Thursday, July 29, 2010

I'll take that as a compliment!

This week, over at Littlest Learners, we're assembling a Super Fabulous teacher organizational tool. I am in love with it, seriously. I can't say it enough that when I am organized, I feel better as a teacher and my students pick up on that and for the most part, I think they behave better in an organized classroom (although to be fair, some kids could have a personal maid and still not behave!).

At any rate, I was gushing about this great planner/organizer tool to a friend of mine and she just kind of shook her head and said "you organized people make me laugh"...emphasis on the word you like it was something to be ashamed of. Now this friend is a teacher too and she's organized but she said I am too obsessive about it.

Perhaps I am...and I know for a fact I wouldn't be nearly as bad as I am currently if  I wasn't bored out of my ever loving mind and in need something more productive to do! I can't work on curriculum and stuff yet so I am turning my attention to how I can be better organized. Because you always can be. Even if I wasn't bored out of my mind...I do always look out for things that will keep me organized and in turn help me be a better teacher. I have zero doubt they go together.

My first year teaching I had a split grade, 4th and 5th graders. I was hired after Thanksgiving and was the third teacher with the children that year (not to mention a steady flow of subs who ran like hell after a day or two). Anyway the room was a mess. It took me 2 hours to clean off the teacher's desk. Which I did on my own time after school because I thought I would vomit if I had to come to school another day and see that. It makes the flow of the classroom suffer and the children suffered too.

In fact, I am convinced that the reason most of those children's behavior turned around was because I got that room organized, established procedures and gave them a voice in the room. By the end of January, we were a team. It wasn't always a happy team but we were a team and there was respect. I have no doubt the organization had a big hand in that.

So I found myself actually taking my friend's jabs as a compliment. Yes, I AM organized and no, I'm NOT ashamed of that.


In fact, today after taking The Littles to see a movie after lunch, we stopped at Walmart again and I picked up some drawer organizers I spotted there last week. Normally their 3-drawer (white) organizers are anywhere from $15-20. These beauties were in nice colors and were only $9. Thank you back-to-school sales! They had a lot of colors when I first spotted them: pink, blue, green, a pretty orange (even though orange is FAR from my favorite) and some very light black ones. All of the drawers are tinted too. These are the kind you can put wheels on.

They were sadly out of orange but I did pick up these beauties:


I had actually chosen a green one of the 3-drawer one until I saw the one with the two small drawers on the top and then quickly made a switcheroo. If my room arrangement is how I remember it being, I will have room under my super long counters to put these organizers. I am planning to use my U-shaped table as a combination small group teaching area/teacher desk so having these organizers there will allow me to organize some of the small group materials I need to have on hand but don't want to have stack up on the counter or on the table.

I can only imagine the load of guff my friend is going to give me about my organization obsession...but they were by far the cheapest 3-drawer organizers I've ever found and who can resist the colors? Seriously? I can't wait to get into my classroom!




Photobucket

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

(Un)Professionalism

It is quite amazing what you can learn when you talk to former colleagues more in the know than yourself. Today, after taking my girls bowling this morning (http://www.kidsbowlfree.com/ is awesome!), we drove to a central spot to meet with Mrs. B. She was a 1st grade teacher at Former School in the 2008-2009 school year and during the ridiculous huge layoff they did that spring, she got laid off and recalled to a new school for last year. She's going back to Former School for the next school year, teaching kindergarten. It wasn't her first choice but it was a complicated reasoning why she ended up back there. She'll be okay because her team is FANTASTIC and it seems to me that the kids in that school only get real bad when the get to the 3rd floor. There is something about that 3rd floor that does not do well by those kiddos.

At any rate, when she got recalled last fall, she was going to teach 2nd grade which I had taught two years previously. I had some second grade resources I wasn't using and offered to let her borrow them. We met up today so she could return them to me. I haven't seen her much this year since she was at a different school but she's really nice and I like her a lot. We ended up talking for over and hour (which did not seem that long at all) and she filled me in on a lot of dirt at Former School.

Apparently the principal came back from her medical leave on June 1st. The last day of the school year was June 23 so she was only there about 3 weeks until school got out. From what Mrs. B told me, she was ruthless to the staff and was not really nice at all. I had to admit to Mrs. B that that sort of unprofessional behavior by Former Principal is one reason why I asked my doctor to make sure my leave was effective through July 1st. I know F.P. well enough to know she would have made my life a living hell those last few weeks of school if she'd found out I had taken time off for anything.

Also Mrs. B informed me that Former Principal announced to everyone else in the district, before her own staff, that she was retiring this year. I find that to be unprofessional. Loads of other people outside the school knew before the school staff did. Do we honestly wonder why last year during a district-wide survey on trust not one teacher there said they trusted the principal??

There is a huge amount of drama happening at Former School and every day, I am more grateful that I am no longer a part of that. Much of it was created and exacerbated by Former Principal which in and of itself is unprofessional.

