Thursday, April 29, 2010

Happy Graduation to Me!

Delivered last night at 10 p.m. courtesy of The Husband. He couldn't wait until Saturday's celebration dinner and I'm glad he didn't. I am in L-O-V-E with it already!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


I am coming to realize that so many of my issues this year stemmed from the notion that I let go of my boundaries. I will be the first to admit that I have always felt an obligation to my principal because she gave me a chance as a long-term sub that she didn't know from a hole in the ground and I proved myself to her and everyone else in the school. While that might have been enough, I was laid off (the principals have zero say in the staffing of their schools -- ridiculous, I know) and she put in a lot of good words for me that ultimately landed me another long-term position and then a position of my own the following fall. I can look back now and realize that's when my boundary line started to slip, at least with her. I felt obligated to her because she helped me.

Subsequently, she took full advantage of this and piled more and more on my plate once I was back at our school and finally, this year, the stuff hit the fan and here we are. Awhile back one of my colleagues suggested to me that I read Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud. I checked it out of the library recently and I am really seeing so many parallels to my own situation and where I have gone wrong.

I have determined that no matter what, no matter what school I end up in and with what grade, I MUST go back to work with non-negotiable boundaries in place. Namely that if I get to a point that I send a child to the office, the principal or asst. principal MUST take action. I have never been someone who just sends kiddos to the office because I recognize that principals in our district are very busy (and not superficial, let's-make-it-look-like-we're-busy, but actually busy) so I don't put my problems on them. I utilize our buddy classroom system, time outs and appropriate discipline as deemed necessary. Most of the time, this works, especially when the children realize that you mean business and will follow through on what you say to them. In the event that these things have been tried, and I'm at my last resort, usually a trip to the office to have a sort of "come to Jesus" kind of talk with the child works wonders and the problems either cease completely or become so miniscule that they aren't a big deal to handle myself after that.

This year, however, none of that worked. Yet when children were sent to the office (for, you know, cursing me or one of my other students out, complete with colorful language like f*ck you, b*tch, clearly a minor situation), I would call our secretary (aka The Most Useless Person on The Face of the Earth) as per protocol and inform her that the child in question was on his or her way so she could inform the principal. 9 times out of 10, Offending Child would come back to class 10 minutes later without ever having even seen the principal. Way to support your teachers there Mr. Principal! The children, of course, learned that this was Mr. Principal's modus operandi and would act worse and worse because they knew there weren't going to be any consequences.

Due to the amount of work I was doing on top of my own classroom teaching (being the building leader for two content areas and the absurd amount of meetings that came with those responsiblities plus other extras) and the level of anxiety these children produced in me on a daily basis, I was too tired to fight it. In the end, I realize my boundaries were completely non-existent by that time.

After reading through parts of the Boundaries book, I recognize that the time to start re-establishing those boundaries is right now. I did some housekeeping on my facebook page, getting rid of non-supportive former colleagues who have snubbed me in the weeks I've been gone (hmmm, I thought I left high school 13 years ago, apparently not). Who needs that crap? As much as I went the extra mile and above and beyond for these people to have them behave this way is just ridiculous. I don't have any room for ridiculous in my life anymore!

It's such a small thing but I feel like after finishing up The Cleanse of 2010 and writing my Dear John letter to my class, this was just the last step I really needed to take for myself to shut the door on this year and look toward the future.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Differentiating Math

I would love to say that I am the genius who thought up this idea, but I am not. I wasn't able to fully implement this system in my classroom this year for a variety of reasons, the biggest being I was out of my room for meetings so often that it made it difficult for me to really provide enough support in the beginning with procedures and routines for my students. I'm smart enough to know when something just isn't working and we put it aside.

I am determined to utilize this program in the upcoming year though because I think its sheer simplicity is brilliant. I actually got this idea from Beth Newingham, a 3rd grade teacher in Michigan. (Her site is fab-u-lous by the way, definitely worth checking out!) Beth describes on her site a Math Workshop that she does in her classroom to provide ongoing support, scaffolding and intervention for her students, basically meeting them where they are with math. This idea intrigued me immensely because my district uses Everyday Math just like hers so I could really envision how this would work in my own classroom with my teaching style.

My district mandates a 60-90 minute instructional block for math. They had to concede and give us a minimum of 60 because sometimes it is nearly impossible to get the full 90 minutes in. They would prefer the full 90 minutes at least 4 days per week, however, because it would allow for full implementation of the games and activities that supplement and support the Everyday Math curriculum. While I know it has always been a struggle for me personally to fit in that length of math time, I am determined to find some way to make this model work in my classroom.

With a full 90 minute block, and dividing the children into 3 groups, each group would get roughly 28 minutes of teacher-led group time at least 4 days per week in math (with 2 minutes to transition between groups). Even with a class of 30 children, that's 10 in each small group which provides more ease in assisting children with partner work and scaffolding them during the learning.

There are 3 rotations:
Teacher Led Group -- this is where the children work directly with the teacher on whatever lesson is being taught. The groups change from unit to unit as the needs of the children change based on what is being studied. Children take a pre-test on skills that are secure by the end of the unit so children with some concepts can be grouped together, children with good knowledge about the concept can be grouped together and children who are struggling with the concept are together. (Note: in a perfect world, the children would always fit into an equal number of split groups which we all know will likely never happen...but let's pretend for the sake of this discussion that the world IS perfect.) Each group spends about 25 minutes in direct contact in the teacher-led group to get hands-on support and intervention during the actual instruction of the lesson, to help prevent problems with understanding before they begin.

Seat Work Group -- in this group, children are working independently at their seats or with a partner on the Math Boxes that accompany the lesson and any other math materials they may need to practice. For me, my students would be working on basic skills math concepts here too. A fellow colleague had a whole binder of basic skills (adding, subtracting, basic fractions, etc) worksheets and a screener test so children could practice concepts they were struggling with from earlier grades. When I teach upper elementary, they also have multiplication groups that they work in to practice their facts. These would all be things they would work on during the independent group time.

Games Group -- in this last group, the children would be working with a partner on any of the games that accompany the Everyday Math curriculum. When I was able to do this, they had 2-3 games that they could choose from so that they could practice skills they wanted to work on. The games were always practicing the same type of skill (three digit addition, etc). I was lucky the year I taught 2nd grade that one of my colleagues was cleaning out her cabinets and found an old box of math games that actually complement the Everyday Math games quite nicely so sometimes I would pull those out for the children to play also.

