Saturday, May 29, 2010

Word Walls

During my undergraduate field training to become a teacher, I completed stints as an assistant teacher/student teacher in 3 different districts. One was on the wealthy side, one was in the middle and one was the total opposite end of the SES spectrum from the first one (this one is the school where I will be fortunate enough to teach at next year). This school is 99% free and reduced lunch, which is even lower SES than my current school which is 90%.


At any rate, the biggest differences I noticed in these schools, besides the diversity (or lack thereof in school #1) was their approach to literacy instruction. I learned SO.MUCH. once I student taught in my district that none of my undergrad classes in Language Arts could even come close to scratching the surface on. One of the biggest things I came away with was an appreciation for Word Walls. Now in most places I know, Word Walls are all the rage for K-2 and sometimes into 3rd grade. In my district they are required K-5 and even recommended for 6-8 in some schools.

This past year, we were given some activity cards by a big university that was partnering with us to increase physical activity for students. Clearly time is of the essence in schools these days with the testing craze and everything, but these activity cards allow the students to get some movement in while they practice the words up on the word wall. Sheer brilliance! I made a copy of the cards for myself and took it home before I left my school this year. I knew I wanted to have those handy no matter what grade I ended up in for the future.

This afternoon I sat outside with The Littles and we cut out the slips, glued them onto mini-flash cards in different colors and instead of wasting money on laminate (which tends to be SO expensive), I used clear packaging tape to cover them. Not the prettiest thing in the world, but no one is even likely to notice unless they are holding the card and it provided the reinforcement I wanted for them. I am pretty happy with how they turned out. Plus the activities are just fun.

The Husband saw what some of the activities were and said "you're going to do those with 5th graders?!" and I just chuckled. Kids constantly amaze me at the crazy and silly stuff they will do if they see their teacher do it too. I think they figure if this adult is willing to do something that makes them look silly and goofy, they can do it too.






Friday, May 28, 2010

She knows me so well....

Yesterday in all of my excitement about finally hearing where I will be teaching next year, I sent text messages to my mom, The Husband and The Oldest, who was at school (she's in 9th grade). She isn't allowed to use her phone at school -- school rule -- but she has it with her throughout the day. The school doesn't care as long as it is hidden and the students aren't texting or talking on it during the day (they can at lunch but that's it).

So The Oldest sent me a text after school was out and she was getting ready to get on the bus to say congratulations and such. Only recently has The Oldest even had texting capabilities on her phone but she goes to town with it -- the first month she sent/received over 300 messages and we'd only had it half a month. I think its a teen thing. Basically this means she wanted to have this huge conversation with me about it through text message. Not the most fun for me. I like texting but not entire conversations like that!

She gets home around 3:30 in the afternoon from school and has a snack. Usually The Husband and I are working so she's here alone for about an hour which gives her time to have a snack and start her homework before we get home with The Littles. Since I'm home though, we have a little time together before I go pick up the younger two from school. Yesterday was no exception to this but it was hilarious because she came in the house, got her snack and sat down across from me at the table and says, "So, did you jump up and down when you found out like last time?" with a sly little smirk on her face.

I had to just laugh. The kid knows me so well. When I got hired on my first full contract it was my 2nd year teaching. My new principal had called me at home to let me know that I had gotten the job and I had to contain my excitement while still on the phone. After we hung up, I literallly jumped up and down screaming "I got it, I got it!" (Keep in mind that I was 29 years old at the time so pretty funny when you think about it.) I said no I didn't but I did have to admit I busted out the old school Cabbage Patch dance for a minute to celebrate my joy.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Finally...job placement

I have to confess I kind of made a pest of myself to my HR department and I suspect they told me my placement finally to get me to shut up and quit bugging them! Whatever works I guess.

I am SO excited. My dad was absolutely right. I got the 5th grade at the school where I student taught and where I was a former student once myself. I am so downright excited. Seriously, my heart is beating so fast that The Husband told me I needed to calm myself down so I don't bring on a panic attack in my excited state!

I emailed my former cooperating teacher and told her the news because I didn't want her to have to wait until late tonight to find out. We are going to have such a blast, I just know it. And now that I really know where I am going to be, I can turn my attention to really planning for next year in terms of how I want my literacy time and other academic areas to look.

I am beyond stoked.

Read Alongs

As I have been re-reading The Daily 5 and The CAFE Book, I have been thinking about how I can integrate these fabulous programs with some of the components discussed in the Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reader's Workshop book. In the past when I thought about Daily 5, I really pictured it working with younger children best. However, recently I have seen evidence of other teachers, even a teacher of 6th/7th graders, using the program and the students aren't bulking that it is "babyish".

That has given me a bit more confidence in my desire to try this out. I really wanted to give it a go this past year but multitudes of crappy circumstances just made it near impossible. I'm determined to do it this upcoming year and get it off on the right foot. In thinking about how our district's balanced literacy model is designed, I have to ensure that all of these pieces are interwoven so I'm still doing what they want, but in a way that best benefits the wide range of needs in my classroom. I got a real glimpse at this range my first year teaching when after a round of assessments discovered my 4th/5th graders ranged from late kindergarten to 8th grade in their reading levels....all in one room. That was when I first began to realize there is just no way to meet the needs of all of those children using a one-size-fits-all basal reader.