To that end...I decided it was time to reflect on Professional vs. Unprofessional behavior:

1. Professional: Going directly to the source if you have an issue with them.
Unprofessional: talking about said issue to the rest of your staff without ever addressing it with the person(s) it concerns.
Sadly, this is what Former Principal is known for in the district. It is one reason they have had trouble keeping the same staff in that school more than one year in a row.

2. Professional: Being upfront and direct with your staff, even if the news is unpleasant
Unprofessional: Giving people outside of the building's staff heads-up news before you tell your staff and having them find out the hard way

3. Professional: Treating every teacher the same and holding every teacher to the exact same standards
Unprofessional: Playing favorites, targeting teachers just because you don't like them and letting certain teachers get away with whatever they want to do
Former Principal was known to let a certain someone on our staff get away with not following the district mandates. Oh she'd complain about her not doing the same things, but she wouldn't do anything about it. And yeah, she wouldn't complain to the teacher, she'd complain to the rest of us.

4. Professional: Initiating and conducting real observations and then following through on the results in a timely manner
Unprofessional: Scheduling and rescheduling required observations and then taking 6 months to provide "feedback"
We're supposed to have a formal observation twice a year until we reach tenure (4 years). In the 2009 school year, I signed my December observation feedback letter on June 12. By the way, the end-of-year one was due on May 30th.

5. Professional: Respecting that your staff is made up of ADULTS who all have degrees and training in their area. Respecting that if they say they are sick, they are and letting them take care of their personal/family needs.
Unprofessional: Making any adult feel guilty about feeling sick or having a sick child because it meant they had to miss work....especially bad when you yourself miss 10+ days in a school year and the staff is just supposed to "understand"
Former Principal was the QUEEN of guilt trips. We actually had a teacher request to be transferred in September because Former Principal scared her by saying she couldn't use her 7 month old child as an "excuse" to call in sick to work.


I am quite sure I could go on (and on and on) about this but I think I made my point. I am not sad at all that Former Principal will no longer be there. Of course, it also no longer affects me whether she is or not. It is refreshing to note that everything above was addressed in how Mrs. Principal expects her staff to behave and how SHE will behave in her staff handbook. It will be like a breath of fresh air to work with someone who doesn't play favorites.

And as far as I've heard, they've hired a new principal from outside of the district to head Former School. Rumor has it this person is from Chicago and has been in pretty rough inner city schools there. It's just a rumor so I don't know but it interests me because most of the time the brand new principals force people to tow the line and follow district mandates to the letter. That's not going to be so pleasant for some people I know.



And to end on a funny (completely unrelated note): my teacher friend whom asked for my help in editing/proofreading her last paper called me today and asked if I would mind doing the same on her current paper which is an action research paper. She referred to me as Professor [Last Name] since I applied for that community college part-time position. I chuckled and said they had to call me first and she just cheerfully said "are you kidding? They will, you rule at this". It gave me a good chuckle and I felt good.

And I have to admit, Professor [Last Name] does have a certain ring to it.


Photobucket

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Things I Can't Live Without as a Teacher

I was perusing a message board I've belonged to for about 9 years now earlier today and came across a cute topic about things that teachers can't live without. It's interesting to read things like that because you do find relatively common things that most teachers say they have to have but the best part is all of the unique things that some teachers say they can't live without. I decided to make my own list. You can play along if you so desire.

  1. Diet Coke -- seriously, does this one even need an explanation?! I don't do coffee and therefore must get caffeine from somewhere.
  2. Post-its -- I use them for everything. Even better a friend of mine's husband works at 3M and promised to bring me a plethora of FREE Post-its (ala this fun collection) next time she's in my area! Heaven.
  3. Sharpie Pens -- I'm not sure why I like the Sharpies more than other pens but I do love them.
  4. Colorful Pens -- I am often known for using orange, green, red and purple pens to correct papers. The fun colors make me happy.
  5. Tech Cabinet -- in our newer schools, they all have a tech cabinet which includes an ELMO document camera, a laptop, a CD/DVD/VCR player and a projector. I have taught with one for the last 3 years and I LOVE it. It is an essential component to my teaching, especially when correcting work together because I can zoom in on any document and ensure every child in my class can REALLY see what I am doing. It is awesome. I think I would cry if I had to teach without one.
  6. Colorful Baskets and Storage Containers -- I am a big fan of color. Not too much color that its distracting and throws me into fits of ADD (which I don't have) but enough that the room looks inviting. I often accomplish this through the wide array of colorful baskets, bins and containers I keep in my room. I have to admit I was salivating over some cute purplely/pink ones I saw at Walmart the other day.
  7. Organization -- Not really an item, but a state of mind. If my room is cluttered or unorganized, then so am I and in turn, so are my students. Often after I've had a sub, I get to school a little earlier the following day in order to straighten up before I get started on my tasks for the day. Inevitably there is a pile of "completed" work on my desk from when the sub was there and it'll drive me crazy until I can get it out of my sight.
  8. The Husband -- Seriously, when I've had the worst day of my life, I know I can just come home and don't even have to say anything. He just knows what to do to make me feel better, even if that means cooking dinner or something as little as letting me control the TV remote. I'm not sure if its my aura or what, but he always knows if it was a bad day.
  9. The Kidlets -- Both my own and my students. My own because they provide me a balance and keep me grounded emotionally. My students because really, without them, I wouldn't have a chance to do what I love.
  10. My Faith -- I am not a super religious person but I DO believe what I believe. And that faith has carried me through some pretty tough times. My ability to reflect on it and trust my faith that everything happens for a reason and will turn out a-okay are things that help me out in my profession on a daily basis.
I'm sure I could think of many, many more things that I can't live without as a teacher, but those are definitely my Top 10 (not necessarily in order though).