The biggest drawbacks to a model like this are a) having a pretty consistent schedule so you can actually keep the momentum going once it starts, b) being able to give a pre-test and have it graded in order to put children into groups in a timely manner (um, always give the pre-tests on Fridays??) and c) management during the workshop since you want your focus to be on the teacher-led group. C is the easiest to work on, I think, because if you set up your procedures and routines consistently from the beginning and continue to practice, practice, practice, eventually the children are going to know the routine and know that they are going to be held accountable for the work. My biggest issue was A. I was just never in my class consistently enough to make it work with the group I had this year who were very emotionally and socially immature.

I am excited to learn what grade level I will have for next school year so I can really start to plan this out better. I think it is a great idea and could really provide so much support for students who are struggling with a particular concept in math.

Monday, April 26, 2010


The other day The Husband asked me what I wanted for a graduation present since I get to walk across the stage (and hopefully not trip and land flat on my face) in front of approximately 12,000 people on Saturday to earn the beloved letters M.Ed. behind my name.

When he asked me, I truly was dumbstruck (no easy feat, lemmetellya). I had no idea because with everything else going on as of late, I hadn't even given a thought to what I wanted to celebrate this momentous occasion. It's really a big deal because I will be the only person in both of our families who has earned letters behind their name, extending out through first cousins on both sides (and The Husband has a huge family so we're talking a few dozen people here).

I honestly told him I didn't know and would have to think about it. This problem occurs simply because with proper budgeting (read: miserly ways) for the last many years in order to get out of debt and go by the motto that Cash is King, if there is anything either of us want, we just put it in the budget and a month or so goes by and voila. We buy whatever it is. I put the thought in the back of my head and went on with things.

This weekend, however, I finally realized what I wanted. Something I have coveted for awhile but am too cheap to buy myself on a whim. I want a Kindle. For the last few months, my mom would ask me what I wanted for graduation and I would say "a Kindle", knowing full well that she wouldn't buy it for me because unfortunately they are on the other side of the fence and haven't quite learned that Cash is King (they are more on the Creditors Rule Your Life side of the yard). It just became a joke between us because I knew it would never happen. But I realized that The Husband and I could absolutely justify this super expensive, but super awesome, e-reader for such an achievement.

I mentioned it to him and showed it to him online (I'm much more familiar with the Amazon site than he is, considering I surf there at least 3 times a week). He said it was pretty nifty but then dropped the subject. He's not easy to read so I can't tell if he's going to get it or not. Sometimes I wish I could read his mind. It would spoil the surprise but who cares! I'd be able to pine for something I knew was coming in the mail!

Probably the most enticing thing to me about the Kindle right now (besides the fact that it holds 1,500 books on it -- oh books, how I love you!) is that there are SO.MANY. books out there that are available for the Kindle for free because their copyrights have expired and such. This will allow me to read a lot of classics I never read as a youngster. I was browsing the free kindle books earlier and came across many that are older than my dearly departed grandfather would be (82+ years old) but had great reviews for being funny and good, quick reads.

I shall obsess about the Kindle until I figure out if The Husband got it for me or not...let's be honest, if he doesn't get it, I'll still obsess over it, but then I'll have to save my pretty pennies and buy it myself because after spending a little time really looking into it, I'm hooked and I shall have it. Someday.

Friday, April 23, 2010


Since I am not currently working, I have been doing a lot of reading. Some extracurriculuar (ie. chic lit) and some education/teaching related. I've been putting my library card to good use the last week.

I live in a pretty small town and thus our library doesn't always have the most amazing collection. I have never before appreciated interlibrary loan like I do now. I currently have on hold 3 books I otherwise would have to buy in order to read. While I don't mind buying books (you can never have too many, right?), we're on a pretty strict budget this summer due to some home improvements we need to do and the small snag of the fact that I'm not getting my full summer salary since I'm not finishing the school year.

Thus, the library is my friend. I am really excited about some of the books I will have the opportunity to read over the next few weeks. Things will be pretty laid back for me until mid-June when my kids get out of school for the summer. Then we'll be beaching it up every day and there is that Super Fabulous vacation in July (first vacation in 7 years so I think we're a bit overdue). Until then, however, I have to find some ways to fill my time and reading is one of the best ways I can think of.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cooperating Teachers

As I was purusing the usual suspects in my daily foray into the blogosphere, I came across Mrs. Sneaker's post about the role of Cooperating Teachers during student teaching. It made me think back to my own experiences as a student teacher.

My university requires a full year of student teaching. A semester of half days in one school/grade and then a semester of full days in another school/grade (plus many of the prep courses before you even get to the College of Education portion require small practicums and/or tutoring). I don't think I will ever forget how excited I was when I got my letter telling me my first placement. It was 3rd grade and I was thrilled.

I loved the kids from the minute I started. They were wonderful. A few were handfuls but you get that anywhere because they want to test the waters with you and see if you know your stuff. We were required to do an interactive bulletin board or learning center with our class and design a special project that could fit in a suitcase or small box (basically a "I have no idea what to teach" sort of emergency kit). I had a wonderful time doing both of them with these students and they ate it up. That part of the experience I wouldn't change for anything.

My cooperating teacher, however, was anything but warm and friendly toward me. It became very clear to me and the two other ladies who were placed in that school that we were free help. As we were only there for half days, we didn't eat lunch there or anything, which is probably a good thing. The teachers never included us in conversations and often wouldn't even say hello to us in the hallways. Looking back, I'm amazed that the children were so wonderful and receptive being surrounded by teachers who often lacked common courtesy. I remember on my last day there, after saying goodbye to the students and packing up for the last time, that I was coming away from that experience with 1) more knowledge about teaching and engaging children and 2) knowledge on how NOT to treat others when I had my own classroom.

After a long summer, I started student teaching. I had 1st grade which I wasn't thrilled with because working with those 3rd graders had sparked my love for upper elementary (although there is a debate whether or not 3rd grade is upper or lower). At any rate, I clearly impressed a few parents the first day of school, when having only seen each student for about 10 minutes during open house, I remembered EVERY child's name that I had met there. I didn't love the curriculum and content but the kiddos quickly stole my heart. They were cute and sweet and funny and just downright silly, which I enjoyed. I struggled a bit to keep the curriculum from going totally over their heads.

