Saturday, April 30, 2011

Countdown

There are just 28 1/2 instructional days left before I bid adieu to my students this year. Seems unbelievable that time has gone so quickly, yet it feels like the end will never come. Don't get me wrong, I really ♥ my students this year but the uber lazy ones are just on my ever-last nerve at this point. It boggles me how you can get to the end of April of 5th grade and just not care. I don't get it.


At any rate, with as much as we have going on in these last weeks of school, I keep coming up with things I want to do differently, try or modify for next school year. I have not heard one way or the other about my position and as I have said many times, I am going to assume that I am staying put unless I hear otherwise. That said, I am really thinking about how I can really maximize the instructional time that we have each day. I obviously won't know anything about specials schedules or whatnot until the next school year begins but I am really trying to think about how to best utilize the hours I do have, in order to really help my students to make the most progress and gains.


Here are a few things I am definitely thinking about implementing:
a) Engrade -- I already use Engrade as a grading tool for myself since it's so much easier than keeping a paper gradebook (and it's backed up online and thus I never have to worry about losing my data). But as time goes on, Engrade keeps adding more and more cool features. 
For example, now you can have a wiki associated with your Engrade account, you can create flashcards, quizzes and even attach files that students can access. They've also just added a feature that allows students to turn in assignments to Engrade making grading easier for the teacher. I am going to try this feature with my class this year as they work on their Solar System Reports. If they turn them in through Engrade, I can type in suggestions and corrections, print and return them to the kiddos so they can edit and revise. I'm really excited to try that! Best of all, Engrade is 100% free!!

b) Mini-Economy -- there are a lot of really awesome resources online to help teachers to create mini-economies in their classrooms. I really think that my students would benefit so much more from using something like this all year long. Earning a salary for behavior and being neat and organized, paying to rent their lockers, desks and chairs, incurring fines if they don't complete homework and earning bonuses when they do a great job. I'm REALLY thinking of implementing this next year along with our PBiS behavior system since the current 4th graders are a disorganized and rambunctious bunch.

c) Eetchy Speechy -- at the start of the school year, one of the 2nd grade teachers announced to us that she had written a grant to get every teacher an Expanding Expression toolkit (this teacher is the QUEEN of grant writing!). We call it Eetchy Speechy because they use it a lot with the younger elementary kiddos who have speech concerns. It is a really cool kit but I haven't really found a good way to utilize it and that makes me sad. So I am thinking that for next year, I will make Eetchy Speechy our Morning Work assignment. You basically just list an object and they go through the steps to describe it and write about it. I would imagine if they have practice doing this daily, they will be much more descriptive in the writing that they do throughout the year.

d) Daily 5 (or 3 or whatever!) -- I have been a huge fan of the Daily 5 notion since I first heard of the book. I have never really found a good way to implement it into my classroom...and honestly, with master's classes, stress and changing schools, I haven't really pushed myself to implement it. But my gal over at Juice Boxes & Crayolas wrote an awesome post about how she uses a modified Daily 5, called Daily 3, into her literacy block that includes the use of a basal reader. I am not a fan of basal readers, especially for ELL students, but I don't have much choice but to use it. Amy was kind enough to email me a copy of a weekly sample of her Daily 3 packet and I am in LOVE! I don't know how soon I will get access to my new reading series that we're implementing for fall 2011, but I am definitely going to work hard to ensure that I can use the Daily 5 concept with it because it makes SO much sense and will really give my kiddos the opportunity to dig into literacy, and hopefully enjoy it along the way!

e) Personal Training/Data Binders -- this year, since we've really pushed forward with the MAP tests, we implemented a Personal Training folder system. The students keep their reading goal sheets, their quick shots and their completed reading logs in these folders. This year we just used a manila folder. I have found, however, that it isn't very user friendly because we have to keep them in a crate and it makes it cumbersome sometimes to get things from the crate when we need to use them (and filing all of the stuff is a huge pain!). So I am thinking of combining the information we keep in the Personal Training folders with a Data binder concept. I ♥ the idea of really pushing the kiddos to be accountable. This teacher has a great set of forms for her students' data binders. When I went to my lexile training a couple of weeks ago, the presenter gave us a great set of forms to use for data binders also. I am really putting my brain in gear on this one...because these could very easily be used for student-led conferences so that the students have to show their parents what they have and have not done.



So many good things that I can change up to really, REALLY maximize the learning time in my classroom. But I promise that I am not going to spend my entire summer planning for next year. Ick!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Spring Fever

I dunno if it is Spring Fever or the rainy weather that has kept our kiddos inside for many days or what. Whatever it is, however, can go away! Fast!

Last year, it was normal for my hands to shake like a 90 year old woman's and to be breaking up fights multiple times a week (and sometimes multiple times a day). At New School, thankfully, that is not the norm. I haven't had a single fight in my class all year, which, except for the year I taught 2nd grade, has never happened. It's been pretty awesome actually.

Mrs. CT, however, has had many. Mostly between the same two boys. One talks crap, the other gets sick of it and retaliates. Then the first one, who is certifiably psycho, tries to act all big and tough when adults are around, even though the 2nd kid could wipe the floor with him. 

Yesterday the 4th and 5th grade classes, all six of them, went on a field trip to a local college for a writers festival. It was a bit disorganized at first and we were not impressed that they split all of the kids into different groups (clearly teachers did not organize this). But after that little snafu, everything went well and I think most of the kiddos enjoyed it. There was an improv at the end that was absolutely hilarious and that was a good way to end the trip.

We got back to school well after our normal lunch time. Usually when this happens the students get sack lunches and we eat in the classroom. It has always worked out well. The teachers eat in the hallway outside mine and Mrs. CT's class every day (its very sunny there). We are contractually allowed a 40 minute duty free lunch which means even if we are outside our normal lunch schedule for a trip, there SHOULD BE supervision for the students so we get our break. No one else was up there. We put in movies and sat in the hall anyway since we're right there.