At any rate, as I've been thinking about this, I've spent a lot of time thinking about the Listen to Reading component. The Sisters state that upper grade teachers may choose to leave this one out because the read aloud takes care of it. But then I remembered something a long-term sub at our school did this year. She had a pretty rough group too (not as rough as mine but pretty close) and one thing she did that made even the most obnoxious and crude children turn into complete angels is let them take books on tape into the hall and listen to the story while they followed along. These were 5th graders and I was astounded at the transformation of some of those kiddos when it was their turn to be in the hall with the books. It's such a simple thing but for children who are struggling to read on their own, this truly opens the door for them to read books they are interested in but that are way too hard. So as always, I put this in the back of my brain to let it simmer, knowing an epiphany would eventually happen.

I awoke in the middle of the night, from a pretty fabulous dream actually, to my epiphany. The best store ever (read: Lakeshore Learning) has read-along CDs for a lot of really popular titles. So after taking The Littles to school this morning, I jumped online and looked them up. Be still my heart, I am in love yet again. There are  90 read-along products, everything ranging from PreK-6th grade. This is definitely the answer to my conundrum with this.

And then I realize how amazing Donor's Choose has been to me in the past. I have received some great products and materials through the amazing donors. When I taught 2nd grade, I wrote a grant for some take-home pack books and within just a couple of days I had the grant fully funded and my book packs were on their way. So I am searching through the Read-Along sets at Lakeshore and making notes of the sets I am going to write into a new proposal. I have to wait to submit it until I know what school I will be in next year (and what grade for that matter!) but I am excited about it. At the very least, they have a box with 12 different books with CDs which would at least get us started. I think this is going to be fan-freaking-tastic.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

No news is good news....right?

Still nothing on the job situation. It is beyond frustrating, stressful and downright annoying. Plus now they have had so many calls, the staffing coordinators are refusing to answer their phones. Nice.

I think I am more pissed off by this because when you do get ahold of someone in the HR office, they make you feel like a pest for expecting them to oh, I dunno, do their job maybe? They claimed right on the initial transfer posting that ESL positions would be placed first because it is the only situation in which certification trumps seniority. So I certainly wasn't expecting to be waiting two days (and counting) AFTER the date they said everyone would be notified by.

Especially when people I know who don't even have their endorsements, but rather are working on a permit, have gotten placed. A gal I work with who is very sweet taught at my first choice school for two years and got transferred to ours this year thanks to the crazy layoff/recall fiasco they did. She was able to request transfer back to that building and she got the position. I'm very glad for her BUT she does not have her ESL endorsement yet. She is also barely ahead of me seniority wise (she has a year more than I do) but she got placed. I DO have the endorsement and nothing.

Our old secretary, who transferred to a different building this past September, emailed me today and said she'd heard a rumor that HR massively effed up the placement process, not going in seniority order (which I knew because former colleagues with less seniority have been placed) and that they may have to scrap it all and start over. I wouldn't even care about that if they would just admit they screwed up, notified everyone and started over with the special certification positions first!

The Husband called me this afternoon from work to see if I had heard anything and I was so frustrated and pissed off that I was near tears. I feel like all I am doing lately is waiting on other (incompetent) people whose choices and decisions are affecting me and there isn't anything I can do about it. My disability insurance company is dragging their heels (and Lord knows I qualify for that seeing as how I'm seeing a therapist weekly at $100 a pop to deal with my anxiety), HR is screwing up and now not responding to emails or phone calls and we're dealing with other issues from another insurance company after a tree service dropped a tree on our house causing over $2000 in damages (yeah...seriously, they did).

I'm supposed to be home to AVOID anxiety. To AVOID being upset and overwhelmed with this stuff. But its all piling on me and everything is a situation I can't control. It makes me feel terrible about myself and I hate that. I didn't do anything to deserve this mess that has been handed to me and honestly...as I told The Husband earlier today...I don't know how much longer I can wait and be patient before I lose it completely. I just can't handle this back-and-forth-nobody-knows-what-they-are-doing mess.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Job Situation / Preferred Activity Time

Let me start by saying I still have no clue where I will be teaching next year and it is starting to get on my darned nerves! Many people I know have already found out their placements. When I discovered yesterday that a former colleague with less seniority than myself was notified, I contacted HR basically going "uh, what the heck??". They assured me that they are still working on sending out the notifications and to try to be patient (HA!). So I waited alllllllllllllllllllllllllllll day today and nada. It's so frustrating.

My dad, who is slightly clairvoyant, told my mom he saw me in 3rd grade. But yesterday when she called to ask me if I had found anything out, he asked her if she was talking to me and she said yes and he said he sees 5th grade now (which is my 1st choice). The weird thing about that is, he knew the schools I had requested transfers into but he didn't know the grade levels. 99% of the time if he tells me stuff like that, he is correct about it. I would be absolutely tickled to have the 5th because a) I was a student at that school back in the day, b) I student taught there in 5th grade and c) I would get to work side-by-side with my cooperating teacher and my former 6th grade science teacher. Basically the epitome of the best job situation ever. But I refuse to focus on it or get excited about it until I see it in writing.

I'm not a patient person at all (uh, just ask The Husband about that one *wink*) but knowing that others who are lower than me seniority wise have already been notified is getting on my nerves. I just want to know so I can start thinking to the future!!