My cooperating teacher told me weekly how wonderful I was doing and would sometimes mention how some of the work might be "too hard". I had asked her several times for more guidance and support in that area because I was using the curriculum provided by the district but much of it was quite hard for the children and I was struggling to bring it down to their level. There were multiple warning flags happening in the school throughout my time there that I tried to ignore because it was my job to do the best I could there for the children. Looking back though, I realize how early on I should have asked to be pulled out. I found out later that the CT didn't even want a student teacher, she only agreed because she owed the placement coordinator a favor. That in itself is a number one reason NOT to take a student teacher. Additionally, much of the time, she sat behind her desk cleaning her files or other mundane things leaving me to struggle and try to keep my head above water.

Again, the children there were absolutely awesome. I was very sad when I left because I didn't get to say goodbye to them and I knew some would wonder what had happened when I suddenly just wasn't there anymore. I left that experience 4 weeks before my graduation. I just couldn't do it anymore. I was working my butt off going to a school I hated because the teachers were so rude and had their own cliques it was clear I wasn't part of. Probably the only things I took away from that experience was a) determination to never treat someone the way that CT treated me and b) a primal fear to teaching the K-1 crowd.

After talking with my college of education and realizing so many things were just so wrong with the whole situation from the get-go, I signed up to repeat my student teaching. Honestly, at that point, I questioned my desire to be a teacher. Were all teachers really that snooty and mean to people who were there to learn from them? Did I really want to be a part of that?

Funny enough, I had always been the person to say I never wanted to work in the ABC district which is an inner city district and the largest district in the area. After successfully missing the boat on being placed there twice, I knew I was going to end up in ABC district on that last go round. I was nervous and scared. For the record, I was worried about the district because I didn't know if I could emotionally handle the stories I'd heard about the families there -- that the kids hear gun fire at night (which in some parts of the city, is sadly true) and how many of the children are being raised in bad homes or by grandparents because their parents are incarcerated. I had been a student in that district myself until 6th grade and it had changed ten-fold in the years since I had been there.

I did get placed there. Oddly enough, in my former elementary school. It was, plain and simple, the best experience of my life. My cooperating teacher was absolutely amazing. She was realistic but firm. She had high expectations but provided scaffolding. She expected hard work and encouraged building relationships with not only the students but the other staff members. She was everything a cooperating teacher should be.

She let me try things out and then we'd discuss them later, once the children were at a specials class or at the end of the day. She always had ME discuss what I thought was good or needed work first and then she gave feedback. Somehow, feedback from her never seemed overly critical either. It was always provided with an air of "I've tried this, maybe you could try it too" or "here are some things I've done in the past that you might want to adapt". It was a perfect balance of letting me get my feet wet while teaching me how to be reflective and REALLY think about my lessons -- were the children getting it and how do you know that they were?

Only once in the entire 16 weeks that I was with her did we ever have any issues. I had completely messed up a math lesson I was teaching on fractions. We started off fine but then suddenly I looked up at the students and everything I'd prepared was suddenly just wiped completely from memory. Instead of stopping and backtracking, I saw her watching from the back of the room and just kept going. 40 minutes later, the kids were still staring at me like I'd grown a third eye and no learning had taken place. It was pretty bad. My CT was really upset about it and we had a really long discussion over it. I left that day feeling terrible. In the end, however, I knew that she was just disappointed that when I realized things weren't going well that I just kept going. I didn't stop and regroup or give the kids review work to do so I could get myself back on track. She wasn't mad at me, she was disappointed.

It was a great learning experience for me though and one I don't think I will ever forget. She was the absolute epitome of a good cooperating teacher because she balanced her praise and her constructive criticism but always delivered it with an air of teamwork and cooperation, not with an attitude of how much more she knew than I did.

Four years later, I still stay in touch with my CT. I am now employed in ABC district and except for a couple of brief stints as a daily substitute teacher in multiple districts, I have always taught there. Last year my CT sent me an email and asked me if her current student teacher could come and observe in my school because he was struggling and she wanted him to see that he actually had it pretty good there in terms of student behavior. I opened my classroom to him and when he left, I think he had a whole new perspective. I was pleased that she thought enough of me to send a current mentee of hers to see me.

I know that some day in the future, I will host a student teacher. I sure hope that I can be even a smidgen as helpful to him/her as my last CT was to me. My experiences with the first two were not pleasant at all even though I enjoyed working with the students there. I want to provide my future student teacher with a realistic look at what it means to be a classroom teacher, but never just pushing them out in the front and telling them to have fun.

I know without a doubt that part of the reason I am the kind of teacher I am today is because of my CT.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Lower than Dirt

I heard today that our superintendent, whom I have zero respect for both personally and professionally, went to one of our schools to talk to some students about letters they had written to the board of education. These kiddos attend an arts based school so they have double the music/art classes that the other elementary children in the district get due to the theme of their school.

The children wrote letters to the board because they are proposing cutting art and music in half starting in the fall of 2010. These children took their time and effort to write letters to the board to let them know how important the arts have been to their education.

The superintendent went to these classrooms today and told these children (3rd-5th graders so roughly 7-11 year olds) that a) their letters were misinformed [which really means the kids hit the nail on the head and the jerk didn't like it] and b) that the letters were poorly written and obviously they needed more academics and less arts instruction.

No, I am not joking. I can not believe that our board of education continues to allow this man to run this district. Anybody, I don't care who they are, who would talk to children like that does not deserve to be around them.

Scripted Literacy vs. Scripted "Content Areas"

The other day as I was being a total geek and adding some of my favorite books to Shelfari, I realized that pretty much every professional book I keep out for reference or would refer to as a "favorite" or "must have" is about literacy.

I guess this isn't too shocking considering my undergraduate degree is in Language Arts and my Master's degree will be in TESOL. It got me thinking about it a little bit though. I wrote my Master's project on implementing a reading workshop for ELL students. During the course of that research, I really became to realize how much I despise scripted curriculum for reading. I didn't like it before but I really didn't like it after I had concrete research that I could wave in the faces of the folks in the ELL office (oh, MW, how we lost so much when you left us, you were the only one there with a brain!) and go "HELLO, changes are needed people!"