About 15 minutes before lunch was due to end, we heard a scuffle in Mrs. CT's room. Two students were beating the living daylights out of each other. It was a huge mess. Psycho Child said the wrong things to Normal Child and NC went off. Started beating the living crap out of PC. None of us were going to step in the middle either. When Mrs. CT and Mr. 4th Grade yelled "HEY!", NC backed off. But since there was now an audience of adults, PC wanted to act tough and wouldn't stop rushing at NC. At one point, I had NC behind my back and Mr. 4th Grade was literally holding PC by the arms to keep him from charging at me and NC. In the end we had to lock NC into Miss New Teacher's Room because hers is the only one with the bump out that doesn't connect to another room (because PC came through MY room, trying to go after NC, hitting Mr. 4th Grade in the process and it was just a MESS!).

Then I heard this morning that PC's mom (who is also a nut, go figure!) was complaining at a dinner last night (that she was attending for free mind you) that it was 4 teachers on her son and he had bruises and whatnot from us. Please. He has bruises because NC kicked his ass for talking smack AGAIN.

Lord. My hands were shaking so hard after we got NC safely ensconced in Miss New Teacher's room. And she had no idea what the hell was going on and her poor class was just like "um, what?!"

It was much, much calmer at school today with PC suspended and FINALLY up for expulsion. Why does it take multiple, multiple severe incidents for a child to be removed?? If we didn't put up with this crap at elementary, they wouldn't wonder why it isn't tolerated at the middle and high schools (where they have 2-3 full-time security guards which is insane). 

I am VERY glad PC isn't in my class and even more glad that it is the weekend! I think I need it!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Unbelievable

You would think that Mr. Potty Mouth, whom I went extremely easy on in terms of discipline for his actions, would be kissing my feet right about now, thankful that I didn't seriously nail his behind to the wall and go full throttle with pressing charges and/or expulsion.

Alas, his behavior has been worse than ever these last few days. I am finding it very, very, VERY hard to find anything to like about this child at all. It is making me feel like I should have been much harsher on him. He told me that his mom didn't do anything but talk to him. Not surprising because parents who are involved don't usually have kids who are a) failing everything and b) doing the things this child does. 

Since mom speaks absolutely zero English, I have to always have someone else call her about things. So I emailed our home-school coordinator who, bless his heart, helped me translate this child's transgressions to his mom. I asked HSC to contact mom and remind her that as a stipulation of Mr. Potty Mouth's suspension, he is not coming on our field trip tomorrow. Her choice if she wants to keep him home or send him and I can leave him with work to do for the morning. I also asked him to let her know that Potty Mouth needs to return his summer school form and YES he needs to go. Then I threw in that his behavior has absolutely sucked the last few days.

Kids like him, who are 11 and just don't give a care in the world, frustrate me to no end. I can't stand it. I wouldn't have dared be so blase at their age. My parents would have kicked my behind big time. I know that is a lot of the issue -- parents today just are not like parents used to be. I am very strict in my classroom and also with my own kids. They don't get away with ANYTHING. It drives me crazy when parents are so passive and then wonder why their children are so messed up. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure it out!!

I have 3 boys in my class whom I will be absolutely AMAZED if they make it past 8th grade -- because in middle school, the crap that we put up with at elementary, won't be tolerated (not that it should be for us either!). These boys will be suspended all the time and/or in detention every single day. Their parents don't get it. And when the time comes, all I am going to do is shake my head and remind them that I tried to tell them. Since September, I have done everything I can to get these parents to understand I'm trying to help them to help their child. They just don't get it.

They just don't get it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

And next time....

I think it is that time of year where we're all cranky, exhausted and just ready to be done. Yet there is so much more learning to do and we can't give up. It's a tough balance at this time of year.

People keep asking me about my position for next year. I have not heard anything at all. I know that transfer notices are due out next week. I won't get a transfer notice because I had a successful bid into my position. I also know that I'm not going to be laid off so unless Mrs. Principal moves me to another grade or some other weird thing happens, I should be in 5th grade still next year. I feel confident that I will be. I think there is definitely a shortage of upper-grade teachers who blog and I want to continue to be one of them! It amazes me how many people in my school, who have been around way longer than I have, don't have a clue how things work with this and really they should! I refuse to worry about it.

Yet, I can't help but start to reflect on this year and what worked, what hasn't and how I can improve things for next year. One thing I know is going to change is that we're all going to be topped out around 30 students (ick!) so my 27 slot mailboxes aren't going to really do it. I really hate them this year -- it's such a pain trying to get all of the kids to get their mail without it being a huge ordeal. I'm thinking about using them for Friday/Monday folders instead and having my mail helper sort everything into them during the week and then they'll gather up all of the stuff and stuff the folders on whatever day of the week I decide (I've done both Friday and Monday and can't decide which I like better). In a perfect world, I'd have parent volunteers to help with that stuff but.....the world isn't perfect.

Also I am really thinking about how I am teaching some of my content areas and how I have set up my classroom schedule. We have so much stuff crammed into our day all the time and I want to really find a way to maximize the time we have.

It's hard NOT to think ahead when I have so many things I want to change. At the same time, however, I am ready to just not think about teaching for a bit. My brain is tired. I suppose that is a good thing but it's also frustrating when you feel like a hamster on a wheel that never stops.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Brain Fun

We're working on a study of the Human Body in science. This is the one unit that we don't have any real curriculum for so I'm having a lot of fun making up my own lessons and really doing some *gasp* fun activities with the students.

We don't get a lot of time for science (30 minutes a day 3 times a week) because social studies is our focus due to the standardized test they take in 6th grade. I make sure I do teach science though which is more than I can say for a lot of teachers in my district. You know how it is -- with pressure and testing, the non-test grades go bye-bye (although science and social studies are tested in our district in 5th and 6th respectively so I'm not sure how that argument works).

