decides to move to China one day - or even to dye my hair - but if I continue to see the upsides of change, maybe it will help. (Side note: I'm considering renaming this blog "The Upside" because I keep seeing myself use that word. Thoughts?)

So... the Upsides of all this change:
-First and foremost, the best. husband. ever.
-a big, beautiful house with a spacious kitchen and a freakin' room for a closet.
-the chance to be part of an amazing new school
-lots of wonderful new people
-Local Yogurt (a deliciously acceptable substitute for Pinkberry)
-driving distance from Cville
-being able to go to a store looking like crap because I won't see 234034 friends of my mom or grandmother everywhere I go

I could go on for a while...

I highly recommend this exercise any time you are feeling negative about a change. My mom suggested it first, when I was feeling extremely apprehensive and anxious in the face of the match and the uncertainty it brought for my future. She suggested I make a list of at least 5 positive things to look forward to about a new place, and it really helped. Take it from me.

And remember.... if nothing changes, nothing changes.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Teacher Touches

After getting to be in my classroom and see the exact layout and everything yesterday, of course I couldn't resist going home to start planning and making my classroom decorations, signage, etc. I don't go overboard on that stuff, but I do want to make the classroom personal and fun to be in.

I always prefer homemade decorations, bulletin boards, etc. to store-bought ones, and I'm using a minimum of store-bought, bee-related items. I did come up with an acronym I'm particularly proud of - I think the front windows into the hallway will say "Mrs. D's BEES" - except here is bees:
Cheesy, I know -- what's happening to me??

One thing I feel very strongly about is that third grade is the perfect year to build a lot of responsibility and self-reliance. Kids need it when they get to the upper grades, and really just life in general. One way that I do this is by having an area full of supplies that students are welcome to. I've always wanted to call it the "Help Yourself Shelf" but never got around to making the sign. In my last room, it was always just "the yellow shelf." Students don't need to ask to get materials from this shelf - it is their space, and they are responsible for retrieving from it what they need to complete the task at hand.

I'm kind of obsessed with the how the lettering came out:


The last thing I made yesterday was a template for my weekly newsletter, which I plan to email out to parents every Monday. If someone will tell me how to post that on here I will do it!

So far, so good... a lot of work on the horizon and I can't wait!

Monday, July 25, 2011

At Long Last!

I finally got to start moving in to my new classroom! I had seen the third grade hall last week, but I wasn't sure which room would be mine. There it was: C122, last room on the left.

Hubs was fortunately free this morning (he started nights today), so he was able to help me load and unload my car. Despite trying to only bring what I thought most important, we had eleven boxes of books, 4 large tubs, a million empty containers, and some miscellaneous crud to bring. Yikes! Thank goodness he is such a gem. (He did insist on taking separate cars and leaving as soon as the boxes were in the room and the tables were arranged - but can you blame him?)

When I got into the room, I was so excited to see many items waiting for me. The reading and math programs had already been delivered, as had sets of math manipulatives (JOY!). The school even gave us pocket charts and book baskets, and a fantastic listening center set with a CD player and 4 sets of headphones. Definite upside of a brand-new school: brand. new. materials.

Don't get me wrong - I LOVED my school in New Orleans. But when I moved in, I got used metal cabinets that didn't stay closed, a rusting file cabinet, and next to no storage space. As you can see, this room has shiny new furniture and more than ample storage:

Cubbies for the kids! And a rocking chair for me! (Side note: I opened that carpet later on, and it's an oval with all the colors in English and Spanish! Bueno!)

I'm going to put 4 at a table, 2 on each side. That way everyone can see the boards on both sides of the room.

My desk / file area in the corner. I don't love the orange, but one of my team members pointed out that it looks like honey! Upside!


The other thing about my school in New Orleans was the total lack of space. We had around 650 kids on one city block, PE and recess were on concrete, and there wasn't even a teachers' lounge. Contrast that with my new school - absolutely sprawling, with nature trails and building ruins from the old plantation that used to be here. I even have a view of the woods from my windows! How great will it be for the kids to look out from the library corner and see this?

All in all, I didn't do too much today except take stock of what I have and (more importantly) what I still need. I've already spent well over $100 on my new room, not including generous gifts from family members (thanks, Toots!). It's the plight of the teacher to be constantly buying things for the classroom - and it's the worst for elementary. I have big plans for The Hive... God bless VISA.