When I finished The Cleanse of 2010 this weekend, I was not at all surprised to discover that I had so many teacher resource books (either purchased myself or gifted to me by friends/family and retiring colleagues) that focus on reading and writing. I filled an entire 18 gallon tote with just those books and still had a few that wouldn't fit in there that I had to put in another box. That might not seem like much but for someone who's only taught for 4 years, that's a lot of resources to have in one subject area.

My math, science and social studies resources fit into ONE tote. Together. With room left over. We all know that literacy has taken a front stage in recent years. Almost all of the professional development I've taken part in over the last three years had something to do with literacy. Getting kiddos reading and writing better has been a top priority and, at least in our district, this shift in priority has resulted in increased scores on the standardized test (although we won't talk about how we all spend 6 weeks JUST prepping for that darn test...grr).

I think what has struck me the most about this is that I have an utter aversion to scripted reading curriculum. Yet we use Everyday Math, which is about as scripted as you can get, and I don't mind that. Probably because I hated math as a child and this math makes sense to me, despite it being different. I'm able to provide understanding for my class because I understand the concept behind this math. One of the biggest complaints we discussed this year and last at my school was a lack of a formal curriculum in social studies. We didn't have textbooks or anything. We were handed a list of standards and basically told to give it a go.

Um, thanks? We wanted someone to hand us the lessons or at least a book and say "teach these specific things."

Science wasn't as big of an issue because we use FOSS kits which provide hands-on materials for the students, they are just time consuming. This year, one of the many "extra" jobs I had, was to be the science leader for our building. I went to a meeting once a month with the head of the science department in the district and the other K-5 building leaders. We toned down the curriculum so it fit the standards a bit better and wasn't as overwhelming. Basically we took the kits and provided a list for teachers and said "in order to meet XYZ standard, you have to teach these parts of this kit". If you taught a full kit, it would easily take you 3-5 months depending on how much time you had for science each week (read: not nearly enough). So we made it easier and provided somewhat of a roadmap to getting back to the basics with science instruction. I didn't mind that either, despite the fact that it is basically a scripted curriculum.

Why is it that it seems so horrible to teach from a script in terms of literacy but isn't as frowned upon in the other content areas? Students still require differentiation in math, science and social studies. Every year I have had kiddos who were completely clueless in math so I had to provide a lot more scaffolding for them while other kiddos went on to other things. Children have different needs in every subject area. Our focus tends to be on literacy though and while I will be the first to admit I am a Language Arts nerd, I do realize that I need to start shifting my focus to make sure I am providing more in the other content areas to help my students be as successful as possible.

I doubt I will ever have the number of resources in the other content areas that I have in literacy but it's definitely food for thought.

Monday, April 19, 2010


Maybe I'm behind the times, but I just discovered Shelfari. Oh, heaven.

One of my real life chums was raving about this thing she found for her classroom website. Finally I just had to ask her what in the heck she was talking about. Insert Shelfari into the discussion. Needless to say I had to check it out and now I'm hooked. Oh books, how I love thee.

When I was a little girl, my parents didn't punish me by grounding me from the TV, they grounded me from my books (sounds barbaric, I know, but it was only for a day at most and believe me, it worked). I absolutely ♥ to read!

Naturally I had to create my own shelfari too and it isn't even nearly filled with the massive amounts of books I own and have read. I decided, for now, to fill it with books that are fresh in my mind. Ones I've recently just read (pleasure reading), ones I plan to read and some that I've read but plan to review before going back to school this fall.

I might just be in love with that widget. Yes, I am a freak.

Now you know.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Cleanse of 2010

When I left my classroom at the end of February, time was of the essence and I did not sort out or carefully pack anything. In reality, it was shoved and pushed into tubs, totes and boxes just to get it out of my classroom as quickly as possible. I did not have the luxury of "closing" my classroom as I would at the end of the year where I could take 3 8-hour days to clean out and pack up if I really wanted to.

Thus everything was taken home and put into the loft of our garage. Like most teachers I know, I have accumulated mass amounts of teaching supplies and materials even though this was only my 4th year teaching. Due to the fact that 98% of the resources I owned had been at my school the last two years and it all had to come home and came home haphazardly, it was quite a colossal mess up there.

I knew I needed to get myself up there to clean, purge and sort out all of that stuff. It was probably the best closure I was going to get from this year. I started a few weeks ago but left it so I could finish up my master's project and the last assessments I needed to do for my reading class. That and the fact that I was just too lazy and hesitant to get back up there.

The other day my therapist and I discussed this. I told her I was finally ready to put this year to bed. My first goal for doing that was to finish The Cleanse of 2010 and finally take care of that mess and close the door on this year. I don't regret leaving but I do sometimes still feel bad about it (especially since the majority of my colleagues now snub me more often than not despite everything I did for them the last two school years).

The other thing I need to do, which was her suggestion, is write a letter to my class. This is to be one of those letters that you never intend to really send. Since visiting them is out of the question (firstly because I just don't think it would be right and secondly because I know the district would have a fit due to liability and such because of the type of leave that I am on), this is the next best option. She directed me to say everything I need to say so I can stop feeling guilty and really move on. I think guilt and some shame have kept me from really letting go that everything that happened this year was not my fault. I don't labor under the delusion that I was an innocent bystander, but I know most of what went down this year was due to circumstances I could not control.

I am finally at a point where I feel like the parents and my administration should be shouldering the blame here. The children are just children -- they are doing what they have seen done, they learned this behavior somewhere (and sadly I can say from eyewitness experience that 99% of the time, it is from their parents). Additionally, they are street smart and realize when the administration isn't going to do anything about certain offenses. They just want attention and any kind of attention -- good or bad -- will do. I really feel, after so much reflection on this, that things went to crap this year because I had such a tough group anyway (they certainly weren't angels before they came to me, this group came with a reputation) and then I was gone all the time due to meetings or other functions. Sometimes it was so bad because I was gone once a week, for weeks on end.

I truly believe kids just want structure. I've had rough groups before -- I think things just had no hope because of all the "extra" responsibility that I, as one person, had to shoulder when really I just needed to be with my students. That's not my fault, nor is it theirs.

At any rate, I at least got my first goal out of the way. I finished cleaning up and sorting out that colossal mess and I have to admit, it feels pretty darn awesome to have it finally done.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Words Their Way

When I taught 2nd grade in the '07-'08 school year, the school I worked at was a Reading First school. Therefore I had to take a lot of trainings in regards to the grant and that sort of thing. It wasn't horrible but it wasn't always the most fun either.