At any rate, today we did an activity to help the students think about how the brain works. I gave them each a set of markers and told them to pick 6 colors. They were then to write out color words using those 6 colors but they couldn't write them with that color. In other words, you didn't want to write "Green" using the green marker. I told the class it might be easier to lay their colors side by side and then write the word of the color that they would use next.

A sample list might look something like this (you can see I followed the suggestion from above):

After the students made their lists, I told them we were going to read the lists and then say the name of the color each word was written in. They looked at me like I was completely bonkers and proclaimed how easy this was going to be.

Guess who got the last laugh?? They all found it very easy to read the words but when they had to say the color it was written in, it was really quite challenging. They were amused when I had to pause a second or two to be able to make my brain say the right word. At the end of the activity, I said, in a super cheerful voice, "so was it as easy as you thought?!"

I don't think they quite saw my humor.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter!

I am immensely glad that I decided to take the full day off on Thursday. These last few days have been full of laughter and tears and I have been able to catch up on sleep and just being with my Hunny Bear.

Friday/Saturday were the memorial and burial for my grandma who passed away on Middle Child's birthday last fall. She was my last living grandparent and I feel that loss every day. I miss her. My aunt very graciously let me have Grandma's two Cabbage Patch dolls that she always had in her guest room, with their little clothes and one has a little tooth sticking out. I remember them from when I was a little girl and I wanted something concrete to pass on with Grandma's memory. Additionally, she gave me an 8x10 picture of Grandma, in per housecoat, swinging on a swing in the backyard at their house. It is a hilarious picture and Grandma has a great big smile on her face. That is how I want to remember her -- smiling and happy. 

Friday night The Husband and I went out with some friends and we had a great time. I definitely needed that because burying Grandma on Friday afternoon was harder than I thought it would be. Being able to let my hair down, so to speak, and just have some fun is something I know Grandma would have wanted me to do.


We had Easter dinner at our house and everyone was able to make it except my nephew (because his mom is not nice). We had fun. The girls had a great time seeing their little cousin and there was laughter and joy. That makes everything else about the weekend that was hard worth it.

And now I sit here working on some school stuff that I kept promising myself I would do...and didn't. I think that mentally, I just needed to be away from school. I love my job and all but sometimes, you really do just have to decompress. An hour or so tops and I should be able to push through this pile and be ready for tomorrow. I miss my students and am excited to get back in my classroom and really get the last couple of units of the year rolling. It's hard to believe that in just a few weeks, we'll be saying goodbye and locking up our classrooms for the summer. I don't know yet if I will still be in 5th but I think I will. I have a good feeling about it. I figure I will panic when they give me a reason to do so. Otherwise, I will assume that things will stay the same.


Hope all my blog friends had a great weekend and got some much deserved relaxation in!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Giggles

You know those weird little quizzes that pop up on FaceBook from time to time? Some of them are really ridiculous (and most are written by teenagers with the worst grammar I have ever seen!) but some are cute and I take them.

After feeling kind of sad and down the last few days, I took a quiz on FB yesterday and got this result:

Sunny got Little Miss Giggles.
Your cheeky and fun and love making people laugh. noone finds you dull and you keep things light and breezy. your a spark of mischief but thats what everyone loves about you!




If that isn't a good way to cheer someone up, I don't know what is.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Relief

As it turned out, today was only a consult appointment, not my surgery appointment. Whew! I was worried because I had not ever met this doctor or whatever. Once I found out it was going to take 20 minutes tops for the appointment, I decided I was still going to take the day off. With the weird start to the week, I think I needed/deserved it!

I told myself I would come home and do all of the work I avoided all week.

Um, yeah. It's still all sitting in my bag. Oops.


It'll all get done (eventually) but today I just couldn't get into it. I just couldn't. I needed some time just for doing nothing, I guess.


I am reading this book called You Mean I'm Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?! which is about Adult ADD. It talks about how it often manifests itself as procrastination (um, yep, I'm there) and workaholicism (yep, I was there) and how sometimes the hyperactivity actually presents itself as talking too much (yep, I'm there too). Interestingly enough it also says that sometimes instead of being hyperactive to the point of bouncing off walls like kids, that adult ADDers are often fidgeters and/or twirl their hair (uh...once again, I'm there -- notice a pattern??).

Makes me feel a bit better about it taking me 200 years to get going on my stuff. It'll get done and I'll do a great job on it once I get started...it's finding the motivation that's the problem. That has been true for me for years. All throughout college I wrote my best papers at the last minute (once even going so far as to write a paper the day it was due! I got an A on it).

I feel relief that I didn't have to worry about work today. My appointment was very quick and I was back home by 11. I haven't done a single productive thing but that's okay for now. I may be able to crank it out tonight while The Littles are doing homework. Then I can get through the stressful events of the weekend, hopefully in one piece.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Guilt

I hate it when I have to make hard decisions that then make me feel guilty...when really, I could have been much harsher. Why do I feel guilty when, in reality, I went easy on the offender??

Yesterday, I felt good that Mrs. Principal really backed me up on my suspension recommendation for Mr. Potty Mouth. In reflecting on it, I'm actually really lucky that mom believed me and didn't play the whole "My child would NEVER do that" card that so many of our parents pull.

After I got home last night and told my story to The Husband, and wrote here on the blog, I felt horrible. I questioned myself about whether or not I made the right decision. Was I too harsh or not harsh enough? Is this child going to grow up to be a delinquent or a good person? Am I going to be able to truly forgive this child for this and not harbor resentment over it (because as much as I say I don't care what they say about me...it is hurtful for anyone to talk about you in those vulgar terms, especially when it is a child you've done so much for).

The Husband, of course, tells me that I should not feel bad or guilty at all and that this child is lucky I am such a forgiving person because had it been up to him, the child would be spending some time in juvie. I completely get it. I know that The Husband is being protective. I also know that he never wants to see my suffer like I did a year ago.

