Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Boxes

What teacher doesn't love shopping online and getting huge boxes delivered right to their front door? Since I've done a load of online shopping in the last week, my boxes are starting to arrive and its fabulous. Something about getting huge packages dropped off the porch with my name on them makes me feel special. (Yep, I'm a huge dork....You have already figured that out though, haven't you? :)


My super fabulous comb-binding machine arrived today which makes me way happier than it probably should. The Oldest is babysitting my niece for the next couple of days and we all went bowling and were going to lunch. In between, I decided to stop and see if my package had arrived. It had so I brought it in the house and then we went to lunch.

We got home from lunch and my package from Really Good Stuff had arrived while we were gone the second time. Two huge packages in one day? Cue the nerd alert!

Plus they sent me extra magazine files (3 more than I had ordered to make 7 complete sets), a free book and a free poster. Very, very awesome. The magazine files were definitely worth the money since with the free ones, they ended up being $1.60 each and are made with very heavy duty cardboard so they'll withstand a lot of handling. Plus they came in four colors so that just makes it even more fun. Love it!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Multiplication Groups

In my last student teaching placement, I had 5th graders, then my first year teaching I taught a 4th/5th split grade. I was astounded how many of those kiddos either didn't know their multiplication tables at all (they learn them in 3rd grade) or only knew about half by memory.

It is one of the ONLY skills I push my students to have memorized since knowing how to multiply makes division so much easier. The beauty of the Everyday Math program for me is that (at least at 4th and 5th grade), they really do show the relationship between these two types of math. Over the last two years, my students have done much better once they realized that if they know how to multiply, they can divide anything, they just have to use the turn-around facts like they learned when they learned to add and subtract, except they are using multiplication and division. It's probably one of the best light bulb moments I see in teaching older students.


During my first year, one of my colleagues shared with me a multiplication/division group idea. I do not know if she made it up or developed it with someone else or what. Basically, she put together a bunch of types of multiplication (such as multiplying a 3-digit number by a 1-digit number, multiplying 2-digit by 2-digit, etc) and made a pretest to see where her students were in being able to APPLY multiplication along with knowing their multiplication tables.
Since I didn't start teaching there until after Thanksgiving, was the 3rd teacher in that classroom since August and had a split grade, she took pity on me and shared this program with me. I have never used the division part because I've never needed to do so. Once my students grasped the multiplication part, they were hitting home-runs with division because they grasped the concept that they really do go hand-in-hand.

As such, during spring break that year, I created a set of worksheets to go along with the multiplication groups. The groups simply identify where each child is working with multiplication (the children rarely work together on these although sometimes I did allow it). A few days a week there would be time for children to bring me their sheets to be checked and if they passed it, they could get another sheet and/or the test out sheet for the group level they were in to try to move up to the next level.

Since I had all of these documents already on my computer at home, I decided to alter them (very slightly) and create .pdfs with them to share with anyone reading who is so inclined. You'll find them on the Teacher Resource page. Please let me know if you decide to use them -- I would love to hear how someone else puts them to use in their classroom.
Keeping track of the worksheets and such can be a bit time consuming but once you find a way that works for you, it is SO easy. I created a spreadsheet with the kids names along the side and the multiplication numbers -- ie. 1.1, 1.2, etc -- along the top and then just marked half an X in one color when I gave them that sheet and used another color to finish the X to show me they'd passed it so I didn't accidentally give kiddos the same sheet twice. Sometimes I added the date too for kiddos who were taking a LONG time on the sheets so I could check in with them and see if they were struggling or just not doing any of the work.


There is another math screener that I have used in the past that I hope to share in the upcoming weeks. I'm currently trying to figure out where it came from so I don't violate anyone's copyright by posting it here. Stay tuned for updates on that.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Tabs

Today, I altered the blog layout just slightly to add a tab menu along the top. I was thinking about all of the hard work I am going to be doing to create my Reader's Notebooks and other such goodness and thought if I'm going to spend this kind of time, I'm going to share these resources by golly.

Nothing much there yet but I did add my Word Wall Activities cards that I recreated from the ones I got at school last year. Coming soon will be a front-back cover for the reader's notebooks. Hopefully I'll have some creative moments over the summer and add some other super cool stuff too.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Shopping Goodness

For the last many weeks, I see my therapist on Friday mornings. Recently we've talked less about my "issues" with my former school and more about the upcoming year. This is good in that it means I'm no longer overly focused on the past and she says I am very much in a position to move on. Today I was telling her about some of my shopping plans and she had to chuckle at me and my obsession with school supplies. I had to admit that I am not allowed in the school supplies aisle if The Husband is with me because he is way too impatient for me to take a year to decide what to get.


After therapy this morning, I stopped at my second favorite place, Office Max to get a new cartridge for our laser printer and a couple other little things. I looked at their comb binding machines and it was my lucky day. They had the very one I have been eyeing on Amazon on display.




Like any self-respecting school supply crazed person, if I have the opportunity to play with it in the store before I buy it, I'm going to do so. I realized I am a way bigger dork than I ever thought by how totally in love I was with this thing. Aside from the fact that it was double the price as on Amazon and the combs were also 2-3 times more expensive, I realized I wasn't taking the bad boy home with me today. I'm impatient but I'm not crazy.