In other news, I was re-reading through The Daily 5 book earlier today because I want to make some comparisons for myself between it and the Day-to-Day Assessment book I recently finished. I had a huge epiphany while I was reading it. They talk so much about choice and stamina and everything in the workshop model. I recently read "Tools for Teaching" by Fred Jones and one of his biggest strategies is using Preferred Activity Time. I've used it in the past but when I read the chapters about it in his book, which I hadn't previously read, I was in love. He says the best way to use it is to make it academic stuff but with choice so the students look forward to it and don't always necessarily realize they are actually learning. Sheer brilliance.

So then I'm reviewing Daily 5 out on my porch swing, trying to keep my mind off the ever elusive placement email, when something just clicked in my brain. One of the stupidest and most frustrating things about my district is their utter lack of a social studies curriculum K-5. Sure we have state standards and all but there are exactly ZERO resources to actually teach those standards. I had the thought to utilize the Preferred Activity Time with the choice menus in the tic-tac-toe format and voila....instant, engaging curriculum that provides choice and learning at the same time.

As with most of my huge brainstorms, I will stick this idea in the back of my mind until I find out what grade level I will be in (hopefully tomorrow or I might have to drown myself in chocolate!) and once I know, I can really look at our standards and see how feasible this idea will be.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Teacher Gifts

This morning as I was driving The Littles to school (which I have to admit I am cherishing during my time off), we were listening to the radio. On one station they were talking about the extreme "summer like" weather we are expected to have this week and wondering if this was an indicator of what summer will be like here since our last two summers have actually been relatively cool in terms of averages over the last decade or so.

They then turned the discussion to the end of the school year since the weather is likely to make students antsy and anticipating being outside enjoying the weather rather than in school. They started discussing gifts to buy for classroom teachers at the end of the school year and invited listeners to call in and provide some suggestions.

Perhaps my viewpoint is skewed because I have always worked in the inner city but I was absolutely flabbergasted at some of the suggestions these parents had. If a family presented me with a spa day, I would feel terrible accepting it. Again, I believe this is because where I teach, that sort of gift would likely mean rent wasn't being paid or food wasn't being put on the table. In the 'burbs, this may not be so. (I did get a beautiful learning tree picture frame from a parent when I was a student teacher in a wealthier district.)

Recently in a teaching forum I have been a part of since my undergrad years, someone had brought this discussion up and she admitted to the forum that she has actually returned/declined gifts from students that she didn't like (she works in a private school). This absolutely appalled me because a) I'm thinking she should seriously be happy to get anything at all from ANYONE and b) how freaking rude is it to not accept a gift because you don't like the child??

Oddly enough, some of my most memorable trinkets have come from my naughty kids -- the ones who drive me crazy and make me look forward to cocktails on Friday night (afternoon!). It makes me wonder sometimes if I would feel differently if all of my experience was in the 'burbs where there tend to be a lot of helicopter parents who are much more involved but also more lavish in their gift giving. I know I did not become a teacher to get gifts -- seeing my students shine and succeed is my gift. I don't know. The way I look at it is, yes teaching is tough and sometimes it is more frustrating than anything else. However, I am getting paid to be there and I do get time off to recover from the stress and everything. I just don't find myself focusing on the gifts I "could" be getting from families.

I don't buy separate gifts for my girls' teachers either (I do contribute to the "end of year" gift that a room mom usually gets going -- wonder what its like to have a room mom *sigh*). I know those teachers work hard and I respect them greatly. However, sometimes when I am in that school, I feel so jealous of how much easier their job is because they aren't dealing with the behavior aspects that I have in my district. I fully realize I have chosen to work where I do -- and believe me, despite griping about it sometimes, I really do love working with the children there...the adults notsomuch but the kiddos are what keep me there -- and that's just fine. But I think I am in the camp that doesn't believe teachers should be showered with gifts just because we teach children. Yes our job is hard, YES we are unappreciated much of the time, YES the politics surrounding education suck whether you teach in Florida, California or New York (or anywhere in between).

But to me...the best teacher gifts are the little notes my students would leave on my desk when I wasn't looking. The little mini candy bars they would sneak onto my in tray with their papers. The coloring pages and pictures they would leave me and then help me tape onto the wall. The best gifts are the hugs from the children whose home lives are rough (not necessarily bad but rough) who are just appreciative that they are being nurtured at school. They are the light bulb moments from a child who has struggled with math every year before he got to me and suddenly, it makes sense to him and a huge grin spreads across his face.

No amount of money and no present could ever be more meaningful than any of those things. I'm happy just to make a difference with children, regardless of whether or not I ever receive a spa day or a gift card to a restaurant.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Patience needs to be my virtue!

I did not get an email about a job placement as of yet. However, after talking with a couple of other teachers in the district, it sounds as though they are filling uncontested jobs first. In other words, the folks who were laid off that bid back into their own jobs that no one else bid on have already been placed. One of my former colleagues from my current school told me on FB that she got her email yesterday just before she left school. I can almost guarantee that no one else bid into her job (to say our school doesn't have the best reputation in the district is a very mild understatement -- most years there are positions open, they take awhile to get filled).

Even though they claimed the ESL stuff would be done first because it has to go by endorsement rather than seniority, it appears from what others have told me about their jobs that it is going by uncontested first. I will just try to be patient about it. :)



In other news, I have been updating my classroom website very generically since I don't know where I will be placed yet. I am really excited about the new format (and nope, I won't be sharing it -- sorry -- because I just don't want to give away my location to the whole world since I tend to rant about my district here). My webhost conveniently offers a WordPress format. I have used it in the past but have also used my site with an HTML editor and created all of my pages myself. I like the WordPress format because I can update from school which makes it super convenient and easy to update everything from weekly homework to announcements and everything.