I think this is the crux of what makes a good teacher: we agonize over our students, even when they treat us poorly, say nasty things about and to us and we work hard to continue to build a relationship with them. When it came down to it, even though I knew that it was well within my rights to demand a full 10 day suspension (and expulsion hearing later), I couldn't do that to a child who needs to be in school. This is a student that I have agonized over this year -- WHY doesn't this child care? WHY doesn't he do better? WHAT can I do to help him to be successful, to care, to be motivated?? Putting him out of school the rest of the year wasn't going to help him any, that is for sure.

Mrs. Principal praised me for how I handled all of it and said that she was really glad I was so level headed about it. I'm glad that on the outside I could make it look like this was just another day's work for me...but in reality, I have agonized over it. I can only hope and pray that this child learned a lesson from this or my worry will be in vain.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Confession

Sometimes making people feel guilty is the best way to get them to fess up about something.

Or at least making the friends they told feel guilty so they'll rat out the offender. That works too.

This morning, after pondering yesterday's nastiness all night, I had another little heart-to-heart with my class today. I mentioned how if they were my age, they could be prosecuted and go to jail for writing the things that they did on that site. How the evidence was building up against one particular person and that other children had the courage to come forward and tell me what they had heard (because of course this child bragged -- as I told the kids yesterday, people only do this stuff to get attention, they always tell someone).

My guilt trip must've really worked because 3 more kids wrote me notes that [Student] admitted that he did it and was bragging about it. So I had the child who narced yesterday bring them all down to Mrs. Principal. She sent him back and said she wanted to see him and the other boy at recess. She called me about 5 minutes before recess was to end and said she had just sent them both back upstairs but that [Student] finally admitted that it was him after the other child told what he knew. It makes me angry that if the other child hadn't done the right thing by telling what he knew, [Student] would have let everyone lose computer privileges for the foreseeable future.

Mrs. Principal and I agreed that since the child DID confess (even if it was through a guilt trip), we wouldn't push for an expulsion. She had to be out at a meeting this afternoon but I told her that I would get the mom in today because I have an appointment tomorrow after school and will be out Thursday. Thankfully we have many staff in our building who can translate Spanish for me and Mr. S who is our school coordinator called mom to set up a meeting with her for this afternoon. I briefly told him what we'd be discussing and he was like "oh boy, this could get ugly".

I absolutely made [Student] confess to his mom. I told him that I was not going to tell her what he said, he was. It took him a really long time to finally admit it all. His poor mother was mortified. She could hardly look at me or Mr. S. I felt kind of bad for her. [Student] was bawling like a baby. The mean part of me wanted to shout "YOU CARE NOW DON'T YOU?!" but I refrained.

I made it clear to mom that if I really wanted to, I could get this child for sexual harassment simply due to the nature of the language he used but that since I cared about her child, I would recommend suspension for the remainder of the week and taking away the field trip we are going on to meet an author next week. Mom said she thought that was MORE than fair of me given the nature of what he said.

I really did feel bad for her. What an awkward conversation! I never want to do that ever again. But thankfully Mrs. Principal totally backed me on that and said that I did a fine job handling all of it.

Now I just have to get through tomorrow and then I'm done with this short but crazy week!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Just Wow

There is no way to describe this Monday besides just saying "wow". Seriously.

Everything was normal this morning except that it snowed. The drive in was a bit weird because people forgot how to drive in snow already (morons). It only took me 10 minutes longer to get to school so that wasn't too bad. I got a bunch of stuff done and was all set for the day. The kids were inside for whatever reason so we all went down to get them from the gym.

As I was picking up the students, a bunch came running to me and telling me how I had to look at the lexile website. I asked why and they said because someone went in and deleted all of the book lists and wrote bad stuff. When the kids got settled into the morning routine, I put in attendance online and then checked the site. I was absolutely floored by what was there. Beyond inappropriate and vulgar. Insomuch as to say that Mrs. Sunny sucks Mr. Sunny's d*** and how [Student] is going to suck Mrs. Sunny's v***** and worse. I could not believe that anyone would abuse that site that way. I was instantly pissed.

I changed the password so that no one but me could access it and I confronted the whole class. I had a very good idea who did it but since it was done at home, there is no way I can prove anything. The kids don't really know that, however, and I told them that we would be tracking the IP address and we WOULD find out who did it and that I would also be turning this over to Mrs. Principal who would likely push for the expulsion of this student.

So that was the fabulous way I got to start my Monday. Then while I was at recess duty, I got a phone call that my back surgery is scheduled for THIS Thursday. Way to give me like ZERO notice people. Why do people not understand that I am a teacher and can't just take time off at-will?? Plus, it is the day before a holiday which can get very tricky. When I first told Mrs. Principal, she panicked and I said "oh, no no, this is outpatient!" and you could see her visible relief! [The surgery is to remove a cyst that I had removed in 2004 and has since come back. Nothing major but it's itchy and irritating. It's about 3 times the size it was originally so my doctor wants me to have a surgeon remove it.]

Unfortunately then I had to tell her about the above incident...and I had her log into the site. Her eyes nearly popped out of her head. I mean, it's that bad. She was as pissed as I was that anyone would take something innocent and make it so dirty. Especially because 21 other children now have to suffer and not be able to use the site because of 1-2 people. We can't really do much because we can't prove anything, although I certainly have my suspicions. She also told me after school that one of the boys I suspected went to her and narced on the other boy I suspect. Interesting. Plus, when I went back in to delete the information so I can reset it all for the students to use (without giving them access to the password of course), I took a closer look at the things that were said....and noticed a pattern. ONE student in my class ever calls me by the variation of my name that this person used so I think that may well point the finger at him. Mrs. Principal printed a copy of the lists before I deleted them so hopefully we can look at them together tomorrow and I can point out what I noticed.