And whilst at Amazon.com (which must've been my millionth trip in June already) to buy that comb-binding goodness, I also placed this gem in my basket:



I have their first book "Mentor Texts" and I loved it immediately, especially since our district recently went big time on this concept. I even wrote a grant two school years ago and got a nice set of children's books that I've used as Mentor Texts with my students and they LOVE them. I will be re-reading the original and this one. I also saw the authors at a conference in 2009 and they are fab-u-lous. I think the entire audience nearly died when they showed a piece of finished writing (by a 5th grader were were amazed to discover -- it was GOOD) and then showed the same piece with highlightings to show all of the different craft strategies the student had used simply from trying out craft from mentor texts. Very, very cool. [Oooh, internet, I love you....I just found an online copy of a handout from a conference they did...the last page of the file provides a book list of mentor texts. It isn't the same one I got at the conference I saw them at, but its almost exactly the same. I got many of the books on this list in my grant I can't even tell you enough how much the kids just adore them.]

Probably the most exciting purchase I made, which ranks me right up there among the biggest geeks in the world, is this:



This was purely a luxury purchase but I love these cards. In the past I have used colored circles in a manila envelope that did the same job, but I like the cards simply because they're cute but also because I can separate them out based on the number of kiddos I have quite easily.

Please note that The Husband smiled wanly when I shared this exciting purchase with him and I realized it was one of those moments when he simply recognizes that teachers are not necessarily people he will ever understand in the things we get excited over.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Supplies and Shopping

Each summer, The Husband and I try to make sure we budget for school supplies for my classroom for the following year. Whether or not anyone agrees with it, the reality of teaching where I do means if I want my students to have certain supplies, I must provide them for them. I have tried to do supply lists and while I know the parents mean well, the children often come to school with only half the (small) list or the wrong items or whatever.

It's just easier and much less of a headache for me to hit up the big sales and buy supplies myself. I honestly don't even care too much because it allows me to make sure that a) the kiddos have the supplies I plan to utilize and b) that kiddos whose parents really can't afford school supplies have what they need. One year I went hog-wild and bought so much extra that when I sorted everything out earlier this year after leaving my classroom, I was astounded by how "ahead" I already am for the upcoming year.

I have very much utilized Target's sales the last few years and bought the spiral-bound notebooks when they are super cheap (to the effect that I believe I still have something like 60 left!) and their packages of loose-leaf paper. I definitely have enough of those to last me through this school year. Depending on my class size for the upcoming year, I also am pretty set with composition notebooks (writing notebooks) for the first part of the year. Last year, Walmart was selling the real nice ones for $0.33 each and I grabbed them up while I could!

Thanks to my previous hoarding, this year's budget is going to go VERY far. I really only need to get crayons, colored pencils (and these I can get super cheap at Office Max when they do their teacher appreciation stuff because the unbranded ones are only a penny a box), glue sticks, and pencils. I will probably stock up on one more set of composition books too just so that I have spares or when we inevitably fill the first ones up mid-way through the year. I already have a set of folders that we can use for math that I never put to use this year so that's good. I will ask the kiddos to provide a laminate folder for homework, a highlighter and a backpack. Not difficult.

One of my colleagues gave me a great idea with something she did for supplies. She's very artsy and did a lot of art type of projects with her kiddos to go along with things they were learning, especially in science (clay models of the solar system for example). She bought 15 cheap shoeboxes at Walmart (less than $1 each) and labeled them with a number 1-15. Inside each box she put two glue sticks, a box of crayons, a box of colored pencils and two pair of scissors. Whenever they did anything that warranted use of those materials, the students could get a box from the spot where she kept them and a table of two had everything they needed. I loved the idea when I first saw them and decided since space is a premium and I don't like having that stuff in their desks or in baskets on top of their desks, this would be a great solution. Especially if I buy for a class of 30 and have 15 boxes....we can utilize half of the crayons/colored pencils/glue sticks the first semester and then switch them out in January when they are starting to get really used up or whatnot. Sheer brilliance and she LOVED how that worked out. I am also thinking of doing some kind of table grouping system and having boxes labeled for each particular group so they always know which boxes go to which tables. I think that might help with accountability. We'll see.


Since I have been such a good girl with hoarding my supplies the last year or so, I have enough money in my budget to purchase new book boxes for the students (I left my old ones at my last school because this year's group didn't take care of anything and many of them were ruined anyway) plus a few fun things more for my sake than theirs. I am also going to purchase two teacher resources I've been dying to get my hands on (one of them being "Non-Fiction Mentor Texts") and a comb-binding machine.

As always I was poking around amazon.com and found some that were actually very reasonably priced and I can create my Reader's Notebooks and print and bind them at home. WAY cheaper than having someone else do it, but it'll look more professional being bound up. I'm actually quite excited about it and can't wait to start shopping!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What a difference

In years past, even when my summer has only been 6 weeks long (due to our year-round calendar, we get a six week summer and the other 5 weeks are spread throughout the year), I have been bored out of my mind about 2-3 weeks into the summer.

Don't get me wrong, I am all about sunshine and relaxation and recovery from the craziness that is the life of an elementary teacher. But at the same time, that crazy-busy lifestyle is something that I have learned to almost crave. It gave me a purpose and made me feel good because all of that craziness was toward something meaningful, like educating tomorrow's leaders. Once my schedule would drop from psychotically busy to having 24/7 freedom with my time, it was like I was lost. My own kids aren't real sports oriented so we haven't done a lot of those things and I'm not the craftiest person in the world so we do some of that but not a lot. I'm a better mom when I'm a busy mom.