The theme I am using is similar to the new theme that Angela is using over at The Cornerstone. She recently updated the site and I instantly fell in love with the new format and decided to give WordPress another go for my site. The thesis template is expensive so I searched for an alternate that is pretty similar with the rotating pictures on the side.

I uploaded pictures of my former classrooms over the years, both my current school and my previous school that I put in the most bids for. I was telling The Husband this morning when I showed off my new web format that I think the thing I miss most about my previous school is the windows. I had an entire wall of windows in my room that year. Plus, even though I taught 2nd grade, our class was added at the end of the first marking period so our room was a former middle school room (K-8 building), thus we had a huge room and no carpet. I miss that huge space! My current school's classroom was big and spacious too but had only one big window. I miss the days when it was so sunny at my former school I could leave all of the lights off and the natural light provided by the windows allowed the students to relax a bit but still see well enough to learn effectively.

It's funny how the little things are what appeal to us in terms of classroom space. Probability would indicate I will be placed back at my former school in some capacity because I bid on 6 out of the 10 positions I put in for in that one school. I will be in absolute heaven if I am back there simply for the windows and natural lighting! Time will tell and I am going to try very hard not to chew my nails down to their nubs before I hear the big news :)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Jobs

I am anxiously awaiting to hear where I will be for 2010-2011! A fellow teacher in my district who was laid off last year (and thus had to rebid) said on FaceBook that she had found out she was going to keep her same position for next year. I asked her how she knew and she said she got an email.

Since my work email is shut off due to my leave, I emailed one of the staffing coordinators and asked her how I would find out. They used to do everything on paper and now its all electronic so she said they don't send notices at all. She said I would get an email at the email I used to bid.

Well fortunately I used my personal email when I bid because that's the email I used all those years ago when I applied to the district. So that means once I get a successful placement, I should get an email.

I am DYING to get it today! I'm so impatient! I just want some good news! :)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Whoa

Today on a whim, on the way back from an errand I had to run, I stopped at my former school. I wasn't planning to and I'm not sure what gave me the inclination other than that I was in the area.

I'm glad I did. It was a little hard but I was able to see with my own eyes that things haven't changed. The wonderful children are still wonderful and are learning despite the crap going on in that room and the naughty friends are just as naughty as they were when I left. It made me feel so much better to really be able to see that the children who I knew would be okay without me ARE okay. They are actually excelling and the other children are falling more and more behind.

I picked up my word wall that I had left. Previously I was willing to just let it go but I figured since I was there, I wanted it. I paid for it and I knew they weren't using it (confirmed when I asked the sub). Two of my former students helped me take it down. My hands were a bit shaking while we were doing that -- I think just being back in that room with the negative memories was what caused it. But I faced it and didn't freak out so that's very good!

I went around and said a special goodbye to my Fabulous students who made my life so amazing while I was there. They were my reason for going to work every day when things were so bad. I'm proud of them for never giving up and for putting the naughty children in their place. I wish things had ended differently than they did but there is no going back. Everything happens for a reason and I just hope that they have learned some lessons from this like I have. I hope they realize that in the future if they show the level of appreciation that they gave me while I was there today to their teacher all the time and not just when they want something, they are going to be so much better off.

Visual Instructional Plans

I've mentioned previously that I am reading Tools for Teaching by Fred Jones. I have to admit, that I wish this had been the text my undergrad management class required instead of The First Days of School. While I love me some Harry Wong, Freddy-boy just knocks it out of the ballpark. He does. Of course, its very likely that I'm getting so much more out of it because in reading some of it, I can nod and say "yup, that was my class this year alright."

It's over 300 pages worth of teachery goodness. Dr. Jones is very frank about what we as teachers do, even with the best of intentions, that set ourselves up for the little (and sometimes big) fires we deal with in our classrooms.

One of my favorite chapters right now is Chapter 7 in which he talks about the Visual Instructional Plan. So much of what he talks about is weaning the children who are "helpless handraisers" from needing your presence. I've had multiple of those over the years. They can't (won't) do anything unless you are standing right there giving them the eagle eye and if you give in, the rest of the class is going crazy within a minute. The VIP makes sense.

I am all about visuals, especially over the last couple of years when my focus has been with ELL students. This plan, however, really provides a visual reference for every student at every stage of the process. He uses a lot of math examples because math is full of computation and therefore is usually done in step-by-step format. He also admitted, however, that one year he was teaching graduate students and failed to give an appropriate plan and while the work he received was great, there were huge gaps in all of the papers from these students. Thus, using a VIP, be it a poster or a handout provides every single student with a step-by-step format of what they are supposed to be doing.

I can definitely see this working when I teach lattice multiplication or any of the "partial" operations that are infamous in the Everyday Math program. The children tend to get stuck in the middle because they have then forgotten what comes next. Providing the step-by-step visual prevents helpless handraising too because if a child needs help, you can prompt them on the step they are on, refer them to the VIP and then scoot off to continue monitoring the rest of the room.


Many of our classrooms, especially in our new buildings but most of the older ones have added this technology as well, are equipped with ELMO document cameras and laptops for the teachers. This is great because you can zoom in on whatever you have on the document camera and ensure that every child can see what you are doing (something I always hated about the overhead -- some of the kiddos on the sides or toward the back just couldn't see very well). This makes it way too easy to get lazy and sit at the tech desk (where the ELMO is) while you teach, which makes it so easy for the children to start getting rowdy.