Probably the best thing I got out of all of those trainings was my first introduction to Words Their Way. I was immediately intrigued and that summer bought the book and realized this was the answer to all of my prayers in terms of meaningful spelling/word study instruction. I have used the text with a full classroom of students (at one point, I had 5 spelling groups, let me tell ya how interesting that was on assessment day!) and also with just small groups who needed extra help in spelling and word study.

In order to bump my teaching certificate up to the next level, my state requires we take a course in differentation and reading. I am finishing the class up currently. The biggest part of the class was doing some reading assessments on a student. It could be any student from K-8th grade. Originally I was going to use one of my students but then decided since one of The Littles (my 2nd grader for the record) has serious struggles with reading, it would benefit us both if I used her in the project instead.

I learned a lot of interesting things about her and her reading ability from this class and I'm glad that I decided to do this project with her. She's been a very willing participant too. The last part of the project is to create intervention lessons to help the child in the area where they need the most help based on all of the assessments we've done with the student over the semester. I chose to focus my lessons on word study/phonics because this seemed to be the biggest area that was interfering with this otherwise fabulous kid's ability to read.

Because I am your typical grad student and graduation is only 2 weeks away, I have waited until the very last second to do any of this work (hmmm, so next time The Oldest waits until the last second, perhaps I shouldn't be a hypocrite and yell at her...). I am having fun with the assignment though because I found a game in the Words Their Way series that I can't wait to play...I mean, wait to let the youngster play *wink*

I find it amusing that my last homework assignment as a graduate student is going to involve coloring. Love it.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Read Alouds

I wrote my Master's Project on Reading Workshop for ELLs. I chose this topic because my school district uses a basal reader series. My first year teaching, I did not teach ELLs and honestly, I was happy with the basal because someone had already done all the "hard work" and decided what should be taught, when and how. The series was seen as a godsend because I started there after Thanksgiving as the 4th or 5th teacher they'd had and it was a split grade classroom. Being able to say "here's a set of worksheets" for one grade so I could work with the other was probably the only way that I could teach both groups since I had absolutely no help (not even an aide for 30 minutes a day).

When I began to teach ELL students, I began to really loathe the basal because it was so far over their heads (especially when I taught 2nd -- those poor kids!) and we had to spend a lot of time trying to build background on concepts many of the kiddos just couldn't fathom. It was frustrating for them and sad for me.

Thus, my project topic was born. I did so much research about basal readers in general and with their "effectiveness" for ELLs specifically that I would venture to say at this point that I hate scripted curriculum. Period. It just isn't how I want to teach. That said, during the course of some of my research, I came across an article written by a Michigan teacher who raved about a book called Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop. I looked the book up and knew I just had to have it.

I did not use the book in my project and what with my research and all the writing for the project, I haven't read it in its entirety yet...but I found myself focused in on Chapter 4 which is about the Read Aloud. I have always enjoyed reading aloud to my students. It's relaxing for them and for myself. I have always used it as more of a "settling down" kind of activity. In looking through this chapter, however, I realized DUH, this is a perfect way to add more teaching to the school day. I don't know a single teacher who doesn't lament the notion that we have too much to do and not enough time to do it in. This is a perfect solution -- make the most of every second and use the Read Aloud time for learning time too, not simply passive listening.

Despite being a Language Arts major as an undergrad, sometimes I read things like this and feel like I must've lived under a rock the last 5 years. It's so simple yet an absolutely brilliant way to add more teaching time to my day and I'm sort of embarrassed to admit that I didn't think of it before. *face palm*

This is the only chapter in the whole book I've read word for word thus far and I am so excited to start planning my read alouds for the fall. They offer suggestions for read aloud books and strategies to use with the students to get them actively engaged in thinking during the read aloud time. Recently I also discovered tri-folds, created by some Super Fabulous ladies (find info on them here) and the ladies were generous enough to offer a template for them so others can create their own. Instead of doing a read aloud notebook or something to that effect, I think I am going to use Read Aloud tri-folds. I honestly can't even wait to get started on these.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I'm Published (sort of)!

Yesterday I bound and submitted my completed Master's Project! What a great feeling. In two weeks, I will no longer be a "student", at least not in an academic sense.

The university's bookstore binds them right on campus so it was quite convenient to have it done before going to class. I got there early to ensure they had time to get the three copies I had bound and was surprised that they were finished in under 15 minutes. I had some time to spare before class so I walked over to the building my class was in, stopped at the 5th floor where I knew it would be quiet at that time of day and just sat for awhile.

The campus the College of Education is at is next to a river that runs through the city. The building most of the COE's classes are in has an entire exterior wall that is all windows. From the 3rd-8th floors, there are chairs and tables across from the elevators for students to sit at to meet with groups or work quietly with a beautiful view of the river and some other landmarks of the city.

As I sat there yesterday, just gazing out the window and enjoying the beautiful day, I suddenly felt very sad. Believe me, I'm happy to be almost done with grad school. It's been a long, hard road and I'm ready to be able to just focus on being a teacher. But I have been at my university for 9 years total including my undergrad. We've definitely had a love-hate relationship and its time to move on...but I felt sad because this place has been a huge part of my life for so long. I felt very nostalgic and sat there like a complete dope trying not to actually cry.

I am glad to close the book on this chapter of my life, but I think its also good that I could reflect back, even through the good and bad experiences I've had there, and realize I got an amazing education in both of my programs. I have had the absolute joy of working with a graduate advisor who is both amazing and encouraging and willing to bend over backwards to help. I have made life-long friends in people I have worked with there.

It's a bittersweet end and I'm glad that despite everything, I can look back and realize what an amazing impact this place has had on me both personally and professionally and for that, I have to be grateful.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Oh, Facebook

I love FaceBook for the most part because it keeps me updated on what's happening with old friends and my colleagues when we aren't together.

Unfortunately, however, sometimes students try to friend me on FaceBook too. I always ignore the requests of course but its creepy. (My real name is too unique for me to hide my presence there entirely unless I make it impossible for people to look for me at all which is counterproductive.) I know that when I was in 4th grade, I did not want to know my teacher(s) outside of school.