This year, I was really worried about summer. Partially because my last day in my classroom was February 26 which means very soon, I'll have been home for 4 months already and summer has really only just gotten started for my girls. Plus, since I'm changing schools, I will no longer be teaching on the alternate schedule so my summer reverts back to a full 12 weeks. In all, aside from the 18 hours of collaboration time I will be doing with my new team, at an as-yet-undecided time, I'll have been home a total of 6 months by the time I return full-time to a classroom. 6 months. Note how I mentioned above that sometimes in 6 weeks I was climbing the walls. Couple all of that with a very strong-willed 7 year old living in my house (she's definitely 7 going on 35), I've been a bit uncertain about how this summer was going to work out.


We're only mid-way through the girls' second week of summer, but so far, its been quite enjoyable. We've been to the beach (we're very lucky to have a small, sandy beach less than 5 minutes from our house), we've been to the park, gone on bike rides, been to the library, gone to lunch, etc. Even just hanging out in the backyard with them has been more enjoyable so far this year. Granted, we've really only just started but since we also have a vacation coming up to Mackinac Island soon, I can definitely see this summer being better than summers past. I also think it helps that The Littles are older now and can entertain themselves for a little while which gives me time to wind down also. It's been a perfect balance actually.

The Oldest is almost done with Driver's Ed and should earn her permit next week (which again leads me to wonder how in the world I could possibly have a 15 year old) and right after that, vacation time. Once we get home from vacation, all of the girls are going camping with my parents and then we have a full week of activities happening in our hometown that they do every summer, complete with parade, fireworks and a small carnival. It's a really fun time and even though we're on the outskirts of town, we're close enough to the downtown area to walk there and enjoy the festivities. After that, The Oldest has band camp and then we're on the downswing of summer....and it'll be August and time to celebrate my birthday and really gearing up to go back to school.

It's been a pleasant difference to really enjoy my summer.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Literacy Pocket Chart

Ever since Mrs. Principal completely shot down my Daily 5 idea, I've been brainstorming how I can get the best of both worlds. I'm not sure if its because I've been off work for so long or what, but the last couple of weeks, I seem to get the best brainstorms and gumption to be productive on Friday nights. Weirdo.


Anyway, I definitely took the term "beg, borrow and steal" to heart from my college education classes because I have definitely borrowed many things from many people to make this chart possible. I'm glad they had the notion to do the work before so I didn't have to later! :)

Here's my vision:

I got this huge pocket chart from my reading coach when I taught 2nd grade.
I'm quite glad to finally have a really awesome use for it.


Going along with my whole "Hollywood Kids" theme (courtesy of the fabulous Ashley at ThistleGirlDesigns), I got this idea from a 2nd grade teacher to name the reading groups after awards that people in Hollywood get. I thought it was pretty cute. I used graphics from another collection of Ashley's for the photos on the other cards (which say "teacher group", "listen to reading group" and "partner read/triangle knees group"). Since I hate the basal (you have picked up on that, haven't you?), at this point I plan to dedicate 30 minutes of my reading block to the basal so I can provide 45 minutes for the SSR time which is where the real work needs to happen. I will be making a 4th card (probably just a plain one) that says "Strategy Work" so kiddos will have a chance to work in their group on the Tri-folds I plan to make for our reading program. The awards names be switched up periodically after some of the big assessments we do, so that the low group isn't always "Grammys" and whatnot. I am not a huge fan of grouping like this but it was the only way I could figure to do what the district wants AND what I know is right (and by dedicating a smaller amount of my day to the basal and more to the SSR block, I can provide the strategy instruction kiddos need on an individual basis).



Since we use Four Blocks Balanced Literacy, we're required to have a Working with Words block. I actually do not mind this because I think that children, especially ELLs, need to spend focused time learning about words every day. In order to make this more meaningful in a 30 minute block, I decided to make a rotation for this also. I want the kids to have a chance to use the Word Wall Chant cards I made earlier so that's one rotation. I am also a huge advocate for Words Their Way so the word sorting is a part of the rotation also (I found in the past that once the kids understood how the storting worked, they only needed about 5-10 minutes a day to practice them). Finally since we use the Month-by-Month phonics activity book, I realized I can pull out a phonics activity that won't take the students long to complete or a Word Ladder which the kids love too for the last activity that will be something meaningful but won't take up too much time. The red, blue and green stars indicate which groups the children would be placed in based on the screener that Words Their Way provides and can be changed around as the children make progress.



Finally the bottom section of the pocket chart will be my conference reminder. I have always struggled to make my reading and writing conferences the most beneficial for my students. I have never felt like I could really help them in a quick 2-3 minute conference as our district has advocated. I am going to switch to blended conferences, an idea I got from a teacher working with Scholastic this year. Basically you devote about 10 minutes to each child per conference and you do both a reading and a writing conference. This way, if needed, you can spend more time on one area or the other if that's where the child needs more help that particular week. I love the idea and this chart is going to help me keep track of that. If I can plan my schedule how I'd like, so I get 45 minutes each for writing workshop and the Read Aloud/SSR block, I can easily do 5 or 6 conferences a day (up to 3 in each block) without feeling like I'm rushing the kids or sacrificing anything. I'm really excited about it all actually. Plus with it right in my face like this, if we have a missed day due to no school or whatever, I can easily glance up and see who needs a conference to be made up and can squeeze them in as needed.


I am convinced The Husband thinks I'm a huge freak. I showed him my masterpiece and his eyes kind of glazed over. :) Once I (very briefly!) explained it to him, he still had the glazed look but said it looked good...then he promptly made fun of my "Vanna White" showcase strategy. If he didn't know he lived with a huge nerd before, he sure does now.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Amazon

Okay, seriously, I'm thinking Amazon.com should start paying ME for as often as I'm there shopping and buying materials. It is like a second home to me at this point. And I'm not afraid to admit that!