As horrible as this might sound, it would give me great pleasure to see this child get expelled for being so vulgar and disgusting.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Teachery

I love it when I find things I forgot that I had.

Years ago, in my quest to become a teacher, I did a short internship in 1st grade. I hated it. HATED.IT. Not because of the kids. They were cute and funny and kids. I absolutely hated the school and the staff that I was assigned to work with. The CT didn't really want a student in her room (so why she accepted one is beyond me) and it was just not a pleasant experience. Although, looking back now, I don't regret that I went through it because it taught me what NOT to do. Big time.

At any rate, I worked with that teacher in the fall semester. So that summer, before the internship started, I knew I had to get myself a teachery bag. Because you have to have one if you teach little kids, right?? I honestly forgot that I had this bag. I was looking for something upstairs amidst the chaos that is our renovation and there it was.
Sorry the picture quality stinks.

It totally looks like the bag of a 1st grade teacher, doesn't it?? Alas, I don't teach 1st grade and I never plan to in the future...but I needed something to haul all of my crap back to school and thus, out comes the bag. I have a blue one with apples and worms on it too, bought at the same time as this one. I got them on ebay by someone who had makes them. They are pretty darn sturdy and made of cloth. I love them.

I can't believe its been YEARS since I've used these bags...and had even forgot I owned them. For shame.

Assessments, Testing and Assessments, oh my!

Since I promised myself I would do my school work yesterday and didn't touch it (oops!), I am currently working on it because it has to be done. 

We decided as a grade level team to nix our anthology for the next couple of weeks and bust out our solar system research unit in writing (since they have to do TONS of reading in the unit, we figured it's double dipping). As I was writing out lesson plans for this week and previewing next and shaking my head at all of the extra stuff that isn't academic that we are doing in the next two weeks, it occurred to me that I should look at the district assessment calendar so that I would not schedule anything that can't be moved.

May is going to be one CRAZY month. Holy cow. May 2 starts the final MAP testing window of the year. The fifth grade team has typically gone first to get it out of the way. I also have our feedback appointment for Middle Child's neuropsych testing that week. The second week of May still includes the MAP testing but adds in the fun of the last DIBELs benchmark test. The third week of May starts our final district writing test of the year. Oy!

On top of that we have to start planning and preparing for the 5th grade promotion and all of that fun end-of-year stuff. My head is spinning thinking about it all. As I was checking the calendar, I realize there are only 38 school days left this year, which is CRAZY. 8 weeks. Seems so far away and at the same time impossible that that is all the time left to cram learning into the 23 little brains in my room each day.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Super Saturday

How come the first week back after a break always seems like it takes 8 years to go by? My kids were total rock stars all week until yesterday. And yesterday was a loooooong day. Whew! I'm so glad it is the weekend and I get a bit of time to decompress.

The kids weren't bad, they were just crazy with Spring Fever, I think. They messed around in PE which they never do and they had some trouble in library too. Again, nothing super horrible but definitely not like they usually are either.

The Husband volunteered to work today since we have to pay for Middle Child's neuropsych evaluations and The Oldest has to have some dental work done that won't be fully covered by insurance so he figured any extra cash flow would be helpful. I didn't protest simply because it meant I would have 2-3 hours of time today to finish up school-related things and then I can take the rest of the weekend to relax. I have yet to start that 2-3 hours of school-related things but I plan to work from about 2-4:30 or 5 and call it good. I need to have some downtime on the weekends or I lose my mind.

The Husband is also going to work on Good Friday, which he usually takes off. That means he'll get his holiday pay and overtime pay. So he'll be making double and a half time for 8 hours. That time in and of itself will likely pay for The Oldest's dental work. So it's worth it. (And let me point out the man only has an AS and makes almost double my hourly and I have an MA!)


So I will sit at my favorite spot at the table and work on school stuff. For sure, this will happen a few times:
Mom, pay attention to meeeeee.

This is Morgan. He will come up to me when I am at the table and rub his nose (and sometimes it's contents...ewww) on my sleeve, trying to get me to pay some attention to him, or to give me the look like above that says "um, if you don't want a mess to clean up, you better take me outside...NOW!" 

I have Good Friday off and we're having a memorial service for my grandma on Saturday. So next weekend will be a bit subdued but The Husband and I are going out Friday night with some friends which will be nice. I plan to stay at work late on Thursday to ensure everything is done and ready for the next week and then not do anything school-related at all over the Easter weekend.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Fun at School

Sometimes I honestly can't believe I get paid to have fun all day long. It's pretty awesome.

We have a cross-curricular unit going on with a new writing unit we are starting on the Solar System. We studied it a bit in science and now we're doing a reading/writing unit on it. That gave me time to start a new science unit on Human Body. We don't have an actual unit or kit on Human Body so I'm improvising...and I love it because I can teach it however I want with whatever materials.

I found an easy reader from readinga-z.com for it that is really supposed to be for 2nd/3rd grade but it gives a nice introduction so I made a copy for each kiddo and we're using that as a starting point. Today we did an overview of the body systems that we will be studying and then talked a bit more about a few systems including the skeletal system.

There is a skeleton picture in the book and I told them we were going to call it Gertrude. [Side note: I explained that every skeleton is Gertrude to me because my mom's year book has a skeleton from the science lab and they named it 'Gertrude' and I thought it was hilarious.] We looked at all of the bones and the kids didn't believe that there are actually 206 bones in the body.


We talked briefly about how the ribs protect our lungs an heart and then talked about where the other organs are. The kids were kind of fascinated by the way the hip bones look and said it was weird to "see through" to the end of the spine to the tailbone. So we talked about how  we have our colon and intestines in that area and everything. 

At one point, as we were talking about this, I said that there isn't anything in there because many of our organs are in that space and bones would be in the way so all that is there are the organs. Then I patted my ample belly and said "and sometimes a little bit of extra flesh". The kids burst out in a huge fit of giggles. It was hilarious. Then, keeping an entirely straight face, I paused for a few seconds and said "are ya'll trying to tell me I'm fat?!" and another round of giggles ensued. 

