Friday, January 25, 2013


My student teacher is getting ready to take over 4th grade math in our class. It is on fractions. My 5th graders just finished a fractions unit and they have no concept of what is going on. I'm not sure what it is but collectively this group of 5th graders are so low in math. It's discouraging. So my student teacher and I decided that she would teach the 4th grade fractions unit to the whole class. First of all this will give her a chance to really lead the whole class in a bigger content subject area but also I'm hoping that it will solidify the concept of fractions for my 5th graders. They have a second unit on fractions later in the year and that's why we decided to go ahead and double up on it.

She's really digging into her learning from the math class she took last year and I'm excited to see how she ends up tweaking the unit from the book to make it work. 

It's a bit hard to sit and watch her teach because I'm SO used to doing everything myself...but I refrain from jumping in because I want her to be able to learn how to handle situations without me. I couldn't have asked for a better first-time experience as a cooperating teacher. :)


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Life Outside of Teaching

It's a cold one out there. Whew! I kind of hate indoor recess unless I have recess duty--then I love it because I don't have to go outside and freeze. Although...I haven't had recess duty in the past two weeks and won't have it next week either so I can't really complain.

I've been busy busy busy. I have back logged on paperwork (as usual) but am keeping up as best as possible. My student teacher is taking over more and more responsibilities and that is taking some things off my plate (of course, no matter what I'm responsible for what happens in that classroom so there is a lot of stuff I'm still doing even if I'm not directly teaching). 

I decided in December that it was time for a big life change for me. I have battled my weight for years and I'm done with it. I want to be free from it all. So I bit the bullet and signed up for a Medical Weight Loss program. It's intense. Mandatory clinic and meetings every single week (and if you don't go, they kick you out since it's unsafe for you to be on this sort of program without medical supervision). I had my initial clinic meeting last week and met the dietician Monday morning (traveled through a semi-blizzard to get there!) and met my support group last night.

Funny that they told me one of the biggest side effects for the first few weeks, as your body adjusts, is fatigue. I was in bed so early Tuesday night and probably could crawl in bed and sleep all night right  now (it's 8:19 for the record).

Anyway, that has been consuming me for the last couple of weeks. That and mentoring and getting ready to hand my babies over to my student teacher. She really is awesome and I'm looking forward to really watching her blossom over the next few weeks as she is in full control (except for 4th grade reading since it isn't really fair to ask her to teach two grades like I try to do). Plus it means all of the grading I'm always back logged on will be her maybe, just maybe I can actually do some writing. What a concept! (Of course my first writing probably should be finishing my National Board portfolio! haha)


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Schedule? What Schedule?

Hello out there! 

I feel like my lil ole blog has been highly neglected as of late. Sorry. It isn't intentional. I never really realized how much work goes with having a student teacher. Don't get me wrong--I LOVE mine. But it's January and my procedures and routines are in place. I know them, the kids know them. She doesn't. So that means that I have spent a lot of time these past two weeks showing her the ropes. This doesn't really bother me and I LOVE the mentor role. I really do.

What it does mean, however, is that I end up with a lot of undone paperwork that gets dragged home and back. Ugh! I feel SO disorganized these past two weeks which is totally not like me at all. My piles are getting bigger and it is beyond annoying because I am usually crazy about keeping up on filing, grading and planning. I have piles upon PILES of stuff to file and it's just absurd.

In my district we aren't allowed to just go into our buildings whenever we want. We have Monday off for MLK but can't access our classrooms. I'm not exactly sure why that is the case but I really wish we COULD be in our building. I could get so much done if my kids were at school and I could go in without a bunch of distractions. Not much I can do about it though.

I sent my student teacher home with some grading to do as she is slowly taking over some areas and I wanted to show her how we do the grading on the Fresh Reads and Weekly Tests (mostly the written part) so she took those home for the 5th grade and I took home the rest. Next week she is taking over 4th grade math so that will be a bit more off my plate that she will be responsible for. I'm determined to get through as much of the stuff I brought home tonight as I can (preferably all of it) so that I can go in tomorrow and actually be ready for next week before I leave tomorrow afternoon.

We have a weird week coming up: no school on MLK, full days on Tuesday/Wednesday and half days on Thursday/Friday. Then there is no school the following Monday either for PD. I don't know why they didn't just do a full day off on Friday for records and then the PD on Monday. Probably because of exams for the middle/high school. Next Friday will be a joke for me....30 minutes with the kids, then library, then 10 minutes in our room, then gym, recess, (a very early) lunch and they then go home! I'm not sure why I should have to even show up *wink*

My schedule has been so off these past two weeks also with meetings, assemblies and other weird stuff happening. Then you have the crazy of next week and it won't get better until we're back to normal on the 29th. That won't really be normal either though because we have MAP testing and that will throw us out of whack too.

Good thing I know how to be flexible....but I long for my normal routine again and not feeling like I don't know what I'm doing!


Sunday, January 13, 2013

What I Love and Don't

I'm sitting here tonight (at 8:30 p.m. on Sunday--yes that faint crying you hear is me), writing sub plans for tomorrow morning. I will be at school but I'm not going to be in charge of my room. Why would I do this to myself? Because I went to my weight loss seminar yesterday and rather than wait until January 28 (!!) to get in to see the doctor so I can start my program, I decided to bite the bullet and go tomorrow at 10:15 which was the earliest I could get in.