Today I made yet another purchase there. Actually 3 purchases after having issues with what I REALLY wanted to end up coming home in the box to me. I guess you could say I was decidedly indecisive today because I created two separate orders and cancelled them later to add different items to the order instead.

In the end, I purchased three items: Learn to Speak Spanish Deluxe(not to make me proficient by any means, but to provide me with enough to be able to at least make conversation with some of my families who aren't good English speakers yet); a new copy of  The Important Book because I have borrowed it from the library for the last forever to use and On Writing by Stephen King. He's one of my favorites and I love him.


I REALLY want to buy "Non-Fiction Mentor Texts" by Lynne Dorfman and Rose Capelli. I have their other book, "Mentor Texts" and I absolutely love it. I was hooked within minutes of opening the cover. I reallllllly want the other one. It's up next on my buying list for sure.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

NutureShock Revisited

In May, when I first received my Kindle, I downloaded a sample of the book NurtureShock which I wrote about here. Since that time, I have purchased the full version of the book for my Kindle and am slowly making my way through it. (Because honestly I have spent a lot of my reading time reading spiritually based books lately!)

Anyway, I am enthralled with this book. There are many reviews on it at Amazon and some people critique it that it isn't much in the way of a parent guide. I don't think it was intended to be a parenting guide. As a teacher, I am reading it with wonder and sometimes downright fascination as I realize how I have seen some of these things occur right in front of me. I am only on chapter 5 (of 10) and have found myself absolutely absorbed with everything they've written and the mass research to support things.

They've discussed how praise can actually be detrimental even when we think we are providing something good for our children; how children today are sleeping on average an hour less than a few decades ago (and how that is affecting their IQ scores and ability to perform at school; why white parents don't discuss race (and frankly, this one hit the mark for me....as a white parent who teaches in a very diverse area, this is a topic I frequently avoid); and why kids lie. This is simply in the first four chapters!

Chapter 5, that I have just started is about gifted programs that screen kindergarteners and "fast track" them to gifted programs until they leave that school.

I believe I am getting more out of this book because I'm not reading it through the lens of a parent as much as I am through the lens of a teacher. Some of this information is really causing me to pause and think.


I am always fascinated with research that discusses what we, as a collective society, are doing with our children nowadays in the midst of the technology we have and many people's obsession with doing more. This doesn't happen as much where I teach simply because of the SES differences, but I have known many families who practically run themselves ragged taking little Timmy and little Susie to this, that or the other activity. Sometimes when I've heard these parents go through their schedules, my head has spun at the thought of that flutter of activity. I have to wonder also when those children get time to be children.

I think that this book has given me some food for thought on what has happened to children in the last few decades, because of the choices we, as parents, have made. I'm perfectly happy to let my girls collect bugs (or as in the case this afternoon, a teeny tiny frog) in the backyard rather than carting them off to 2,000 activities that I fool myself into thinking is going to better prepare them to be the next Presidents of the United States or Rhodes Scholars.

Kids deserve to be kids, especially with the pendulum swings we're experiencing in education right now when more and more is pushed on students at younger and younger ages.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Reader's Notebooks

Since working on my master's project, I have been fairly obsessed with the notion of Reader's Workshop. Even though Mrs. Principal shot down my idea to do Daily 5/CAFE in order to use the basal (ugh), in the back of my mind, I can't help but continue to think on this and ways I can STILL use the basal but also integrate other components of the Daily 5 format in order to feel like I'm doing what they want, but also feeling worthwhile as a teacher that I know I'm doing everything I can to meet the needs of all of my students.

While I was working on my master's project, I read this great post by Beth Newingham who was working with Scholastic this year. She is a teacher in Michigan and has been an inspiration to me over the last few years. The post referenced focuses on using a Reader's Notebook to help students be more accountable during their independent reading time and also allow a teacher to flip through the notebook and see where students need help and/or support.

I have been thinking that I would use some of the CAFE strategies and such during the SSR portion of our Balanced Literacy block. This is at least one area where I feel like I can concentrate on this year to improve my students' experiences with books and reading strategies when they aren't working in a larger group with me. Beth uses a binder for her students' notebooks so they can quickly add information throughout the year, etc.

I know that where I work, I would have to provide all of those supplies myself which gets to be hugely expensive as well as a pain in the behind (we don't even really do 'supply lists' and our schools only give us around $50/yr for supplies which doesn't even put a dent in how much I spend). So I started thinking about this a bit....and I'm tempted to create my own reader's notebook with multiple sheets and such and have them printed and bound at someplace like Kinkos.

This would also be expensive, but I'm thinking it would still be cheaper than buying 30+ clearview binders, divider tabs for all of those binders plus the copies for the information to go into those binders.

The cool thing is, Beth includes a lot of downloadable information in her post. I downloaded EVERYTHING when she first posted this and referenced some of it in my final master's project. I think I am going to take her ideas but alter the forms and content, change up the CAFE menu to make it fit the 5th grade reading standards in my district and put together a packet and just see how much it would cost me to print out my own version of the notebooks.

I think this would definitely be something worthwhile for my students to use and they can also take them home to share with their families every now and then (hopefully by 5th grade they'll be responsible enough to remember to bring them back!). I'm in love with the idea.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

More on Literacy

After being really upset and annoyed by the emphatic no I received from Mrs. Principal about implementing Daily 5/CAFE into my class next year, I thought on it and decided it's dumb to be upset and annoyed about it. She's just doing her job. I'm sure that she said no more because she probably doesn't have a clue what Daily 5/CAFE is (and how it really IS balanced literacy) than anything else.