This was all in the first 30 minutes of the day! My gosh it was hard to keep a straight face and pretend that I was upset that I thought they thought I was fat. It was so funny and made me realize why, even with the stupid political crap that surrounds teaching, I could never be happy doing anything else.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Computer Maven

When I got to work this morning, I had a fabulous note from my sub (whom I have been requesting for all of my sub jobs because he pretty much rocks) saying that the kiddos did awesome and had NO issues! wOOt!

Plus there was a spare PC on the back table! This afternoon Mrs. RTI said she had like 4 people ask her why *I* got another one already and they haven't. I laughed and said "well did you tell them it is because you like me the best?!"

I had a parent meeting after school and the mom praised me up and down. It was nice. In our area, we are often put down and looked at negatively so it's great when parents really see and appreciate our hard work! I told her that I really don't know if I will get moved from our school this year with the budget cuts but that my hope is to stay there and be kind of a "go-between" for the students from Middle School and our school. She thought that was awesome and said I was great to do that for the students. I just cross my fingers and pray every night that it can be reality.


Last night I submitted a Donor's Choose project for 3 iPad tablets for my classroom. It would be FANTASTIC if it was fully funded this year still. With the 3 PCs I now have and those 3 tablets, we could rock the technology in my classroom and really get these kiddos ready for a technological world!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Overloaded Brains

My brain is overloaded with information! I secretly hope this is how my students feel when they leave my classroom every day! 

Today I went to our ISD for a full-day training about lexile measures. Sounds boring, right? Actually, I was really excited about it. My entire library is already lexiled, but I wanted to be able to learn more about the resources to lexile articles from the internet that I share with students or finding ways to really differentiate topics by providing my students with book lists that they can be successful with.

We also got to enjoy an awesome 75 minute lunch! That NEVER happens when we're at school. Mrs. CT did give me a compliment today. I have been more or less avoiding her recently because I am hurt and upset by the crap she's said behind closed doors (for the record, I am positive that she has no idea that I know about most of it). Anyway, one of our reading teachers was there too and we were talking about the coaching positions because they have been told that those positions will all be eliminated and they've also been told that they won't be. At any rate, I was telling Mrs. Reading Coach that I had thought about applying for a coaching position I saw in another district but have hesitated because I just don't know if I'm willing to not have my own classroom yet. Mrs. CT said she thought I would be GREAT at a job like that because it's doing demo lessons and working closely with teachers but also doing groups with students. I was kind of surprised she gave me that compliment since she's been such a back stabber to me recently.

In my heart, I know I would ROCK at that sort of position. I really did like being a demo teacher last year (didn't like all of the meetings and crap but I had a blast doing the lessons and helping colleagues perfect their craft). Working with small groups and helping kids be super successful would be awesome too. But again, I don't think I would be really happy not having my own class full-time at this point. Some day I'm sure I'll try to do some consulting or something...but for now, I want to stay in the classroom full-time.


So much to digest from my day today. We got a lot of great resources and I am excited to use some of them with my kiddos. They get excited when I go to PD because I always share my learning with them. I think it helps them to realize that I'm not gone just to waste time or goof around but that I'm still learning too. It's that whole community thing that we've got going on. I love it.

Monday, April 11, 2011

We're baaaaaack!

Can I just mention that I was super proud of my students this morning when they climbed 3 flights of stairs, went to lockers and stood in the hallway in a line waiting to be sent into the classroom without doing more than whispering?? 

My class BY FAR outshines every other class on our floor with their respect for the school rules. I praised them like crazy for that during our review of school rules and procedures this morning. It's just unreal how much the other teachers let their students get away with. My class has even started kind of turning up their nose at the other kids for their ick behavior. 


Today was actually pretty decent despite all of the stuff I needed to do today. I didn't get to my grading or anything but that's okay. I will get to it eventually. Mrs. RTI told me that we got our new computers installed in the lab so the old computers are going to be split among staff. I want at least 1 more if at all possible. She told me that I would probably have to put it by the tech stand....and I laughed and said I had been thinking of moving my desk area anyway. So after school today I did move it around (AGAIN!) and I am really pleased with it at this point. I am thinking I will keep my desk area like this next year because it opens up a lot of space for another desk group if need be. We're all scared to death that we're going to have 32-35 kids per class if the governor's budget goes through. I am determined not to spend a freaking DIME of my own money on crap that the school should be supplying if I'm going to have that many students. I'm also trying to think of where in the world I could PUT 35 students. Oh well, I'll fret about that when the time comes I suppose.


Tomorrow I am off work to go to a training. Yes, some idiot scheduled it for the second day after a break (clearly not someone who is in a classroom!). The whole 5th grade team will be gone so that should make things interesting. Thankfully my sub is awesome so no worries there for me. 


Debating whether I want to go to school tomorrow AM before the training and get some work done or just forget it and enjoy the 8:30-3:30 day with no paperwork to do when I'm done!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Reality Check

Well this is it. Tomorrow we all return to reality. Getting up early, getting everyone around for work/school and rushing out the door. Now that break has come to an end, my mind turns to all of the stuff I left at work that I need to get accomplished tomorrow.

Like the big ole stack of Colonial Advertisements the students finished up before we went on break and their Response to Literature writings. Plus, I am having a sub on Tuesday. Wrote those plans and everything before we went out on break....but then I realized after coming home on the 31st that I had not written in that the children have music at the end of the day and I put the wrong math lesson in. Oops. So I have to fix that tomorrow too.

It'll all be fine and I'll survive the day (and so will the kids). It's just hard to get back into the routine even after just a short break. Fortunately we have some fun things happening in April and we get Good Friday off so that will be another long weekend.

The real consolation has been that today it has been gorgeous and about 83 degrees! Tomorrow is supposed to be rainy and only about 55. Gross!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Spring Break...what Spring Break?!