I have always been a "working the room" kind of teacher, wandering through the children, offering praise or pointing out a spot where they might want to recheck. It's a little harder to do that when we're doing something that requires me to write on the ELMO pad but I've made it work. One trick I sometimes do is keep the screen up and then write on on the actual board so all of the children can still see what we're doing but its easier for me to offer step-by-step guidance yet work the room at the same time.


I am definitely seeing areas in this text that are going to allow me to tweak my craft. I'm happy to know that I'm not totally screwing up. [Honestly I have never had anyone question my ability to manage a classroom until this year with the class from Hades.] I can see how I've used some of these ideas and how I can tweak them to make them more effective and/or make things more consistent for myself and my students.

I'm only halfway through this book and I think that it may just become my new teaching Bible.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Can't we all just get along?

It's sad to me that my district has such a bad reputation but in all reality, there are so many administrators in our district that more often than not, the right hand doesn't know what the left is doing and so on. We serve a large population of minorities and it makes me so angry that people have the negative view of our students that they have because of a few of them. So much of it is blamed upon the teachers too which makes me mad as well as sad.

I have 3 children. I had my first daughter when I was in high school. I am not embarrassed about that. Every decision I have ever made and every experience I have had, are what have helped make me the person I am today. Yes, I have made some poor choices. Yes, I have done things that I know I will have to answer for when my Moment of Truth arrives. However, I feel as though I am finally at a point in my life where I'm on the track I should be on.

I get really ticked when people blame the lack of parental responsibility on "young parents". I was (and am) a young parent and let me tell you, none of my daughters would ever dare talk to an adult the way I have heard children in our district speak. I never even worry about it because they know better. They have been taught better. The issue with most of the lack of parental responsibility is just that people have children before they are ready or they really do want the children but end up as single moms or dads (and sadly so many of my students over the years are raised by aunts or grandparents because the parents are MIA for various reasons) and are working multiple jobs to make ends meet.

Last year I had an amazing mother to a daughter who was struggling to find herself. This mother was so frustrated because she worked in a church and taught her child well. But the father was out of the picture and mom was engaged and thus the child was acting out. Not uncommon for a child that age. But we never gave up. We put our heads together and made a plan for this child so that she could be successful. Over the summer her mom sent me an email and said her daughter was in a summer school program through the church and it was a huge 360 in terms of behavior and academic effort than the summer before and said she had to credit a lot of that to me because I held onto high expectations for her child but also nurtured and encouraged her to reach her potential. The email just warmed my heart. It was so wonderful to know that I had helped that family so much through patience and understanding.

Which brings me to the point of this post. Over the weekend we have gotten multiple emails from our union president. I won't get into my personal thoughts on unions because that's not the point of the post. Basically he has communicated with us multiple emails he has had with some administrators in our district regarding the job postings, the bidding process and how the transfers are going to affect full-time employment for many of our secondary teachers. While I admit the emails do make for some entertaining reading (because seriously...these are being written by adults who are allegedly committed to working together and sound as though they are being composed by a couple of bickering 3rd graders), when I finished reading the final one yesterday all I could think was "Can't we all just get along?"

If we expect our students to get along, even when they don't like each other, but learn to be tolerant, learn to work together despite their differences to make things better or easier, we need to be able to exemplify that for them. While most of our students will never know about these immature exchanges, I know about them and it bothers me. On one hand, I appreciate our union president for putting the thoughts out there that many of us are thinking -- our district continually makes poor choices and then when the mess hits the fan, blame the teachers instead of the idiots in central office making these abysmally poor decisions. On the other hand, I see two adults exchanging emails filled with anger, disappointment and resentment and in the end, nothing has been resolved. It's a waste of time and effort.

We should be joining together for the children. I don't care about pay or benefits or anything like that. I did not become a teacher to "strike it rich". I became a teacher because I care about children. Sometimes when I read these emails or the press releases, I have to wonder how many people in our district have forgotten that we all went into education for the children.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Small World

It really is a small world. This morning The Husband and I went out looking for some new wheels. Keep in mind that "new" in my mind is not brand new. It's new to me. [In a nutshell, The Husband and I follow Dave Ramsey's baby steps and thus credit is a big no-no for us.]

Anywho, thanks to technology and great things like craigslist, we found a nice Explorer that we wanted to check out. The price was right and despite being used car salesmen, the folks at the place we were at were really awesome. We had to rush to the bank to get a check so we could drive the Explorer home today and I noticed the last name of the seller on the paper he had given us for the bank.

I mentioned to The Husband that it was such a different last name that I wondered if he was related to a media specialist at one of the schools I bid back into this year, Mrs. V. I couldn't for the life of me remember her first name (I did only work with her for 7 months though) but I asked him about it when we got back and he chuckled and said "oh that's my wife!"

What a small world it really and truly is. He called her when he found that out and I talked to her. It was funny. She remembers my name but she's like "oh gosh, I just can't picture your face". I promised to stop in if I successfully bid there so she would remember me.

It made my Saturday though. It was just too ironic that he would be related to her. Plus he gave us $300 off the sales price because of it. Sure not complaining there!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Organization

Yesterday evening, my BlackBerry's light flashed to let me know I had a message and it was a notification of a comment posted by a new follower. Usually when I discover a new follower (because all teachers love attention whether they will admit it or  not!) I check out their blog too in order to see if anything strikes my fancy.