So last night, I visited the Santa Maria Bonita site. When I taught 2nd grade, I was at a Reading First school. My RF coach showed me this site and it's great! Their district has now moved onto a different reading program but all of their Houghton Mifflin stuff is still archived on their site. Lucky me!! I downloaded the "at a glance" year-long overlook for 5th grade, and all of the Focus Wall banners and vocabulary words for the units we will use in my class. I'm not sure if Mrs. Cooperating Teacher knows about this site or not but since I have everything relevant to our grade so I can easily pass it along to her and our 4/5 split partner too.

I feel a bit better about the whole thing. I would be a liar if I said I wasn't disappointed. But this is the reality of teaching in my district, I guess. Some principals really let you do your thing as long as your kiddos are achieving and some want you to tow the line and follow district mandates to the letter. Now I know what side Mrs. Principal is on!



I think my biggest worry about the whole thing is that she might now bulk at my idea of using a math workshop if Mrs. Cooperating Teacher doesn't agree to try it also. And that is going to suck. I KNOW my math teaching is going to be so much more productive if I can differentiate it while I am teaching rather than go back later and try to catch those kids up. I'm not going to bring it up at this point. Instead I am going to wait for the first collaborative meeting I have with Mrs. Cooperating Teacher and Mr. 4/5 Split and discuss it with them first. They know Mrs. Principal a lot better than I do so they will be able to give me a bit more insight into whether or not that will be something she approves of.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Ugh

Well, I already know one area that Mrs. Principal and I are not going to see eye-to-eye on. I emailed her to see if it was okay to use Daily 5/CAFE, stressing that it is EXACTLY LIKE Balanced Literacy, except it doesn't use the basal reader (which everyone knows DOES NOT DIFFERENTIATE TEXT AT ALL).

Her reply?

Not possible at all. The district has mandated Balanced Literacy. You and Mrs. Cooperating Teacher will be working collaboratively as a team on balanced literacy and all aspects of 5th grade. We collaborate each 3rd Wed. as a team. No teacher is allowed to sway from the plan including Balanced Literacy.

*Sigh* Not ideal at all, especially since I just wrote my entire Master's project on Reading Workshop since I know for sure the basal sucks. So I will do what she asks and I will collaborate with Mrs. Cooperating Teacher (and Mr. Former Science Teacher to an extent) and use the basal series...but it doesn't mean I have to love it.

I'm glad I asked her now, when their summer is first starting because I would be LIVID if I had spent my summer planning to use it and then couldn't. So I'm disappointed but I'll deal with it. It isn't like I haven't taught out of the basal before. I just haven't liked it because I don't feel like it provides me with enough time to REALLY provide individualized instruction to all of my students. I'm going to have to brainstorm on this and talk to Mrs. Cooperating Teacher about it too because this saddens me and there has to be some compromise so I feel like I'm meeting their needs but still complying with what Mrs. Principal wants me to do.

Snags / Daily 5

Mrs. Principal and my Co-op both offered me opportunities to go into my new school next week (their last day is today) for training and a meeting. I was talking to my therapist about that today and while I would love to get a chance to get in there and meet staff and such....I am on medical leave. Technically, I'm not supposed to do ANYTHING affiliated with my school prior to June 24th. Since I've had a heck of a time with my disability insurance company as it is, my therapist feels like it would be unwise for me to be seen in the school in any kind of "official" capacity in case it comes back later to bite me in the behind. I have to admit, I fully see that logic and have declined both invitations with profuse apologies. I didn't tell Mrs. Principal why I needed to decline the invitation from her (just said I had an appointment, which *is* true) but I told Mrs. Co-op that I was afraid of the sanctions being present for that meeting would mean for me.



I did take a chance today and email Mrs. Principal one last question. In our evaluation years, we choose between 3-5 areas we want to focus on during the year to show professional growth as a teacher. These are things the principals look for during observations as well as when they look at our data and our plan books and things of that nature.

I get the big feeling that Mrs. Principal is all about collaboration which rocks. BUT I really want to use the Daily 5/CAFE with my 5th graders next year. I really think it is going to a) revolutionize my teaching and b) provide me with a built-in accountability system to keep better documentation on the needs and growth of my students. I don't want to spend my summer planning for this sort of format if Mrs. Principal isn't going to be okay with me using it. So I sent a quick email, explaining what I wanted to be able to do and asking her if that was okay. It's possible she may tell me I have to clear it with my team first or just flat out say no, she wants me to use the Basal Reader (ugh!). I will do what she wants because that's my job....but I'm crossing my fingers that the words "provide differentiation on a daily basis for every child" stand out to her so she gives me the go-ahead.

Cross your fingers!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Gifts

Today when we returned from my 2nd graders field trip for the end of the year, the room parents presented Mr. D with a present from the parents and students. I have to admit, I found myself a bit jealous of that because I never get gifts like that from a group of parents. (Not that I went into teaching for the gifts.) He got gift cards to a couple of restaurants and for a sports store that he frequents.

While 99% of the time I do feel like the growth I am able to witness my students making is gift enough, I have to admit I was envious of that sort of appreciation today. The teachers in my daughters' school truly do not know how lucky they have it. I am sure that several of my girls' former teachers probably wouldn't last two minutes in my district. Don't get me wrong, they are wonderful teachers, but they are soft because they can be. You can't afford to be soft where I teach. The kids will eat you alive because their lives are so rough and unpredictable that they come to school rough and unpredictable.