Photobucket

Monday, July 26, 2010

Wow...I feel guilty

There have been quite a few changes in staffing at Former School due to retirements, people like myself and another colleague who got the Hell out of Dodge the second that we could request transfers (and she actually then quit the district altogether) and a couple of people quitting to take jobs either in other districts or other states.

But I feel terribly guilty right now because I just found out one of the preschool teachers from last year is going to be teaching 5th grade (yes, they are ridiculous in how they do their staffing and often switch people from year to year). I feel bad because this means she is going to get a large dose of my class from this past year...only about 9 of whom are actually really awesome kids. The rest of them just hate each other and it is not a pleasant situation. Even though I had absolutely NOTHING to do with the fact that she got moved up to 5th grade and NO PART in the choice of what kids go to whom, I do feel bad for her. First of all because she's never taught outside of preK-1st grade range, second of all because her teaching partner is (excuse me) a bitch and thirdly because she's going to have a handful of behavior issues in her class, even if they evenly spread my students and the kids from the other 4th grade out. It was just a realllllly rough group.

I think I feel so bad because I actually like this teacher and she was really supportive of me when I told the staff I was taking time off (not like some people who just assumed I was making up my disability to be able to leave). I don't want to hear that she's having a hard time with some of those kids....although I do have to admit that I very much want to visit her, albeit briefly, when they start school in August because I want to give the kids who made it worth my while to go to work every day during the worst year of my life a super huge hug.


Photobucket

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Writing

My friend who asked me to edit her paper for her earlier this week just sent me an email and said she got an A on the paper. I am so thrilled for her. It really makes me think that I would absolutely love teaching writing at the college level, especially for those students who come out of high school with a hatred for writing, which sadly, I think is a lot of people these days.

I have been rereading Mentor Texts in preparation for embedding myself in Dorfman and Cappelli's new book, Nonfiction Mentor Texts. I read Mentor Texts when I first bought it but that was well over a year ago and with everything that went on this year, I didn't get as much time as I would have liked to really engage my students in the materials.

I have been spending a lot of these glorious sunny summer days outside on my porch swing reading while the kids play. It's a perfect balance for us all. They are happy and so am I. Today was one such day. They were happily splashing about in the mini pool that The Husband brought home earlier this week and I was able to hang out in my favorite spot (ie. on that swing) and read while also keeping an eye and an ear trained on the kids. It's the best kind of PD there is!

I couldn't help but turn my thoughts from the book, which focuses on K-6 instruction, to the current state of literacy engagement happening in middle and high schools in my area. There often is very little writing outside of literature response and research papers. Students aren't taught a lot about narrative, persuasive and reflective writing. As I was re-reading the book today, I was thinking about how many students in my district have probably never had writing instruction such as what the authors describe in their book. It makes me sad.

Even with the writing units of study they began to implement this year, I think there is still going to be enough wiggle room for me to be able to use a lot of the info in the mentor texts book. Over the last two years I have very much become an advocate for differentiation through my work with my master's program and in teaching ELLs who come to me with a very wide range of skill levels. I firmly believe that using the mentor texts in more creative ways than sparking ideas for what to write about, will provide more scaffolding for the kids who really need it. I'm telling you, if you haven't read it and you teach writing, it's definitely one to check out. I'm loving it even more in reading it this second time around. My favorite part is the "Your Turn" lessons they provide at the end of each chapter which really allow you to teach the strategies to your students.

I am hopeful that the college contacts me about the English positions. I really believe that the passion I have about writing, and making it meaningful even for the most reluctant of writers, would suit me well in that environment. Plus, it's amazing how much of this K-6 stuff would actually be very well suited for older students who aren't real fond of writing.


Photobucket

Friday, July 23, 2010

Bravery, Stupidity or maybe a bit of both?