Well lucky for me the new follower is from Littlest Learners. So I click on over there and....

Be still my heart. Organization. Creative Teaching Ideas. Pictures. *swoon*


I am in heaven people. Seriously.

In all of the years I have taught, everyone has raved over my organization. I can't.stand.clutter. My first year teaching one of my colleagues had a classroom I could NOT set foot in. She was a fantastic teacher but not organized. At all. It caused me to have mini-fits if I went into her room for anything. Piles of paper stacked on the floor, chairs, tables, you name it. It drove me insane. Mostly because I wanted very badly to offer to help her clean it up!

My undergraduate advisor was in the English department and before we could enter the teacher prep part of our program, we had to have our advisor fill out a form saying we weren't slackers and such. My advisor, while a great teacher, was a slob. I had near convulsions sitting in his room while he filled out that paper. When he was done with it and wanted to chat, I honestly told him I couldn't stay a moment longer. He asked me if I had a class soon and I responded "No, sir. I want to clean this office and I think you might be a bit offended if I started doing that." He laughed. (fortunately we had such a good relationship I knew I could say that to him without offending him!)

Last year one of my colleagues, who was a first year teacher, asked me to come help her rearrange her room because she wanted it to be more organized (and it was already pretty well organized). Alas, it did not take this new teacher long to discover I was known as the "Organization Queen" at our school. Two of my colleagues frequently referred to me as "The Overachiever" because there was NEVER clutter in my room. Ever.

So, in a nutshell, I am all about organization.You can bet on seeing numerous posts about how I organize my room once I'm back in action this fall. Being organized just makes me HAPPY. (Because as The Oldest is fond of telling me, I'm a freak. She says this good naturedly because she is a total slob -- but honestly I was too at her age. My how things change.)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Literacy Block

Since I have no idea which position I will end up in of the ones I requested transfer on, it's kind of a bit of a waiting game. This means I can't start doing too much thinking ahead to the new school year because there is such a variety of grade levels that I bid on, everything from 2nd through 5th grade. Probability would indicate that since 6 of the 10 positions I bid on are in the same building, I will end up there in some capacity. Probability would also indicate that since a full 50% of the positions I bid on are in 2nd grade, I'll be teaching 2nd grade. But there are never any guarantees until things are in writing so I am refraining from making any grade-specific sorts of plans until I know for certain where and what I will be teaching.


That said, I have been reading Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop. I have also read the Daily 5 and the CAFE book. While these books are different -- Daily 5/CAFE can be used with all grades K-5 but seems like it may work better with the K-3 crowd and Day-to-Day is geared for 3rd-6th grade -- the big idea behind them is the same: fostering independence in literacy to enable children to really develop themselves into readers.

I have taught 2nd, 4th and 5th grade in my own classrooms but have worked in all grades from K-12 when I was subbing. I know that my 4th graders were vastly different thinkers and learners than my 2nd graders were. Not because they were superior but because they had more experience in school and with reading. It has often boggled my mind, however, how many children come to 4th or 5th grade absolutely hating to read. This breaks my heart as someone whose idea of a fun Friday night is curling up with a few good books to read with my girls (or even to myself! The Husband chuckles at how I've been home on leave for 2 1/2 months and have maybe watched 5-6 hours of TV total in all those hours I've been home alone). When I was a kid I got grounded from my books [never for longer than a day] when I was bad because I loved reading so much and my parents knew this was the only way to get their point across to me. Grounding me from the TV I barely watched or the video games I barely played just wasn't going to cut it.

In reading these books about literacy, I have really found a renewed sense of the spark I've always had for teaching literacy. I was a language arts major in undergrad and of course just finished my master's in TESOL which enabled me to know more about the English language than I probably care to! My friends and I would joke during undergrad about what a language arts nerd I was: I love getting new ideas and implementing them in my classroom to foster a love of reading in children.

The school where I requested the majority of my transfers (the positions being 3 - 2nd grades and 1 each of 3rd, 4th and 5th) is the school where I taught  my first contract year with my district. I've heard about some of the things they've put into place since I left in order to provide more Tier 1 intervention due to the RtI model. My only concern with that is that after finishing my entire master's project on why basal texts are huge no-nos for ELLs, I have a huge aversion to the basal which they rely on (really all of the schools rely on it, this particular school just took it a step farther). I have been thinking to myself over the last day or so how I could implement both a Daily CAFE (if I get 2nd grade) or a true Reader's Workshop (if I get 3rd-5th) and still utilize at least some of the basal series.

Earlier this morning I had an epiphany about it. Awhile back I found these tri-fold documents created by a super fabulous group of teachers that are like little pamphlets that you use for strategy work while reading. They have created some for the basal series they use. I thought how awesome would it be to create some to go with our basal stories to allow us to a) still use the district mandated material b) provide a level of scaffolding for struggling readers and c) give the children a concrete tool to make sense of what they are reading instead of using the worthless worksheets that come with the series.

Most of our elementary schools now require 90-120 minutes of uninterrupted literacy and I figured that would still give me time to either use the Daily 5 rotation or the Reading Workshop model and still use the basal. (I NEVER include writing in my literacy block, ever. Yes they go together but I like to dedicate 40-50 minutes for writing so I keep it separate.)
30 minutes basal reader/partner reading/trifolds
30 minutes read aloud strategies with notebooks
20-30 minutes word study
30-40 minutes independent reading/conferences

I am going to put this idea into the back of my brain so I can think on it subconsciously while I wait to see where I end up. I think this model might revolutionize my literacy time.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

NurtureShock

Recently, I downloaded a free sample of NurtureShock: New Thinking about Children for my Kindle. The sample includes Chapter 1 which is called "The Inverse Power of Praise". It is very interesting and filled with a lot of actual data from experiments done with children to back up the claims they make.