It reminded me of what I want. People often gasp or say they are sorry to me when they hear where I work. I'm not sorry. I don't have much affection for most of our central office staff, but of the 4 1/2 years I have worked in that district, counting student teaching, I have only had ONE class that truly made me dislike teaching. They haven't all been easy, for sure, but they have all taught me something and by the end of the year I have been able to reflect on the good things we've accomplished. I want to be there for the children. To be that spark in their life that lets them know that yes you can be anything you want if you work hard, stay focused and don't get sucked into the drama.

So even though I was a tad envious of Mr. D's gifts today, I came to discover that the real gift of teaching is walking out the door in June, on the last day of school, knowing without a shadow of a doubt that every.single.child. in that classroom is better off because they had you in their lives. I would venture to say that happens much more often in the inner city areas where the children come from a much wider range of abilities and readiness when they come to school than in the suburbs where my girls go. That isn't discounting at all the work my girls' teachers do because I know they work their asses off too and have a lot of accountability...they are just more fortunate that they have a) parental involvement  b) children who come to school prepared to learn and c) very few, if any, behavior issues to deal with in a class of 25. It does make a difference.

Excitement

The Husband mentioned the other day after I had gotten some information for next year from Mrs. Principal that I've seemed happier and "Sunnier" so to speak. I've reviewed the Staff Handbook multiple times because we are expected to KNOW IT and we have to sign a paper saying so. I refuse to sign my name to something saying I know all about it if I don't.

As I've viewed and reviewed it, I've learned a lot about what Mrs. Principal expects. We aren't allowed to just show movies just to show a movie. It clearly states that if you plan to show a movie, you better be able to back it up with a content standard. As I read that, I was thinking it was probably a good thing that I'm not the kind of teacher who just whips out a movie when I am tired and don't want to teach (I keep teaching anyway!) I know many of my former colleagues wouldn't make it at that school because of those standards. One school I taught in, I was the ONLY teacher on my team that didn't shove a movie in on Friday afternoon so I could do lesson plans (yes, they really did do this). My students *gasp* learned content on Friday afternoons until 2:45 and then we spent 20 minutes on Academic Free Choice and then prepared to go home. They weren't deprived at all by this.

Mrs. Principal is also very clear that teachers will not be granted a student teacher or assistant teacher unless they have proven results in terms of student growth. This doesn't mean that every child aces every test or even that all kids are at benchmark -- but you can show that your students aren't staying stagnant in your classroom. I have to admit that I LOVE that. The year I student taught in that school they had a different principal. All 3 5th grade teachers had a student teacher. Only the one I was with should have gotten one...the other two, while great people, were NOT good mentors and role models for new teachers. In fact, the other student teacher from my university requested to be pulled from the school because it was so bad in her class. I had an absolutely horrendous time student teaching the first time and feel very strongly that "just anyone" shouldn't be a cooperating teacher. I'm heartened to hear that Mrs. Principal takes that very seriously as well.

We have three paid days of collaborative planning we need to do over the summer. I have contacted my former cooperating teacher to see what they usually do for that. It's really up to us, we just have to document it. It will give me a chance to see how they work together and how they set up their curriculum. I REALLY want to do Daily CAFE this year but I don't want to step on any toes either. My Co-op (even though its been 4 years, I still call her that!) will be a good guide and mentor in terms of that sort of thing.

I have so many ideas for next year and I'm very excited. I spent the last two days on field trips with The Littles (1st grader yesterday, 2nd grader today) and it reinforced to me how much I've missed working with kids on a daily basis. Although it also reinforced that I prefer the big kids (1st graders have sooooooooooo much energy!), I had a great time and realized just how much I miss being with little balls of sunshine every day. I can't wait for September!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Wow

After a little technical difficulty (see my previous post), my new principal (whom I shall refer to hereafter as "Mrs. Principal") and I were finally able to connect. Yay!

She sent me a map of the school to let me know my room location, a staff/phone list for next year and the staff handbook. I have to admit that the staff handbook is slightly intimidating -- only because she's very direct and upfront. This is not bad. It's actually very good. I think I only feel slight intimidation by it because I'm not used to someone being so flat out direct in her expectations.

In our district, teachers are evaluated every year for their first four years until they reach tenure. Then they are evaluated every 3 years after that. But she clearly states that regardless of seniority and/or hire date, all new staff to her building will be subject to evaluation for at least 2 years. I'm still in the evaluation phase anyway but I actually thought that was pretty cool. That means she wants her staff to know she means business and isn't going to tolerate mediocrity.

I think this is my favorite part of the whole handbook:
Rumors are dangerous! Whenever you hear a rumor, please check with me for authenticity of source. Problems can be resolved most effectively by the persons who are closest to the point of information or conflict. Let’s not allow ourselves to be divided through disagreements or rumors. Professional courtesy is expected – as a team, let’s not engage in disparaging conversations about colleagues with parents or fellow staff members. We are all professionals, and it is counter productive to our mission.
I really love that she puts it all out there without pulling punches about it. When I shared that piece with The Husband, he even said "well [former school] was FULL of that crap, I'm glad she won't tolerate it."

I am glad too. I am so incredibly excited about it. She even invited me to a staff training they are doing next week (just for a morning) to meet the rest of the team and get a refresher on the training (which I've had before). I may have to play with my schedule a little in order to make it because of The Oldest's driver's ed schedule. I thought that was nice of her to think to include me.

I am most amused by the fact that for the last two years I taught 4th grade in room 310 and next year I'll be teaching 5th grade at a new school and my room will be 311. Just seems silly to me.