I just did something that I'm not sure if its brave, stupid or both! For at least the last year or so, I have thought about teaching at the community college level. I am an avid writer even though I've never really pushed myself to get to the point of publication. I love to write though and sometimes I do it just for myself -- as a creative release or just for fun to fill some spare time.

When I finished my classes for my ESL endorsement, my TESOL professor told me that I should teach writing at the college level because I was so good at it and he thought it would benefit second language students at that level. I'm not sure if I want to limit it just to second language students though. Well, incidentally, the local community college has some adjunct positions available both for ESL teaching and for English teaching (mostly composition). A fellow ESL colleague of mine and I had checked out positions there earlier in the year (February/March-ish) and these positions are still open because a lot of the adjuncts teach other full-time jobs so aren't always available when the classes are and such.

I was going to wait to apply until at least the winter semester but decided what the heck? I might as well jump at the chance. Of course, there is no guarantee that they will even call me since I don't have college teaching experience....but it never hurts to try.

When I told The Oldest, she said "wait, what about New School? I thought you wanted to teach there?!". She was under the impression that I would quit New School. Nope. I figured even though it might be a bit overwhelming at first, I've taken grad classes and taught full-time for the last 3 years, the workload here won't be much different...except I'd be the teacher and not the student. Plus, I just think it would be fun.

My friend asked me to edit a paper for her recently and I have to admit, I almost had a perserve amount of fun editing it for her. It really made me realize that this is something I can definitely share with other people that I not only know a lot about, but also love. And I really don't think teaching one night class a semester would be any more overwhelming than the amount of work I was doing at the grad level for the last 3 years because these would be freshman/sophomores in college, not grad students.

I'm really excited about it and hope to get a call. If not, at least I tried.


Photobucket

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Organizational Heaven...for real

So a few times in the last week or so I have mentioned the Cascading File Tote that I ordered from The Container Store. It arrived today and it was like Christmas morning. Seriously, I might just need to get a life as excited as getting organizational/teachery supplies in the mail make me!

I am totally in love with this thing. It is basically just like an expandable file that you can buy anywhere except that it also cascades. You CAN open it just like an expandable file if that is all you want to do with it. It has a great leathery-type handle which makes it look good and it feels very comfortable when you hold it.  It actually snaps shut and the snap clasp is also what you use to hang it on the wall if you use it as a cascading file.

I am seriously using the back part of my brain (you know, that one that even when I'm on the best vacation of my life is always thinking about teaching in some way, shape or form) to think of exactly how I want to utilize this special item. Since it has 7 pockets, there are infinite possibilities...and if I ever do want to (or need to) take work home to catch up on data or grading or anything, it folds up so easily and is very small and convenient to take with you.


I bought the blue one -- it'll match my beautiful blue eyes ;)


Here's a picture of it open and with my August 2010 calendar on top. It comes with a (very small) calendar so I added my own because I like to have more room. The only downside is the calendar I bought doesn't fit in the little pouch they provide -- so I used paper clips. Nothing is going to stop me from being ultra organized with this sucker.



Photobucket

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Bilingual Love

I am always on the lookout for quality instructional materials to benefit my ELL students. In the past I have purchased books that I thought would help boost reading for my ELL students but found the materials to be lacking (too low level for my 4th graders) once I had them.

I was randomly browsing around and checking out some things online when, for whatever reason, I happened over to the Evan-Moor site. I was very pleasantly surprised to find this set of resources. One huge complaint I've always had as a teacher of ELLs is that publishing companies create bilingual resources but they rarely ever go up to 4th or 5th grade. I am a huge advocate for children, regardless of their reading ability being exposed to grade level reading passages because they have to tackle them on the state tests and the more practice, the better.

These resources I just found offer English/Spanish passages up to 6th grade. The last few years I have done reading comprehension as part of my homework packets so the children are reading at home as well as at school. I am seriously considering buying one of these books (they are all available as e-books!) so that I can provide reading help for my struggling readers by it being in Spanish as well. Sometimes I do get ELL students whose parents aren't literate in Spanish either (which is our most primary language in my school) but often they are and I think this would help tremendously. I don't speak Spanish so having these resources in order to help my families out is important to me, especially if it means that the children will be spending quality time with their families reading each week!

Now I just have to decide if I want to buy the Fiction, NonFiction or the Science version!

Photobucket

Saturday, July 17, 2010

That New School Smell

We've all heard of the New Car Smell before...but I think teachers get a big ole whiff of "New School Smell" right around this time of year. Even teachers I know who worked until late June are already thinking to next year, planning and making changes to procedures, homework and other aspects that define our profession.

I, of course, can't wait for school to resume because I am so ready to return to work, get into my new school and do what I love. Since my new school isn't brand new, it won't be like walking into my former school for the first time. No one had ever been in my classroom before me since the building was literally completed 2 weeks before we were allowed in. It was pretty cool to not have to dig through files and cupboards sorting out other people's things that they had left behind (although I did have a huge pile of boxes waiting to be opened that had been moved over from the previous building -- some of which was useful, most of which was trash and I quickly got rid of it).


