Saturday, July 23, 2011


Something you should know about me: I have something of a "keeping up with the Joneses" attitude when it comes to, well, everything. I have always been a high-achieving person; school and the like has always come pretty easily to me, so it's fortunate that I have this competitive drive to be just as good as the best people around me, because otherwise I'm sure I would slack a lot.

Anyway, despite being an elementary school teacher - an above-average one at that, if I do say so myself - I am not an overly "cutesy" person. Yes, I am a giant nerd like all elementary school teachers. But I've never delved into that insane level of cutesiness you often see. It's why I could NEVER teach kindergarten. (But am totally in awe of those who can and do. More power to ya.)

Anyway, I was fully planning on continuing my path until I heard that several other of my (freaking awesome, by the way) team members had classroom "themes" planned. Rather than saying, "Wow, team members, that's great! I'm so excited to see what you have in store with your owl- and star-themed classrooms!", I thought something like, "Holy crap, Katie, now YOU have to have a theme!"

After much debate and polling of others, I settled on bees. Confession: I made my decision largely based on my strong desire to call my newsletter "The BUZZ from Third Grade." So sue me. I'm also very excited to use the phrase "the bee's knees" somewhere in my room (it's great for teaching idioms!).

So we shall see how it goes with the theme thing. I plan to do it in moderation - I'm not going to be constantly saying things like, "Remember, BEE yourself!" or my new favorite that I came up with - "Give me hive!" - but I do want to come up with some sort of class cheer or song that will be bee-related. Plus, I've been thinking a lot about what makes bees a good mascot, and here's what I've decided:
1. bees all work together toward a common goal; most species don't/can't function alone.
2. bees work really hard for their rewards. I think my class motto will be something like There's No Such Thing as Free Honey. (meaning, you only get out what you put in.)

That whole "queen bee" thing ain't so bad either...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Teacher High

I went to school again today, to continue working on student placement. The past few years, my favorite part of the end-of-school closeout was putting my kids into classes for next year. This is largely because I am good friends with many of the fourth and fifth grade teachers, but it is also because I genuinely love my students and want so badly for them to continue to succeed. (Or in some cases - I'm not too proud to admit it - to succeed better in another teacher's environment than they did in mine.) I am also an obsessive checker-upper; that is, I constantly ask the fourth grade teachers how my former students are doing. In fact, I plan to email teachers from my old school after the first week to make sure everyone is surviving without me.

I must admit, some of the luster of making class rosters was lost today, since I literally do not know a single student. All we did was create lists that were balanced in terms of gender, race, and academic info (special needs, gifted, etc.).

However - my principal rewarded our hard (and unpaid) work by giving us a tour of the school, which isn't even open to teachers until Monday. I'm not sure exactly what room I'll have, but they are all large, open, bright, inviting, and more importantly - completely devoid of clutter. I am literally itching to get into the swing of things.

When I got home, I spent some time re-reading what I find to be the most useful and inspiring teacher book I've read. It's called The First Days of School, by Harry and Rosemary Wong. It reminds me each summer that the three characteristics of effective teachers are: 1. positive expectations, 2. good classroom management, and 3. effective instruction.

I find it interesting that effective instructional design is third, but I can attest to this fact in my own career. I did pretty well for a first year teacher, I guess - at least, other people at my school told me so. I didn't read Mr. Wong's book until after that first year, and I can't TELL you the difference it made when I began that second year. I came in much more prepared and spent much more time creating, revising, and then teaching students a comprehensive management plan. I made routines and procedures so that students could manage themselves and always knew what to do. It worked like a charm.

This school is going to be a very different experience for me in many ways. Though I have worked with students from many racial/ethnic backgrounds, I have not been in a school whose majority is African-American, and I have not had students whose parents do not speak any English. I do not know the Durham area well yet, and I'm not sure what to expect in terms of the socioeconomic background of these kids. I am going to have to rely on Mr. Wong's assurances in his book that his principles work for ALL students. Preparation is the key to success, he says. I will do my best to be prepared.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


At long last, I finally got to see my new school today! Well, just the office area, since the classrooms are still being finished... but still! I am struck by how fresh, open, airy, and NEW everything is. My school in New Orleans was a beautiful old building with hardwood floors and moldings and everything - which was amazing in its own way. However, i inherited crud from previous teachers and never really got an organizational system going from the ground up. Add to that the fact that I am not naturally organized, and you end up with a hot mess of a classroom. (Seriously. Ask anyone I worked with, parents, and/or students. It was bad at times.)

So - of course I am THRILLED with the prospect of walking into my classroom next Monday (6 days! Yay!) and having nothing there. In fact, I can't wait. Other than instructional materials and a minimum of furniture, there won't be ANYONE ELSE'S STUFF! Add to that the fact that Hubs won't be at work next Monday and can help me unload boxes, and you've got one excited teacher!

I was at school this morning because I volunteered, along with several other teachers, to help with class placement for the coming year. This is, in a nutshell, tedious. Last week we developed a design for a "placement card" that would follow each child through their years at the school and have all essential information - birthday, gender, ethnicity, academic needs and achievement - on one handy sheet. The job of today was taking a variety of lists and compiling the information onto the cards. Since the kids are coming from all different schools, we weren't able to include much academic information other than ESL or special needs, but at least we got an idea of the school's makeup.

Every year, I start thinking very early about who the kids are that will come into my life in August. It's bad enough when you are staying at the same school and start "spying" on the second graders around March. I have been wondering even more about my new school, since the kids are coming in brand new. Today, I got some answers. I learned that there will be 101 third graders. There will be 64 girls and 37 boys. 62 of them are African-American, 22 are white, 2 are Asian, 4 are multiethnic, and 11 are Hispanic (including 5 whose first language was Spanish). There will be 4 students with extensive special needs and 15 who are academically gifted.

Without looking through the data, however, there are lots of things that I know. I know that there will be artists, mathematicians, authors, readers, football players, swimmers, drama queens, sleuths, big brothers, little sisters, great helpers, and pains in the neck in my class. There will be students who are best friends and students who don't get along. They will mostly be nice, but a few meanies will always make their way into the bunch. Many of them will have a lot more going on in their lives than I will ever know about. Some of them will NEVER remember what they need to do, no matter how often you tell them. Some of them will NEVER study their multiplication facts, no matter how often they fail facts quizzes. Some of them will ace every test without ever studying.

I know that on a daily basis, I will have to wear many hats. I will be an educator, cheerleader, social director, coach, nurse, shoe tie-er, disciplinarian, scientist, psychologist, and expert at every subject under the sun. This jack-of-all-trades quality is the number one reason why I love my job. I can't WAIT to get started.