Technology...gotta love it

Last week I tried to email my new principal because usually the principal's have information they give to their staff before the end of the school year and this school has just come out of being in AYP trouble so I knew that she would be trying to get information to me. Well, low and behold, the email I sent to her bounced back. She has a very long and complicated last name so its very possible I misspelled it somewhere along the line.

Last night I got a message from my Co-op letting me know that the principal had emailed me and I didn't respond. Yep, I didn't...beause I can't access my work email while on a leave. I felt kind of bad about that. So I called her this morning to give her my home email address and didn't think much else about it.

Well she called while I was vacuuming so I didn't hear the phone and said she tried to email me at home and it bounced back to her. She then spelled out what she'd sent it too and she spelled my name wrong so that's why but I just kind of chuckled. We both want to get ahold of each other so badly and its not been the easiest.

So she spelled out HER email and asked me to try to email her and we'd see if she could get that information to me. I emailed her and so far it hasn't bounced back so I hope that means she got it!

Technology is awesome until it gives you little issues like this, then you really just want to throttle it!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Ugh, insurance

I am quite convinced that if I never have to deal with an insurance company ever again, it'll be too soon.

We finally got things squared away with insurance company A once we got our insurance company involved regarding the tree that was dropped on our house. They sent an affidavit and we should have a check within the next couple of days. So that, at least, worked out (but only after we got our company involved and threatened lawsuits and all of that).

But the insurance company through work who is responsible for my long-term disability claim are on my last nerve. I went out effective March 1st. LTD kicks in at 60 calendar days. So if you know your math, that would be April 30th. They pay in arrears which means on May 30th, or the next business day after, I should have been issued a check. I have been calling the claims adjuster because I have heard absolutely nothing (I've heard more about it from my therapist than from the company themselves). She conveniently calls me at home when I ask her to call me on my cell so I can be reached. Then I get a letter today stating they are extending their review timeline for my claim because they don't have time to go through all the paperwork to determine if I really am eligible for LTD benefits.

*sigh*

Not that the money will make or break me but its the idea. You don't wait until after someone is owed a check to go "we need more time". Plus, let's face reality, you can't throw that crap on someone with an anxiety disability because....wait for it....uncertainty and stress cause anxiety! Imagine that!

So I had to call The Husband and tell him the not-so-happy  news...and he is upset because I am. I started freaking out that we weren't going to be able to afford to go on our vacation this July after all (because I refuse to come home in debt) and that I was going to need to get a job. He let me rant and we got off the phone and then about 10 minutes later, when he knew I was likely to be less psychotic, he called back and had me pull up the budget spreadsheet and look at the numbers. Basically, we'll be okay even if I don't get any disability money all summer. It'll be tight but we'll be okay. I know I'll get it eventually, I just don't like the runaround.

I almost wonder if it would've been less stressful to suffer through finishing the school year with my class from Hell than dealing with this crap because it has just gotten beyond ridiculous at this point. I'm glad he pointed out that we'll be okay and can still go on our vacation (because thankfully we had the brains to save up for that first!)...it's just stressful not knowing what is going on and why. I'd prefer to spend my time focused on the future rather than wondering what these incompetent boobs are going to throw at me next.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Spanish Immersion

Earlier this year, some teachers at my school had a chance to go to a Rosetta Stone training in our district. I didn't sign up because they gave us very short notice and as should be pretty clear if you've been with me a bit, this past year was "special" to say the least. I didn't stick around for a lot of extra outside trainings because I was absolutely drained at the end of every day.

Turns out, however, that they got a free year subscription to Rosetta Stone. Had they told us we would get that for reviewing and trying the software, I would have gone to the training. I have since looked up the program and no way in Hades would I spend almost $600 on a program to learn a language. Not happening.

Well, it just so happens that The Husband and I are kid-free for the weekend (thanks mom and dad!) so we went out to dinner last night and then stopped in the strip-mall behind the restaurant to play with the kitties in the pet store and then made our way over to the bookstore that is right there. I love bookstores. The Husband never reads anything but non-fiction (ever) so he was busy looking at the nerdy science stuff and I was browsing around elsewhere. I passed the Language section and saw a box that looked just like Rosetta Stone but had a different name. So I picked it up and checked it out. It's a heck of a lot cheaper than R.S. and claims to do the same thing.

So I did what any self-respecting cheapskate would do. I came home and looked it up on Amazon! The reviews are pretty good for it and, as usual, its cheaper than if I had bought it at the store (which I couldn't have done anyway because they were out of the Spanish version). Now I know what's on my wish list for my next allowance. I don't need to be perfectly proficient with Spanish but I want to be able to communicate better with my Spanish-speaking parents at work. My position was ESL required, bilingual preferred because its SO expensive for them to hire translators for conferences and such (although fortunately seeing as how I'm going to be teaching 5th, most of the kiddos can translate for me if needed and it isn't as big of a deal).

It'll be interesting to see if the program really works well for me. And if it doesn't, I'll be out $37 rather than $550!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Addicting

Just for the record, Artisteer is SUPER addicting. I made my first blogger background using graphics from ThistleGirl Designs (with her permission of course). Since I'm not planning to sell or share my theme/background, it was fine with her for me to use her graphics.

I'm still learning the Artisteer program so I'm not 100% satisifed with this theme quite yet but that's okay. There's bound to be a learning curve.

I can't wait to play with it for WordPress since that's what I am using for my classroom site. Perhaps when I am done with a fabulous creation, I'll at least share a screen shot of it. We'll see.

So excited!