Here are a couple of pictures of my former room at the start of the 2008-2009 school year...sooo much possibility!

I am actually really anxious for when we are able to get into our school this year. I believe I mentioned before that I have history with my new school: I was a student there in 2nd, 5th and 6th grade and I did my student teaching there in 2006. It was the last year they were in their old building (which was the building I had attended as a student). It was bittersweet because I had so much history there and it was awesome yet sad to be part of the end of that building. The new building was constructed on another section of that property and where the former school was is now the field. Since I had student taught in the old building right before it was torn down, I subbed at the new school quite a bit the following fall for my cooperating teacher and the other 5th grade teachers.

So I've been in the building and I know the layout. My room will be right next to Mrs. Cooperating Teacher and we have a small alcove that connects our classrooms in one corner. I hadn't really subbed for the teacher whose room I will now have so I was only in that room once and thus can't picture it as well. The room across the hall, which I thought would be mine, I spent a lot of time in and know that layout by heart. Mine won't be too different from that but kind of a mirror image. If I recall correctly, this school has massive counterspace which I miss (my first super brand new nice school had a HUGE counter spanning the length of the entire room -- it was awesome).

Mr. 4/5 Split will be across the hall, having agreed to move over since he has the split this year so that I could have the room next to Mrs. Cooperating Teacher since her and I will be teaching solid 5th grade classes. He's a super awesome guy (and used to be my 6th grade teacher!). I'm sure he won't leave a huge mess behind for me because really is pretty awesome.

I'm just anxious to get in there....that New School Smell has me almost salivating at the possibilities. Unfortunately we can't get into our rooms over the summer (probably the biggest thing I hate about our district) and my school is used as a summer school site so after that program ends, they have to thoroughly clean everything before the new year and I'll be lucky to be able to get into my room a week before we're required to be there for our planning/PD week. I'm not too worried. When I got hired on my first full contract, I had one day to move in and set up my room before I got my students (I was hired in November) and I managed. It will just be much nicer to have more time so I can take my time and get everything how I want it. 


Photobucket

Thursday, July 15, 2010

More on Organization

I spend a lot of my "allowance" on school related stuff like resource books or cool organizational things that will make my life easier.

One year I even scored big time and my parents bought me a Desk Apprentice for my birthday. The only downside to it is that it is HUGE and our teacher desks are really just a small table on wheels with a teeny drawer in the center (lame, no?) so I can't leave it on my desk because then I don't have any room for anything else, much less have a workspace. I've solved that dilemma by keeping it on my mini cabinet though and it works out pretty well.


Here's a picture of my desk apprentice the first year I had it (this was before school started for the students). See how much room it takes up on that tiny thing they call a teacher desk??

Awhile back, Mrs. Mimi posted about The Container Store and the Cascading File Tote. I've had my eye on it for awhile now. I'm all about finding easy ways to keep things "at hand" for me since the drawers in our teacher desks really no longer exist (the measly drawer we do have is barely big enough to hold a couple pads of post-its and some pens). Not that I'm all about dragging work home every day, because I'm not, but I love it for the possibility of keeping things that need immediate attention out of sight and organized until I can get to them. I am all about keeping my room looking as neat and organized as possible!

Recently I saw The Wonder File on TV (and I do believe Mrs. Mimi wrote about it as well). The idea is great but it is HUGE. I like that it has a lot of room but again, my desk at work isn't nearly big enough to allow that big ole thing to be opened up and utilized and I don't often sit at my U-shaped table to do paperwork since my laptop and everything sit at my tech cabinet or on my desk.

I think what got me thinking about the Cascading Tote again today was that The Littles and I went to Office Max to spend my bonus reward and I bought a small calendar to hang near my tech cabinet (which 99% of the time is also where I keep my desk and such -- my new school has a very similar layout to my old one). This way I will have, at a glance, upcoming dates for report cards, collaborative meetings, committee meetings, non-school days, etc. I have found over the last two years that I just don't have room on my desk to keep my planner open for reminders of those things because space on the desk is so minimal anyway.


This was in my last classroom but the layout will basically be the same in my new one. The tech/elmo cabinet has a bulletin board behind it. My last two classrooms have had this layout and this year will be my 3rd room, in my 3rd school with this layout.

When The Littles were helping me pick out a design (because you know even office supplies have to look good!), I thought about that Cascading Tote. The cool thing is, even though there isn't a Container Store anywhere near me, they offer a 15% discount for teachers which is as easy as just signing up. So I bought the blue tote and I am excited to get it.