Basically this chapter talks about how when we tell children they are smart, it actually produces the opposite effect than what we desire when we say it. Children who are told they are smart eventually stop trying when they think a task is going to be too difficult.

One of the big questions asked is "why does [a] child who is measurably at the very top of the charts lack confidence about his ability to tackle routine school challenges?"

Why indeed.

Dr. Carol Dweck completed a series of studies with children to try to pinpoint information about the effects of praise. In the first part all of the children were given a non-verbal IQ test that consisted of puzzles. They were designed so all of the children would do fairly well. They randomly divided their praise between praise on their intelligence and praise on their effort. They found after two more series of tests that the students who were praised for their effort actually chose the difficult puzzles for the last test while the majority of children who had been praised for their intelligence went wtih the easy test. Basically they copped out. Dweck summarized this by saying that when we praise children for their intelligence we are essentially telling them to look smart and not to risk making mistakes.

Additionally after a round where the test was purposely too difficult, the children who had been previously praised for their effort took the news better when they found out they hadn't passed -- they chalked it up to the notion that they must not have tried as hard as they could. The children who had been previously praised for their intelligence took the failure to mean they really weren't smart at all.

In the last test (the puzzle test mentioned above with the cop-out), the effort praised students scored an average of 30% higher than their original score while the intelligence praised students scored an average of 20% lower than their original score.


There is so much more to the chapter but I was hooked just reading this far. As a teacher in the inner city, I find varying degrees of children who receive praise. Some children are never praised for anything unless they are at school. Some children are praised so much that their parents won't accept that the child earned a lower grade because "my kid is smart, s/he should have a higher grade". Even in elementary school this happens. [There is a parent in the sample chapter of NutureShock who told a teacher she couldn't give the child a C because it would "hurt his self esteem".]

I think what appeals to me the most about this book is that these are not just two drones who are spouting off random opinions that they think everyone should soak up and accept. They are providing real evidence from many studies (the study listed above spanned 10 years with the same results throughout those 10 years regardless of the socioeconomic status of the students) to back up their claims.

I can't wait to purchase the full version and see what else they have to say.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Transfers

The transfer positions were finally posted today but as usual the district has made it a complete pain to apply for any of them. *sigh*

I was able to sort through by ESL requirement which helped seriously narrow my choices. There are three schools I would absolutely LOVE to be in. One I taught at before, one I student taught at (and was a student there myself once upon a time) and one my really good pal did her student teaching at. There is another school I did a long-term position at which has 2nd grade that I've coveted from afar. It doesn't list who the principal is and that makes me leery because the current principal there is someone I'd rather avoid like the plague.

As such, once I figure out how to get the darn application working, I will be applying to 10 positions total: 5 - 2nd grade, 1 - 3rd grade (which would actually be my first choice), 2 - 4th grade and 2 - 5th grade. Huge variety there and I'd be willing to bet the 2nd/3rd positions are more likely. I would be happy with any of them, however,

Transfer applications aren't due until next Tuesday so I probably won't know anything about my success in transferring until the end of next week or the week after that. Waiting is hard for me BUT once I have put in the bids, I will feel much, much better about the whole thing. Only one of these schools is on the side of town where my former school is. The others are on the "nicer" side of town. I've taught in both places and one isn't necessarily better than the other but the schools I'm bidding into have much better reputations than mine does.


EDIT: Okay, so apparently I had a huge blond moment earlier. The application has a spot on the VERY bottom for you to indicate you are a current employee which opens up the transfer bid area. They just can't make it easy! :)

In the end I bid in this order: 5th, 3rd, 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 4th, 2nd. They're in this order depending on the school. The first 5th grade position would allow me to teach with my co-op teacher *and* my former 6th grade teacher. How fun would that be?? :)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Boundaries Revisited

Today I finally finished reading Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud. Reading non-fiction texts like this is a whole other world from reading a novel or something for pure pleasure, at least for me. I have to read it in small chunks in order to really digest it.

The book provides a biblical, Christian point-of-view to boundaries in all areas of a person's life: work, parents, spouse, children, friends, themselves and with God. I found a lot that I could really relate to in terms of the lack of boundaries I've experienced recently. I feel a renewed sense of respect for having boundaries and truly understanding why they are important.

The world will not end if I personally am not on every committee at school (not that I was, but sometimes it sure felt like it!). The world will not end if I say "no". People might not like it, but they will get over it. Probably the most profound notion I came across is that if someone else is angry with us or disappointed with us (or we with them), it is the person who feels the emotion's problem. They have to deal with it: resolve it, make peace with it and let it go. It isn't for the person who said no to worry about. I believe this is why so many people do struggle with boundaries: we feel guilty if we aren't helpful. But again, Dr. Cloud points out that this guilt is our boundary problem, not the person who is supposedly making us feel guilty.

I can definitely see how my experience in my classroom this year would have played out differently had my boundaries been in place and better defined. I would have been able to say no to some of the extra work that I was asked to do, I would have had more time to be in my classroom (which is the point of being a teacher -- to work with the children!) and I would have had more time to nurture the relationships between myself and my students as well as my students and each other.