I'll be the first to admit that The Husband spoils me rotten, especially over the last few months since I've been home. He's never said, but I think he feels kind of bad that he didn't recognize the signs of my anxiety/depression when it first started. Totally not his fault at all but I love the attention he's showered me with since I've been home (although it could be argued that he wants to be around me more because I'm not a stressed out raging b---h all the time anymore!).

Anyway we budget every single penny we make and have for many years (courtesy of the Super Fabulous Dave Ramsey). Some of our family think we are nuts but following his steps allowed us to pay off a $53k student loan in under 2 years. So we budget everything, including "blow money" allowance for ourselves so we can still buy whatever our hearts desire. I typically end up spending mine on books (either for personal use or school) and other little necessities.

Well somehow The Husband massively messed up in his budgeting over the last cycle (he does it by pay-period) and told me last night that he'd messed up and was going to reward ME because HE screwed up (I assume as an incentive to not make that sort of colossal mistake again). So he gave me double the blow money I usually get. It isn't like its a million bucks or anything but I AM pretty happy about it because there were several things I wanted to get and now I don't have to decide between them, I have enough to get them all. Yay!

He laughed last night when we were going to bed when I told him I'd already spent some of it sitting at the dining room table on my laptop. He said "Amazon, huh?" (What can I say, I'm an open book *wink*)

You betcha! I ordered one from Amazon directly and two of the books from sellers in the marketplace. Even with the extra shipping I paid less for the brand new books than I would have buying them from Amazon (and one wasn't even available on Amazon except in the marketplace).

These are the titles I selected:
1) Month-by-Month Phonics for the Upper Grades
Our district has used a Balanced Literacy/Four Blocks model in the elementary grades for the last 8 years or so. I love the word wall and phonics activities that are in this book. Usually I borrow a copy of this book from whatever school building I am in, but I decided since its likely I will stay with the 4th/5th grades for the foreseeable future, I would just buy my own copy. Then I can mark and highlight in it as I wish as well and not have to worry about messing up a copy that belongs to my school.

2) Mr. Peabody's Apples
I LOVE this book. A couple of my first graduate classes focused on reading instruction and we did book shares and book talks within small groups in the class (by far my favorite class ever, it was sooo much fun). One of the gals in my group, a 5th grade teacher named Carolyn, shared this book with us. I had never heard of it but after her book talk, I knew I had to read it. I have since used it with my classes by checking it out from the library but this is definitely one I want on my personal shelf. I love it because there are so many great reading strategies that you can use with it, plus the message is a powerful one.

3) The Purpose Driven Life
Recently, I was watching a Carrie Underwood special that The Husband DVR'd for me. She was explaining to the crowd her inspiration for the song "Temporary Home" that she wrote for her album Play On. It's one of my favorite songs and she said she was reading this book and it talks a lot about how our time here on Earth is temporary and that there is another place for us. It inspired her to write the song and she inspired me to purchase the book.


I am most excited about the purchase I will be making today. Recently I discovered The Cutest Blog on the Block which has amazingly adorable backgrounds for blogger and themes for WordPress. Since I recently changed my classroom website to a WordPress format, I was pretty excited about that...but none of them really felt personal enough. They are adorable, just not exactly what I was looking for. Turns out, there was a link on the bottom of the one I decided to use that links to Artisteer, a software that allows you to make customized WordPress themes and blogger backgrounds. I downloaded the free trial and am in L-O-V-E. It's easy to use and really allows you to customize everything. The home and academic version is only $50 so I'm totally buying it and am going to make my own backgrounds. I'm excited about it because now I can still use the hundreds of graphics sets I have bought over the years but use the easier-to-update WordPress format.

It's the little things in life that bring me such joy. :D

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Oh, summer

I am absolutely loving the weather we've been having the last few days (well, I haven't loved the storms but I've loved the sunshiney and warm days). My colleagues are all still in school. The traditional calendars get out next week Friday, June 11. My school doesn't end until June 23 since they are on an alternative, year-round calendar.

I am really trying to soak up the last few days of complete solitude before my kiddos finish up school next week. The Oldest just turned 15 (ack!) this week so she is taking part in Driver's Ed this summer and will keep us both busy -- her with the sessions and me with driving her to and from since the schedule is kind of insane. She'll finish that up in time for our first family vacation in 7 years (!) to Mackinac this July and then band camp and that sort of thing will be upon us for July and then once August hits, it'll be  back-to-school mode for the ladies of the house.

I'm s-l-o-w-l-y working my way back through The CAFE Book and I can definitely see where this will work in my classroom in the workshop model. I am not sure if I want to do Daily 5 or not. I love the concept of it and how simple it is (no worksheets to prepare, etc), but I'm just not sure yet. I may just take it all and blend it into my own system that works for me because that's what teachers do best, right? :)

I am so grateful that I've had this time to rest and relax and just start getting well. I was talking to my dad earlier and he commented that it was quite nice to talk to me since it felt like he was talking to the "old" me again. I have to admit, I think that's pretty nice too. There's SO much going on with me right now that it felt nice just to have someone appreciate that I am slowly getting better and hopefully by the start of the new school year, all of this crap from this year will just be a bad memory.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Word Wall Activities Lists

I had a couple requests to share the word wall activities lists I posted about last time. I did not keep a master copy but since I have nothing better to do (*wink*), I decided to make a new master copy. The font isn't as pretty as the one I have but hey, it works.

I have absolutely no idea who actually came up with all of these activities so I couldn't provide credit for them. If you use them on a site for download, please be sure you provide a link that you got them here. Thanks! :)

Word Activities - 1

Word Activities - 2

Word Activities - 3