As it is Friday and the last official day of my Spring Break, I have to ask myself what kind of break this has really been.

I've run from appointment to appointment to appointment and frankly, I am exhausted. Not much of a break! Although, as I've said before, not having to take lots of days off to do all this stuff has been nice too. 

Fortunately, some good things happened too:
  • Middle Child got her psych-eval testing done and everyone in the office LOVED her. I know I am going to get major validation when the results of that testing comes in. It's going to be great to be able to walk into her school and basically yell "BOO-YAH! I WAS RIGHT ALL THESE YEARS!"

  • Graduated myself from therapy yesterday. I've been doing really well and we've been spreading the appointments out farther and farther so I said I thought I was ready to go on my own. She agreed. The good news is that I know if I ever need her, she'll be there, even if it's 5 years from now.

  • I got my wedding band and anniversary bands soldered together so the OCD part of me no longer has to get irritated when the wedding set shifts to the side and the anniversary band stays put. It's the small things in life....

  • Despite being worried about my blood test results and my cholesterol level, my cholesterol is AMAZING. It's my Vitamin D that is low. Weird! So I have to take a supplement but not a biggie. Doc also gave me a new 'script to help with my Restless Legs. I'm sure The Husband will appreciate that when my legs aren't dancing all over the bed while he's trying to sleep.

I really want about 5 more days to actually feel like I've RELAXED and rested. Oh well. At least I didn't have to do any school work this week since I got that all done before we went on break. I'm thinking tomorrow and Sunday are going to be all about the relaxation since it's my last hope for a bit.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Virtual Shopping Spree

What's a gal who has been running from appointment to appointment to do when it's time to relax? 

Go virtual shopping of course. I am taking it as fate that I got a new Really Good Stuff catalog in the mail. If the world was perfect, I would have a shopping budget paid for by my district but reality is harsh sometimes and all of this stuff that I covet will only be mine if I fork over some cash. 

A gal can certainly dream, no?  Come with me on my virtual shopping spree!

We'll start with these fun posters. This year I took for granted that my kiddos would know and use these reading strategies. Big mistake. It amazes me how many of them have never even heard of these! If I had these in my classroom, I would put up exemplars next to them so the children could remember what each kind of connection is.

Next up, we have the QAR Strategies posters. I am a HUGE fan of teaching these question types to students.  My first year back teaching big kids, I taught these strategies to my 4th graders. I really pushed them to code every single question on the reading tests and things we had to do...and I was stoked when I was proctoring our MEAP standardized test and saw children USING that strategy. I had a child pass that test for the first time that year and I have zero doubt it was because he learned how to code the questions to help him find the information he needed.

Who doesn't love timers?? The big deal with this one is that it is magnetic and is 7.5 inches tall so kiddos can see it if you attach it to the board. Definitely want something visual to help the kiddos keep track of their own worktime so I don't have to.

I love this organizer. Firstly because it would force the kids to be NEAT about turning in their work instead of just throwing it into the basket in any sort of haphazard mess. I can already visualize the spot in my classroom where I would stick this...

Can almost guarantee that this one will find it's way into my classroom. I have been searching for a good book rack so the children can do "Book Recommendations". I have not found a book rack that is the right size until this one (usually they are way too big or they are made for toddlers). I like the sturdiness of this and can already picture it on the window ledge in my room....

This organizer is just cool. It is BIG though. I could definitely see myself using this to organize my week. Sadly, it announces it as a "new" item in my catalog but when I looked it up on the site, it says it is discontinued. Sad.

Definitely want this set too. I will be using them to help children see what order they need to complete tasks in for certain things. Since I am certain to have a much bigger class next year, regardless of whether or not I get to stay at Current School, I know that the format of my schedule is going to be KEY to keeping things in line.


Finally, this one is definitely going to find it's way into my classroom too. Since I am thinking ahead to organization and how I want to set up my classroom next year, I am definitely thinking that this one will be a great addition to my desk. There is such a limited space there as it is that I think this would help me keep things together for the week as well as have my lesson plan binder handy. I love the three cups on the side for keeping pens, scissors and other office supply things handy.


And there you have it. Mrs. Sunny smells a REAL shopping spree in her future.....much to the chagrin of The Husband, I'm sure.





Quiet

I've been a bit quiet this week, but that's to be expected with Spring Break, I think. I feel like I haven't had much of a break though. We've been running around to appointment after appointment this week and it is exhausting. And I have 5 more to go! The only upside is that I don't have to miss school and write sub plans for all of these appointments.

Despite the running around, I have had some time to relax and read, which has been nice. One of my students shared a book with me that I promised to read over this week. I haven't started it yet but it's not real long so I don't think it'll take too long for me to get through it. I was just floored that she wanted to pass this book on to me since usually it is me who is pushing kids to read this or that book. It's kind of cool to have that sort of rapport with the kiddos.


Got a call yesterday about the blood test I had taken on Saturday. They never want you to come in if it's good news so I'm a bit nervous about it. I am positive I have horrid cholesterol levels. So that's something to look forward to this Friday. I figure if I'm going to go to the doctor to get in trouble for how I eat, I'm going to ask for some help with managing my weight because clearly I am unsuccessful at managing it myself (and I know my cholesterol is going to be whacked because of the convenience eating I often do). It's sure to be a drawn-out appointment.

Looking forward to the sunshine and 68 degree weather we're supposed to get on Saturday! It's been kind of rainy and icky this week. But it's not snow so I am not going to complain too much. I wish I had another week off of work because relaxing has been nice.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Book Review: Readicide


Book -- Readicide: How Schools are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It
Author -- Kelly Gallagher

I picked up this book at a local bookstore about two months ago. I was browsing for something else and the title caught my eye. After reading the blurb on the back, I knew I had to buy this book. It was worth every penny.