This morning I had two students from this year try to friend me on FaceBook. The kicker is one of them was one of the worst offenders and one of the major reasons I could not force myself to stay the rest of this year. In a nutshell, he would curse me or other students out on a daily basis and the interim principal wouldn't do anything about it. He would just send him back to my room and this child would slink back in smirking like he was the King of the World. No thanks.

The other student is one I actually had to grow to really like and appreciate. He's a neat kid with a penchant for making poor choices but I do miss him. I'm sure he found me through the first one. I, of course, declined both requests.

I think what bothered me the most was, these requests came in at 10 o'clock and 10:40 respectively. Which means these young men should be in school. Learning. So why in the world were they on FaceBook? There are several teachers in my school who get on FaceBook during class or in the computer lab with the kids in there which I find distasteful and unprofessional, so its possible the kids think its okay too.

I'm not bothered by the fact that the kids looked me up (maybe they miss me, who knows?)...but that they would even have access to the site from school because clearly that means they either aren't in school or they aren't being monitored. Even though I am no longer there, I do still think about and care about my students. I hope the rest of their year is better than the first part was. I can't help but think that its a lost cause to hope for that when I see them on FaceBook when they should be in class.


Today is the first day of school following spring break. The bell would have just rung at my school and at this moment, students are streaming into the school and lockers are being opened and shut, etc.

I've never been more glad to NOT be at work today when I read on FaceBook that one of my colleagues is in a meeting the first day back from 8:30 to 12. I can not even imagine being that poor sub having kiddos on the first day back. The morning is probably going to be fine...but watch out for this afternoon.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

It's the Final Countdown!

*cue song by Europe*

In looking at my calendar today, I realized it really *is* the final countdown for me. Countdown to the end of graduate school. Yippee! To say I'm excited is a huge understatement.

It varies around the country but where I am, we earn our teaching certificate in a "5th year" which encompasses entrance into the formal College of Education at whatever university or college you are at along with field training (although most programs also have courses before that 5th year that require volunteer hours and/or short observation "practicums" too). As such its pretty much career suicide if you return to school to get your master's right away because you'll cost too much money with no real classroom experience and it can be pretty detrimental.

I was lucky. I did go back right away but it was to add an endorsement so I would be more marketable. Wouldn't you know, not long after I started those classes, I got a job. It was full time but it was a temporary contract position. Despite taking 4 grad classes that year and teaching a split grade classroom, I was able to a) pass all my classes with As and b) keep afloat as a first year teacher and get offered a full-time job in November of that year.

Once I got the permanent job though, I didn't stop going to school. My very wise principal (oh how I miss him!) advised me to get my ESL endorsement because it is so needed in our district. I changed my focus in grad school and moved forward with that. I even took summer classes so I could get it done sooner rather than later.

The end of this month marks 4 years since I graduated with my undergraduate degree and I am graduating with the big deal Master's on May 1st. So if you do the math, that's 9 years in school to be a teacher (although to be fair, I've been a teacher the last 4 years, arguably the last 5 if you count my full year of field experience where I was a full-time unpaid teacher for two semesters!). To say I'm excited about the end nearing doesn't even come close to how I really feel about it!

Things aren't all neatly wrapped in paper with a pretty bow though. I have things left to do. In order to upgrade my certificate, I needed to take a course in differentiation and reading assessment. This semester has been the easiest of all of my semesters at my university for sure. The assessment class has been thought provoking and interesting. I have to finish my portfolio and lesson designs for that class, a few comments with classmates and that's done.

I elected to do a Master's Project instead of a thesis and wrote my project on Reading Workshop for English Language Learners. I'm really pleased with it. I need to finish printing the last two copies so they can be bound tomorrow and I can officially hand them in.

It's a bit startling to realize the end is really almost near. I'm trying to envision a school year where I am not also taking classes because I have yet to experience a year like that. It will be a novel experience for sure.

19 days to go! It is The Final Countdown!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

"See Me After Class" Review

I learned about this book when Angela over at the Cornerstone Blog wrote a review about it not long ago. I quickly ascertained that I needed this book. I ordered it along with Mrs. Mimi's book (see below) and needless to say, I have spent a lot of time reading the last few days.

Let me be clear to say I am not a first year teacher, nor am I a veteran. I am somewhere in the middle. I'm not sure how many more years it will take me to feel like I am a "veteran" because I feel like despite everything I know, there is still much for me to learn.
Having said that, this book was a fantastic read for me. I loved the wit, the downright honesty and also the excerpts from many teachers who survived their first year and came back for more. From discussing how to stay sane in a crazy year to organizing the massive amounts of paperwork we see daily to procedures to dealing with parents to observations and testing, this book covers everything you could possibly want to know about making it through your first year teaching and being willing to go back for round 2. Ms. Elden provides insight in dealing with principals (the good and the not-so-good) and getting the most out of the time you have with your students, despite the setbacks that are bound to happen.
I am quite pleased that I purchased this book. Even though I am not new, I was reminded of many reasons why I wanted to be a teacher....and why I've always felt good about it, despite its trials.
On a personal note, reading both this book and Mrs. Mimi's book over the last week gave me the confidence boost I needed after making a tough decision to leave a class from Hades mid-year. I refuse to become a statistic of a teacher who leaves within the first 5 years because honestly, I can't imagine doing anything else professionally. So much of what Ms. Elden wrote about in this book seriously had my glued to it going YES, SOMEONE UNDERSTANDS ME! Often when the chips are down, the person who should be our biggest advocate (ie. the administration -- you know the people who get paid easily double or triple our salary?) is a huge part of the problem. I have renewed faith that I can return to teaching in the fall of 2010 and feel good about myself, my chosen career and have a fresh, clean start to make sure my classroom is a safe place for everyone: my students as well as myself.

Friday, April 9, 2010

"It's Not All Flowers and Sausages" Review

I can't even pinpoint when I first came to know Mrs. Mimi's blog. Initially I was drawn by the different title and the fact that Mrs. Mimi isn't afraid to curse it up to get her point across. Her book has been on my wish list for awhile and because I needed some pick-me-ups, I went ahead and purchased it as an Easter present to myself.

This book is laugh-out-loud funny but also provides a look inside the realities of teaching that many people who aren't in teaching don't realize happen. Like the amount of time teachers spend every day thinking about pee because we have to. Or how messed up it is when field trips are planned poorly and the teacher is left looking like the one who made the mistakes. Or better yet the parents who curse us out because we had the nerve to suggest they provide some miniscule materials for their child's education (I know, how dare we, right?!).