I am already thinking of all of the possibilities for what I can keep in there. I'm thinking it'll be a great place for me to place paperwork and grading that needs my attention each day and also keep my "to be copied" files and such since we're discouraged from copying too far in advance (mostly because of our transient population). Since it also has that perfect space at the top, I can place my calendar in there (which will hopefully fit -- it looks like it will but we'll see!) and have all of that stuff at my fingertips. I love that!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Numbers

During my teacher training classes, almost every instructor told us that numbering our students was one of the best things you could do as a teacher because it was "easier".

I'm not entirely sure I agree with that anymore. I've used them and not used them and at this point, I think I am leaning toward not using them for next year. It seems more of a pain to me than anything else because half the kiddos still aren't writing their numbers on their papers by the middle (or end!) of the year and my mailbox helpers would often say "what number is Student X?" which made it harder for them to sort papers to go home.

A few years ago, Office Max had a clearance sale on some of their cardboard literature sorters for $5 so I bought 3 of them for a total of 24 boxes (typically the most I've ever had -- this past year was the only exception when I had 26). Anyway in the 2009 school year, instead of using numbers, I simply used masking tape to write the kiddos' names and stuck them on the sorter. Then everyone could clearly see whose box was whose and it was SO MUCH EASIER for my mailbox helpers.

Even in years when I have numbered my students, we don't really use the numbers that often. Not as much as some people I know. I guess it just isn't the way I think. Plus with my plan to number my tables and have my numbered supply boxes, I don't want anyone (namely myself) to be ultra confused with all of the numbers.

I think the numbers system bothers me so much because in our transient population, I inevitably get kiddos late in the year who then mess up my alphabetical numbering system...and when its time to put grades into our online report cards, its a huge pain because I have to jump around anyway since the program is automatically in alphabetical order and usually by November, I've got kiddos who are number 23 or 24 but have a last name with a B or C anyway. Perhaps I'm just too anal retentive to be bothered with all those numbers.

Instead I will revert to my system that has worked for me....lots of labels with the kids' names. Then everyone knows where everyone else's mailbox and locker are without having to refer to a chart to see all of the numbers.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

More Supplies & My Obsession

I finally scored on the 25 cent composition books at Walmart today! My local one has only been a Super Walmart for the last year or so (it was remodeled) but they are very disorganized there and they often infuriate me in their slowness. My kidlets spent a couple days with my parents since we got home from vacation and they have a Walmart in the town next to them. So I asked my mom to meet me up there to exchange the kids, but also so I could check their sales. I'm glad I did because they had boatloads of their composition books out. Some of their sales were actually a bit more expensive than my local store (ie. Crayola 24 packs were 30 cents compared to the quarter I paid), but they had colored pencils for 75 cents whereas at my local store they were all $1. So I went ahead and bought a pack fo colored pencils for each of my supply boxes. I have a TON of colored pencils left over from the last two years but none of them are in boxes...I figured I'd start off with the new sets and as they get broken or misplaced, the kids can always dig through the old ones.

At this point, my classroom supply shopping is D-O-N-E. yay!




Somewhere along my teaching training, I become completely obsessed with frogs. I have loved using frogs in my classroom themes (even with big kids) and my 4th grade class in 2009 got a real kick out of it. So much so that they completely indulged my obsession. I had one student, K, who must've bought me at least 3 frogs throughout the year. They used to joke they were going to pool together and buy me a real one and I had to insist that they refrain!

I've had my frogs on display in my room the last couple of years. ALL of the children in my school knew I had a frog obsession and I received more frog cards, pictures and trinkets (even from students who weren't in my class) than I could ever count. It was kind of amusing. I even got holiday cards decorated in frogs. Of course when I left my classroom, they all came home with me. I've had them stored in a big clear plastic box up in my barn loft for the last month or so. I got the bin down awhile ago and brought it into the house because The Youngest wanted to play with the Webkinz frogs I have (gifts from students and my mom). This evening I decided my froggy friends deserved a better resting place than a stuffy plastic box.

At this point I think they will remain at home in my office this year instead of traveling to my new classroom with me. They just seem so comfortable.

They're "protecting" all of my college diplomas!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Organizing Supplies

I am all about organization. The funny part is that as I was growing up, I was a huge slob. I mean huge. In retrospect, I believe some of it was rebellion and some of it was just being a typical teenager (The Oldest is a huge slob too).

At any rate, once I started teaching, I became almost psychotic in my quest to be organized in the classroom. My house is not always the most organized place in the world but my classroom is. We don't have a lot of visitors at our home so we really relax and let our hair down. We aren't slobs (well, with the exception of the kids) but we don't freak if there is a dust bunny on the floor or something. [We have pets...dust bunnies happen sometimes. Comes with the territory.]

From my first year onward, my fellow teachers have often marveled at how neat and organized my classroom was. I firmly believe much of this comes from the idea that when other people walk into your classroom for the first time, they judge your teaching by the appearance of your room. I've always felt that way. I know that's often what my first impression of other teachers is based upon. It isn't necessarily always fair (or accurate) but the visual modality is a strong one in teaching.