Kelly Gallagher is a high school teacher in California. He begins his book by providing a definition of the term readicide: the systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools (4). In the introduction, he also asserts that schools value the development of test-takers more than they value the development of readers and that schools are limiting authentic reading experiences (5). 

Some things that Gallagher points out that seriously provide food for thought are that
  1. the emphasis we place on multiple choice tests prep makes sure that our struggling students continue to be struggling students
  2. by focusing on test prep, we sacrifice deep, rich teaching and thus reduce student motivation
  3. schools across the country are actually taking books away from kids (removing novels from the curriculum) to focus more on test prep
I have to admit I was hooked in Chapter 1 when Gallagher points out what he refers to as the "Paige Paradox" (referring to Rod Paige, aka the "genius" behind No Child Left Behind). Interestingly enough, the research that was done in Texas that led us to the NCLB legislation is largely based on data that was skewed and "fixed" to make Texas look like it's students were achieving. Many struggling students dropped out and their scores were not counted in determining the achievement rate; additionally, many at-risk students were retained in 9th grade for multiple years and then skipped to 11th grade thereby completely bypassing the 10th grade "testing year" and thus making their test scores look really, really good because these struggling students were never tested, thus their scores could not make the schools look "bad". 

My favorite line was when Gallagher points out as part of the "Paige Paradox", a 10 point outline of how to "help" schools and students who don't achieve. Number 9 is really puts perspective on the whole nonsense of NCLB and the emphasis on testing:
Low-performing schools are threatened to increase the focus on the tests, thus forcing reluctant students into an even more shallow, mind-numbing curriculum. Because the approach did not work the first time, the approach the second time is to take the ineffective approach and intensify it.

Gallagher hits it "spot-on" with that analysis. In my short teaching career, I have seen this happen many times. We take the same practices that were ineffective and drill and kill them even more, hoping they'll miraculously work the second time around.


Throughout the rest of the book, Gallagher advocates for providing a 50/50 approach to reading instruction. He states that 50% of the time students spend reading should be on pleasure reading, focusing on teaching students to discover "reading flow", that time where we get lost in reading because the book/story is so good. The other 50% of the time should be academic reading, in which teachers aren't overteaching with a million sticky notes, 200-page teaching guides for novels and stopping children every ten minutes to analyze their processing. Instead, teachers need to learn to frame the text, provide purpose for reading and let students try reading big chunks on their own. Then teachers should do what he calls a close reading which is an excerpt from the assigned reading that is then examined together in class -- this might be one or two pages where students can really hone in on the purpose that the teacher provided during the initial framing. 

This makes so much more sense to me than trying to teach a million strategies for reading that confuse students, make them hate reading and provide little comprehension in the long run.

Gallagher also provides a reading list of books that his most reluctant readers can't wait to dig into (geared mostly for middle/high school readers). In the appendices, there are also "One Pagers" which is a way to provide structure and purpose for independent reading without overwhelming the students and making reading too much of a chore.

Overall, I would give this book a 5 out of 5 stars. I came away from it with some ideas for what I can change in how I approach reading instruction with my 5th graders and I'm sure any upper elementary or middle school teacher who reads this book would find some insight in it as well.


Friday, April 1, 2011

Ahhhh Break!

My first day of Spring Break has been great so far. The Oldest had off yesterday and today and I got today but The Littles, who go to another school outside of our home district, had school today. I got up and helped The Husband get the little girls around for school, packed snacks, combed hair, distributed cough medicine and sent them all on their merry way.

Then I went back into my super comfy bed! It was pretty wonderful.

I must have been way more tired than I thought because I slept very late. Later than I have in a really long time, even on the weekends. The Oldest was already downstairs having a snack before I got back up (and it was a wicked weird dream about a black spider that woke me up -- I still get the heeby jeebies when I think about it!).

We decided to go for a walk into our downtown area which is pretty small. We have a couple of really good restaurants in town and thought we could have a nice mom-daughter brunch. It is gorgeous outside, not real warm yet, but sunny and about 45 degrees. Better than snow and 20 degrees any day! The walk was great and we had a really nice lunch, just the two of us. It occurred to me this morning that she will be turning 16 in exactly two months. I can't believe it. The time goes SO fast and my baby isn't really a baby anymore! So it was actually quite nice to sit and chat with her and have her talk about her friends and her boyfriend and just spend some time together.

Afterward we had to pick up a paintbrush for The Husband and then we walked home. I needed to pick up The Littles from school early today because Middle Child had a doctor appointment. Things are looking very good there from a medical standpoint with some of the things we've been dealing with so overall it was a really good day. The doctor did ask me to get my cholesterol and Vitamin D levels checked and you have to fast for 12 hours so I have to go do that tomorrow morning. Gross. I am not a fan of needles but it is a necessity.



Despite being on break and doing no actual schoolwork, my mind keeps turning to the future. The more time goes on, the more I feel certain that I am NOT going to get bumped or moved from my position. I can't say why I feel that way, it's just a feeling I have (and usually when I have this kind of feeling, I am not wrong about them). I think that a positive attitude really helps. I have learned that I can't control anyone but myself so as long as I set my sights to do what I know is right, that's all I can be asked to do.

I know that I will have a much bigger class next year since right now I only have 23 and the 4th grades are all at 27. Plus depending on how the budget stuff goes, we could easily be looking at 30-33 as "normal". That worries me just a bit but I can't do anything about it so I won't fret. I am, however, going to be thinking about the space I have in my room and how I can best utilize it to accommodate more children and still keep things functional and usable without things looking too cluttered. 

I am really looking forward to this time off mostly so I can just be a mom and play with my kids and take them to the movies, read books, stay up late and giggle and play and just be ourselves without homework pressure or anything else. Soon enough reality will strike us again and we'll be back to school and in the midst of the last 9 weeks of crunch time before school ends. Amazing how fast this year has gone but it's been a good one and I am determined to enjoy my downtime!