I am beyond feeling bad or guilty about leaving that situation. I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason and this situation has pushed me to self-reflect, to seek out knowledge to prevent this from happening again and most importantly, to give me back a sense of the good teacher I know I can be. Reading this book put so much into perspective for me and I am grateful that I can walk away from it with a better sense of myself as I prepare to return to the classroom this fall.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Freaky Fridays


In perusing the Tools for Teaching book, I am finding myself very much looking forward to implementing some of these ideas in my classroom. In Chapter 9, which focuses solely on creating motivation in students, the idea of a "Freaky Friday" comes up.

Basically on Fridays the teacher has 7 assignments up and the children can choose to do any 4 of them that they want. Once those assignments have been completed to the teacher's satisfaction, the children can work on a preferred activity project for the rest of the day. I find this idea quite intriguing. I'm not sure how it would work in the real world with the sense of accountability and the curriculum that we strive to get to every day as it is, but its an interesting idea.

When I was student teaching, we had professional development seminars we attended every 6 weeks. During one of the presentations, they talked to us about differentiation which was really just becoming a huge buzz word at that time. The presenter introduced us to "Think-Tac-Toe"/Choice Menu boards. I was immediately hooked and actually used one with the unit plan we had to design and teach during that semester. As I read about the Freaky Friday idea, I thought the Think-Tac-Toe board would be an interesting way to try to implement this.

Generally the Think-Tac-Toe board covers one subject area or topic and allows the student to choose different activities to demonstrate their learning about the topic. We were encouraged to use Bloom's Taxonomy to help us design activities for the board. Below is a sample of how you where you would place activities from each domain so that as students choose in a row, they are guaranteed to get different types of activities.



I  was thinking, however, that one could easily use this model to give children a vast array of educational choices for learning on Freaky Fridays that span the subject areas. That way children who enjoy science or social studies can complete activities in those subject areas and students who enjoy math can work in those areas.

I'm sure that with the demands of my curriculum, I would not do this every week if I did try it. It would be fun, however, to have it a couple of times a month and provide review activities and/or supplemental projects in each subject area. Definitely something to explore and consider as I look to the future.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Classroom Management

I was really bummed yesterday to discover they aren't posting the large transfer positions until May 10th due to a myriad of issues that prevented them from feeling like they could provide an accurate posting. I'm so looking forward to seeing what's available in the district and moving forward with my career.

I've been thinking lately about Classroom Management. In my undergraduate classes, I had to take a semester-long course in classroom management and even develop a management plan. While I ended up not using that specific plan when I had my own classroom, I found that I took bits of pieces of many plans that we'd learned about and made them my own.

I never really had any trouble managing a classroom until this year. Every year that I've taught, I've actually changed things up a bit and done different management techniques. I stayed consistent within that year but switched it up to experiment and push myself outside of my comfort zone a little and see what really and truly worked with the kiddos I was teaching.

I've used the classic "stoplight" model where the children start on green and move up (although mine was modified to fit the frog theme I had and had 3 frog faces in various degrees of happy/sad). I've used a model that aimed to teach children internal motivation. I've used reward systems. I've used positive discipline and discipline with dignity techniques.

A few weeks ago, poking around in a teaching forum I've been a part of since undergrad, a 10 year+ veteran teacher responded to a newer teacher who said she had no trouble managing any of the classes except That Class (you know, the one we've all either had, will have or at least have heard about). She was tired and frustrated and didn't know what to do. The 10 year+ vet said that in her 5th year of teaching, after never struggling with management issues, ever, she had That Class also and that Tools for Teaching helped her so much.

Recognizing my own plight in this other teacher's request for help, I ordered this book from the library and started reading it. I quickly realized that Fred Jones was one of the people my management instructor had told us about. He talks extensively about Preferred Activity Time, which I used when I taught 2nd grade (to great success I might add). I am taking my time reading through it and absorbing what he says. Some of it is common sense stuff that you do pick up while you are in a classroom (even during student teaching). Some of it, however, reminds me of where I can strengthen my craft. Where I can focus my attention to ensure that next school year, there are very minimal issues because the kiddos are in it to win it.

The more time goes on and the more I heal, I find myself anxious to get back into the classroom. I find myself looking forward to grading papers (who'd've thought that was possible??) and working with young minds. I miss it.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A New Era

Yesterday was the Big Day. I have to admit with my anxiety issues of late, I did pretty good. It was a bit overwhelming to stand among all the graduates when we went down to the floor and I was pretty intimidated about walking across that stage in front of 13,000 people. The good news is, they went VERY fast in reading the names so it was over almost before it began and the Master's candidates get to go up first so for most of the ceremony I was able to just sit and take it all in, which helped a lot.

I was very pleasantly surprised when my father in law presented me with a cash gift. I wasn't expecting anything and it was a nice gesture. My dad surprised me after the ceremony with a beautiful bouquet of roses.

The best part has been all of the warm wishes from my friends and family. I think that means more to me than any gift anyone could ever give me. The love and support these people have provided me, especially in the last couple of months since I left my classroom, have been invaluable. I am, of course, greatly indebted to The Husband for picking up the slack while I've worked on homework for my graduate classes and indebted to The Oldest and The Littles for being understanding when Mom was on a deadline and couldn't play.

The best gift of all is time. I now have time to give back to my girls and my wonderful spouse and make the absolute most of the rest of my summer off with them. I couldn't be more pleased or grateful.