In the 2008-2009 school year, I was transferred back to my former school after a year at a different school. Former School had been moved into a brand new building and everything was beautiful and neat. I actually marveled at how fantastic it was to be the first teacher in a classroom space (no one to clean up after!). My principal and many other colleagues often brought family/friends/visitors through my classroom because it was so neat and organized. I found pleasure in having my room look in tip-top shape at all times.

One of my colleagues that year had an ingenious way of keeping some of the students' supplies organized. We're talking supplies that aren't used every day in the upper grades like scissors, crayons, glue, etc. She used shoe boxes to organize the materials and numbered the boxes for the children to use. I LOVED this idea and decided to implement it this year.

These are the kind of tables/desks we had in my former school and New School has them as well. They are two seaters and usually this is how I have arranged them -- it's perfect for groups of 6.

What I plan to do is number each individual table (1-12) with a small card and cover it with clear tape. The numbers 1-12 will correspond to the numbers on the supply boxes. The children at a particular table will be responsible for the supplies in the box labeled with their number.


Here's an example of a box -- lucky number 7. The top of the box and the side are labeled with the number (simply so all of the boxes end up with the correct cover). The boxes 1-12 will be stacked together when not in use and kept on the shelves or on top of my cabinet.


Inside are the students' supplies: 2 glue sticks, a box of crayons to share, 2 rulers, 2 hi-liters, 2 pairs of scissors and some sticky notes, both large and regular size. You can see the materials are labeled with the numbers so if anything ends up on the floor, we all know which box it belongs in.

I am totally in love with this idea. Even though I have well over a month before I can even get into my new classroom, I was so excited about this that I put all of the boxes together today. (Dork!) I was very pleased with the result. I can't wait to see how much easier this makes things when the children can just get the supplies as they are needed they will otherwise be out of the way and not causing distractions for the children.

One Spot Love

I love Target. They just rule, seriously.

I went out today since I'm home alone (the kidlets are visiting the grandparents) and could shop in peace. I wanted to see if Target had their school supplies up and out yet, which I was sure they did. I don't go to Staples because the nearest one is over a half hour away and the cost of the time/gas makes it just about the same as shopping at Walmart and Target which are much, much closer.

Anyway, they had their mass piles of school supply goodness out as usual...but I also scored at the One Spot. They had mini-pocket charts for $1 this time and I bought four because you can never have too many. I already have some uses for them in mind. I also bought some name tags, two record books (which actually have room for 36 kiddos in case I get screwed and have a huge class -- and also to accomodate for the transient population we serve) and a cute stamp set. Then I loaded up on the 10-packs of folders that I like (not sure why but theirs are my favorites) and pencils. I think the cashier thought I was nuts when I loaded up 15 boxes of pencils. I saved enough that I didn't feel the slightest bit guilty tossing the DVD Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium into my cart for The Littles.

I was not happy that Walmart didn't have their composition books out yet (they're supposed to be a quarter each this week) so I'll have to go back later...but those are the very last things I need to pick up. I have enough for a class set if I have 24 or less kiddos but I like having extras. Since they're cheap, it won't cost much to finish up my shopping.

I really love shopping for school supplies! In a week or so, we'll be taking our kids shopping for their supplies...well, I'll probably take them myself since The Husband doesn't like how I salivate over all the teachery goodness in those aisles!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

School Supplies

Yesterday afternoon The Husband and I had to do some marketing since we'd just gotten home from vacation and our cupboards more or less resembled Mother Hubbard's.

We ended up going to Walmart because I was pretty certain that they would've started setting out their school supplies. I was right and I'm glad we went. Usually I go late enough that their crayolas are no longer the cheapest crayons...but since it's still a bit early for it, I got a class set of 24 for a quarter each. I also got a class set of 24 rulers (something I have desperately needed for years) for 50 cents each. Then I stocked up on glue sticks at 2 for a quarter as well. I have a bunch left from last year still but I've learned you can never have too many.

I also bought some new colorful file crates and some small crates to hold all of my new supplies. My new school has a lot of shelving but they don't have the cabinets to hide all the stuff like before so I wanted to have new, matching crates instead of the cheap, old ones I had before (which I'll still use, they'll just be tucked away under the counter and hidden by a curtain or something ;)

Once I got home I posted on FB about the deals I got and a friend of mine from Canada, whom I met years ago in a teaching community, commented to ask me if we were expected to purchase our own supplies.


It's definitely an interesting question. While my school district can't force us to spend our own money, most of us do because the budget crisis where we are is ridiculous. They spend millions on stupid things but can't afford to provide supplies for the students and most of our families are struggling to put food on the table, let alone worry about purchasing supplies.