I couldn't get enough of this book even though I have been following the blog for so long. Mrs. Mimi is honest enough to admit she's a bit self-centered but she's also honest enough to point out the BS that inner city teachers (and probably even suburban teachers) face on a daily basis.

I got this book partly to see what the hype was about (meant in a good way and yes, it does live up to the hype) but also because I wanted something I could hold in paper form to remind me that even when the chips are down, the s--t is flying (literally sometimes!) and it all feels hopeless...we're there for our friends. They are what keep us coming back day after day. I personally needed this book to help me to realize that it will all be alright in the end.

It's hip, its fabulous and its refreshing to see that someone finally said what needed to be said about the realities of teaching.

I give this book a 4.8 out of 5 stars and would definitely recommend it to anyone who is a teacher, was educated by a teacher or knows a teacher. It's worth it.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Debbie Downer

I think we all have at least one Debbie Downer in our lives. They refuse to be positive about anything and never see the silver lining. I personally am a big fan of the "Everything Happens for a Reason" camp. I do not believe things happen simply by chance. There is a lesson to be learned in every hardship, every obstacle we must overcome and even from the BS we put up with in the American public school system.

I'm not going to sugar coat anything and say my school district is a joyous place to work because in reality, about 95% of the time, it is frustrating and a downright pain in the arse to work there. So why do I? Well first of all because I didn't become a teacher to let myself get bogged down by the political BS that happens in every public school system. I'm there for the students. After student teaching in my district -- in a smooth twist of fate, at a school I actually attended as a child -- I realized this was where I belonged. Yes, it is tough and downright ego bruising sometimes, but when the kids come together for each other and do something awesome, it makes all the negative crap worth it. No one ever promised in any of my teacher prep courses that teaching was going to be full of thanks, amazing parents and kiddos who saunter in at 8:30 completely ready to learn and better yet motivated to learn and groan when the final bell rings at 3:30 because they want to continue learning.

While most of the children I have worked with in my district can be handfuls at times, the majority of them (clearly with the exception of this year) can tolerate each other long enough to get things done, do some real learning and participate in the community. The powers that be in our district, however, seem to have forgotten what teaching is like. Some of the things they shove down our throats honestly makes the teachers in the district cringe every time we hear "new initiative" because it usually means it is going to be some half-cocked, not fully thought out plan that zero teachers had any input in developing (because the people who work with these kids every day know what they are - and aren't - capable of).

We got a new superintendent starting in the 2006-2007 school year which was my first year in the district, but as a long-term temporary contract teacher. I didn't get a permanent contract until November 2007. At any rate, things seemed to be going along well. New initiatives were coming and they are a lot of work, but seemed to be allowing the children to progress and make real progress. It seemed to be working.

Then last year, because many of our inner city high school students would, unfortunately, rather be out on the streets doing Lord-only-knows-what, they implementing a new grading system in the high schools. Basically, you were not allowed to fail a student. Ever. If they showed up once the entire term, they deserved to pass. (I know...sounds too incredulous to be true but unfortunately, it is.) Needless to say it did not go over well and surrounding areas began to mock our district because essentially the students who DO bust their behinds to get good grades are going to have colleges and universities thinking twice about accepting them -- could they really have that high of a GPA from a diploma factory? I mean seriously. Plus the kids who never do anything (which sadly is many of them because right around 6th grade, the parents stop going to conferences or doing any parenting really at all) get to pass because, well, they showed up. This has made me very glad that I don't teach middle or high school.

That said, right now they are in the process of pushing out another ludicrous initiative that will eliminate 8 teachers per high school (we have 5 so when you do the math, that's at least 40 people, not counting all the others allegedly on the list) and put the mass majority of students in our district in a classroom with a computer for a teacher for the four basic core subjects. Supposedly 60-70 students per classroom with one certified teacher and two "aides" who may or may not have a darn clue about the subject area. (Side rant: we had a paraprofessional at my school last year who couldn't do the long division that he was supposed to help my students with. Nice.)


Once again, this is not a late April Fool's Joke. It's the reality of my school system. Fortunately, many, many parents have finally gotten involved and thrown a fit. Many, many more students have staged walk-outs and other forms of protest to say "whoa, ya'll have lost your marbles".

What this means for people like myself, is that there will be mass layoffs, which they do every year (they laid off 200 people last year and all but 10 were recalled -- considering it costs about $7 per envelope to mail the lay off notices and everything and we all got them's no wonder our district is "strapped for cash"). Fortunately for me, I listened to my first principal and went back to get my Master's (which is not required in my state before you can teach) in TESOL and last year earned the coveted ESL endorsement which allows me to teach K-12 English as a Second Language. This is a huge thing in my district where we have 57 different languages represented and about 47% of our overall population could be classified as ELL. Essentially this endorsement is insurance against layoff. Last year two brand new teachers in our school didn't get laid off despite having zero seniority because they held that coveted endorsement.

So enter Debbie Downer. She is a teacher I worked with briefly at the beginning of the 2008-2009 school year. She was a 1st grade teacher in our school. In a nutshell, she hated it (she had taught middle school previously). Fortunately for her, we had too many teachers and not enough kids so she volunteered to be the one to go. She was lucky to get placed in another middle school position but she was also one of the people laid off at the end of last year. We've stayed in contact on FaceBook and most of the time I enjoy talking to her about our kids and areas in town we frequent.

After her layoff last year, while the rest of us were still in school (my school is one of a few year-round schools in our district), she made a huge announcement on FaceBook that we'd all been laid off. While this was fine for her because she no longer had students to see every day, we were still in school for a week and had to see our students' faces every day knowing we might not have a job next year (I was on that list because my endorsement was being processed -- once it was, I was recalled before anyone else at my school, even those with years and years more seniority than myself). It was not good. Morale tanked that last week when we're supposed to be at our best -- celebrating a good year and everything.

Well Debbie got recalled too but it was to a half time elementary position which she could have turned down. Per our contract, you can deny anything that cuts you less than what you had before and still qualify for unemployment and such. She took the position though and griped every single day about how much she hated elementary and blah blah. Then she took a leave of absence because she hated the job so much. She'd found out she was pregnant and wanted to be home. Fine and dandy. Then she griped two months later that the district wouldn't let her come back to work -- she requested the rest of the year off so someone else was recalled to her position. You can't go back and forth like that. She had the nerve to be annoyed because they wouldn't let her come back and wouldn't put her in another position.