It's a double edged sword I guess. My mom mentioned to me the other day that she thought it was ludicrous that any teacher should have to spend their own money on supplies. I rather agree but it's my reality. I've learned if I want the kids to have it, I better buy it because you can't guarantee that any kids are going to come to school with any supplies or even the supplies you suggested. It's just easier to buy the stuff myself and go from there. Plus it doesn't hurt my pocket book as much when I scour the teacher sales and stock up when everything is really cheap.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Home Sweet Home

We got home from our vacation up north this afternoon. We had an absolutely spectacular time and it was soooo relaxing! The Littles and The Oldest all enjoyed the beautiful views and the special stuff to do up in Mackinaw City and on Mackinac Island. Of course, it was mandatory to purchase fudge while we were there. Yum-my!

While I had an amazing time and a family vacation was definitely long overdue, by yesterday evening, I was missing home. I missed my own bed, my dog and all of my things being around me. We stayed in a gorgeous hotel suite with a jacuzzi tub for in the master bedroom...it was on the ground floor though and we had a very unruly family upstairs which resulted in a lot of running around, screaming and jumping. During the day, it wasn't a big deal (it's kind of to be expected with kids) but when it was getting to be between the hours of 11 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. and they were still making that racket while my kids were trying to sleep...it wasn't so tolerable anymore.

Alas, we got some sun, had some fun and are all very pleased to be back on familiar ground. The Littles actually did really well with the super long car ride both ways and I think they are relieved to be back home with all of their toys, plus their new purchases from the trip.

I have to admit the nerdy side of me is excited to be back home so I can dig into my Non-Fiction Mentor Texts book!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Vacation

My copy of Non-Fiction Mentor Texts arrived yesterday. I'm so glad it did too. I was worried my last two packages might not arrive before we left on our vacation on Monday.

Both The Oldest and The Husband are teasing me relentlessly that I am so excited to read this book. Unfortunately for me, in the last week, my geekiness has gotten a little out of control and both of them have actually called me a nerd. To my face. The horror! The nerve!

I suppose it was bound to happen sometime, because let's face it, I am a huge nerd when it comes to this stuff!

We're heading out at 10 a.m. on Monday for our first vacation in many years. I am really excited about it. Needless to say, I will be refraining myself from doing anything school-related (although I probably will think about school-related stuff -- us teachers can't help it, right?) for the week of vacation but once we get back and the back-to-school sales are in full swing....it's on.

Better enjoy my downtime while I allow myself to have it, huh? :)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Community

As I have mentioned here previously, I am currently reading The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. I am not a person to really discuss religion or anything like that publicly because to me it is a very private thing. Spirituality, however, is something entirely different than religion to me. As I have been reading this book (1 chapter a day for 40 days), I have found a lot of comfort from my situation this year.

A recent chapter that I read focuses on Cultivating Community and while Rick Warren is talking about it in a spiritual/worshipful sense, I couldn't help but apply this to my classroom  practice. When I was in undergrad, many professors and speakers we had talked to us about the importance of establishing community and holding classroom meetings or discussion times in order to provide the children in our classes with some ownership over our community.

One of the biggest conclusions I have come to after being out of my classroom the last 3 months of the year was that we were doomed to fail this year when my district pulled my quality "community building" time right out from under me. See, my former school was on a year-round calendar. Therefore we started 3 weeks before everyone else and got out 2 1/2 weeks after everyone else. They pulled people involved with a big initiative in the district into a week long "success academy" in August which was fine for the people on the regular calendars but my students and I were already in school and they were stuck with a sub for 4 days the second week of school. (And believe me, I tried my best to get out of those meetings which ended up being 100% worthless.)

Now, I've come into classrooms well after the start of the year before and felt like I could build up good community with the children. In those cases, however, I truly believe that since I was a 'new face' to the kids at that time, it was easier. I wasn't the same person who'd been with them since the first day. So this chapter on Cultivating Community kind of hit me between the eyes and gave me a big reality check. I do place a lot of the blame on my district and the situation they put us in...but I think that when I returned to school and saw the damage that had been done while I was gone, some of my "go get 'em-ness" was gone and that made it harder to recover too.

Warren says that cultivating real community requires: honesty, humility, courtesy, confidentiality and frequency. I've always been a huge advocate of having classroom meetings but in looking back at this year, I think that I tended to talk too much and not allow the children to have as much of a voice as they deserve to have in these kind of community building activities. Reading through this has made me reflect back and recognize how I can make sure I make our community building activities more meaningful in the future by making sure that sometimes I stop talking and just listen.

Of course with this book being a spiritual text with focus on biblical information, everything is explained through that lens. At the end of this particular chapter, he points out 9 characteristics of biblical fellowship and I think I am going to keep the biblical stuff out and adapt it for our classroom meeting guidelines.

The nine characteristics are:
  • share our feelings
  • encourage each other
  • support each other
  • forgive each other
  • speak the truth
  • admit our weaknesses
  • respect our differences
  • not gossip
  • make our meetings a priority