So fast forward past all that drama to yesterday. I have a huge (stuffed) frog collection. I dunno where my obsession with frogs came from, but I think they are adorable. I'm not all about the live ones really but I love most frog things for the classroom and such. Since I've taught bigger kids the last couple years, they get a huge kick out of this obsession and indulge me. Usually for Christmas and Valentine's Day I get a least one stuff frog from one or more of the kiddos. Therefore, I have quite a collection. When I left my classroom, I brought them home and put them all on top of my dresser. There are so many, however, that they prevent me from keeping anything else up there and its becoming a pain.

I mention on FaceBook that I'm going to have to put them away for the summer so I can reclaim that space in my bedroom and Debbie Downer posts and says "well you assume you'll have a job". I seriously just wanted to strangle her. I don't care if I don't have a job. My district paid over $5,000 in tuition for me to get the ESL endorsement because it is so needed in our district -- if they want to waste that money by laying me off, that's on them! I'm not worried about it. I know they won't lay me off. Despite all the people I know who do have the endorsement, they still have a huge need for more staff with that training.

Part of me just wants to end my ties with Debbie because I get so tired of her negativity. Am I ever negative? Sure! We all are. But I do try to see the positive in most things because if there is one thing I learned this year, being around negative people all the time breeds negativity. And that isn't very fun.

So from now on, Debbie Downer will just have to have her pity party all on herself because I will refuse to join in.

Monday, April 5, 2010


About once a week since I've been off work, I have weird dreams about school. Not necessarily my school building either -- just about teaching. Most of the time they star either kiddos I had this year or last but the "schools" are different.

My therapist says this is a good thing because it means I am healing. My doctor diagnosed me with Post-Traumatic Stress in February which is what led to me being on leave the rest of this year. There are so many things that just went wrong this year but the catalyst seems to be the day in early October when I just lost it. My students were so negative toward each other, no matter how much "housekeeping" I did with behavior plans, classroom meetings and team-building activities. That day in October was a particularly harsh one. I could barely get through any of the lessons because they couldn't leave each other alone long enough for me to actually teach. That day at lunch, our art teacher asked me a simple question and I just started bawling. She honestly thought someone in my family had passed away or something, that's how upset I was. I didn't cry in front of the kids (I've never actually broken down in front of them before) but things got worse and worse after that. The classroom just started to feel like a combat zone because the children genuinely just did not get along with each other. I knew it wasn't me -- they were like this last year and the year before too.

I have been seeing a therapist since mid-February when I first saw my doctor. She has been absolutely fantastic in terms of helping me to see I was just in an unfortunate spot. It doesn't mean I'm not a good teacher. In fact, last year wasn't perfect either, not by any means, yet when I look back at last year, I remember the good times way more than the not-so-good times. This is because there was respect and while all the kids didn't get along with each other, they were at least tolerant of each other in the classroom. It made it easy for me to do my job and made it easy to have FUN with the students. My therapist says that when the support system at my school fell apart, everything else went with it too.

I don't wake up from the school dreams in a cold sweat but they are kind of strange. They make me realize how much I do miss teaching and interacting with children. I have very much enjoyed this time off so far, even though I was sure I would hate being home since I'm so used to being busy as a bee. I think the dreams are helping me to realize, along with everything my therapist has worked with me on, that I can overcome this and be an even better teacher than before because I now have a pocketful of strategies to really carry me through when things get tough and stressful (and let's be realistic, in my district, no matter where I am, they will get tough and stressful sometimes).

Saturday, April 3, 2010


I love to read as much as the next teacher (although to be fair, I should point out that I know teachers who don't read unless it is to their class). I always buy teacher type books but don't always have time to delve into them.

I tease my husband that I should just buy stock in as often as I order from them. Granted it has decreased a bit in the last year because we've put ourselves on a pretty strict budget. I do, however, get an "allowance" of sorts that I can spend on whatever I want.

I think that in my quest to redefine myself, try to figure out what the hell went wrong this year in my classroom to give me the mass anxiety and "I hate my job syndrome" I have endured and make sure that never happens again, I am going to revisit many of the teacher books I already own as well as read some new ones I just ordered.

In order for me to really feel like I've gotten a grip back on the kind of teacher I know that I have been in the past, and know that I can be again in the future (and still trying to figure out where and why it all went wrong this year -- aside from just placing the blame on the students, their parents and the administration), I need to get back to my roots. To really dig into the former three that gave me some inspiration and a direction before and into the latter two to let me see that there is hope for my future as a teacher.
Over the next few weeks/months, I will review these books here on my blog, for my own reflective purposes but also hopefully as a way for me to really view this past year as a year of learning because as bad as it ended up, it wasn't all horrible. There were some good things that happened this year and that's what I consciously have to choose to focus on from here on in.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Spring Break!

I guess technically I've been on spring break for about a month now since my last official day in my classroom was February 26th, but my kiddos' break starts at 11:15 today and I can't wait.

Lord knows I have a million things I could be doing, namely finishing the massive print job on my Master's Project or writing my portfolio for my reading assessment class, but instead, the beautiful weather, singing birds and prospect of spending 9 glorious days with my own trio of kiddos is enticing me away from productivity and toward full out fun!

Today is supposed to be 83 degrees which is frankly amazing for our area on April 2 (sadly though this gorgeous weather won't last -- we're back down to 50s and 60s next week :( ). The Oldest, whose vacation started yesterday, and I are picking up The Littles at 11:15 and going to lunch and the zoo to enjoy this absolutely beautiful day!

Next week we've packed our schedule with visits to the local butterfly exhibit, the bowling alley where they have $1 games all week, the movies, lunches, the library, the park, etc. It's probably even more exciting to me because after being home for a month to recuperate, I feel amazing. I'm ready to get out there and just do something fun with my own children.

Happy Spring Break!


Who doesn't love giveaways?!

I sure do, especially when they are for Super Fabulous (can you tell I've been reading Mrs. Mimi?) things like pocket chart organizers.

Sarah, over at Confessions, is running a giveaway and I *really* want that pocket chart. I have actually coveted one of those exact charts for years and just never bought one. The contest is being sponsored by CSN and they are the generous donators of the pocket chart.

Head on over there to enter the contest where winners will be announced on April 16!