I don't want to wait anymore. I've waited my whole life to feel the way I feel right now, as myself, today. To feel ready, motivated and most importantly, willing to face this battle and kick it in the behind. I'm super grateful that my student teacher will be there and my sub is a fabulous older gentleman who always takes my sub jobs if he finds them available, even for half days. I just love him! He used to sub for me at Former School and always tells me that my students are amazing and well behaved (like they'd mess with him anyway--he used to be a parole officer so he is one tough cookie! *wink*).  I love having him in my room. It will be even better with my student teacher there to help.

It's kind of ridiculous that I needed to get a sub for the whole morning when I'll be gone for only about an hour or so but that's how it is. I figured it was okay because I'm going to take advantage of it and get some filing, purging and cleaning done in my back room that I never have time to do! They can run the show and I can just do my thing. It will be great.

It got me thinking about what I love and don't love about teaching.

I definitely DON'T love writing sub plans. Ick! It's just boring.

I DO love getting good notes from my subs telling me how well behaved my class was while I was gone though. I attribute a lot of this to my insane need to write a novel of lesson plans so there is no question of exactly what the kids are (and aren't!) allowed to do.

I DON'T love having to travel across town mid-day. It'll be worth it but I am  not a fan of driving in the winer and lucky me it is supposed to be snowy and gross tomorrow. Great!

I DO love the flexibility of my current building to let me take care of myself during the day if need be. I have never, ever had my principal say anything at all to me about taking time off to deal with my own or my girls' health concerns and I appreciate that so much (it wasn't true at my old school).

I DON'T love being away from my class on short notice...I have so many things that I want to do with them and I want to be there to do them! :)

I DO love knowing that I have trained them well and they know if they get a good sub note hat they get marbles in the jar for a class reward which they think is really awesome. Seriously those kids will do just about anything for an ice cream treat.

I DON'T love that I have to come back after my appointment and have a meeting after school. Blah. Meetings on Mondays are the worst...although I guess it is better than them being on Fridays!

I DO love that my administrator is all about not wasting our time with the meetings--she gets us in and out and that's that. It's wonderful. Often we meet just long enough to say we did and then we have time to work in our grade levels with whatever the task is (this year we're focused on higher order questioning).


Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Learning Process

I am so incredibly excited about this semester. My student teacher is going to be amazing once she gets past her shyness, I just know it. Some of my students tried to take advantage of her on Thursday and do things that they know I wouldn't ever allow them to do while I was teaching. I wasn't mad at my student teacher at all. No way. I did mention what I had noticed and she was great about admitting that she honestly didn't know what to do when they were doing some of those things. I loved that she was honest about it because that's how you open up that conversation and make it into a learning opportunity.

We have been using a reflection journal and so far it is really a great thing. I think that she will be amazed when she goes back to reread it when she's finished and realize how far she has come over the course of the semester. One of the biggest challenges for her right now is toughness. Not everyone is suited for teaching in the inner city like I do. It isn't because my students are little gangsters or anything, they are just different than children who live in the suburbs. Some folks just can't hack working with the clientele that we serve. I think that J, my student teacher, however will be just fine once she gets over her insecurity. This isn't a criticism of her, it's something most student teachers deal with. You walk into someone else's classroom, in January, when the procedures and policies are already in place and you have to make the kids understand YOU are in charge also. It's not easy.

It has made me reflect upon my own journey. I actually student taught twice because my first cooperating teacher was horrible and I refused to finish a semester in her class and let someone like that ultimately be the person who would write my first letter of recommendation. So I made the decision to drop out four weeks before graduation and reapply and repeat the semester. I wasn't happy about it at the time but I am so glad I did it. Mrs. Cooperating Teacher, whom I taught with two years ago as colleagues, was absolutely amazing as a mentor. She helped me so much and really pushed me to find my own way as a teacher. That is something I want to give to J. Neither of my student teaching experiences were "perfect" (I doubt such a situation exists) but the latter one pushed me as a professional and allowed me to develop my own management style and technique. This is something I am adamant about helping J do as well. What I do works for me, it doesn't mean it will work for her because she isn't me. I understand that and appreciate that.

In addition to beginning my mentoring journey, I had an amazing visit with an AmeriCorps Vista on Thursday. She is working with me and my class on service learning this year. We actually sat and chatted for about two hours! I'm so excited about what we're going to be working on this semester. It will be even better because we have Black History month coming up as well. We are even thinking about making some of our own podcasts to supplement our WalkKits for different research topics the students will be working on. I can't wait!


Wednesday, January 9, 2013


I always wanted to be a cooperating teacher. I've never had the chance before now. I absolutely LOVE it so far!

Last year we had some student teacher's that I honestly wondered how they got that far. That sounds so mean but holy cow....they were so clueless. Maybe it was that they came from a really upper class district to our urban, low-income one but it was scary to think those people would eventually be in charge of children.

This year's group seems really great so far though. There are several of them. Both 5th grades and my split have one, there is one in 2nd and one in 3rd and might be a stray one somewhere that I missed. It's awesome to have so many extra helpers.

My student teacher is fabulous. She really is. She jumped right in on Monday roaming around the room and getting to know the kids. She had PD yesterday at her school so she was gone. She emailed me and said it was so boring she wished she'd been at school! :)

They overwhelm them with due dates and such that first week too. Today she saw the "real kids"....a few conflicts arose and she helped the kids to solve them. She will do a great job, I'm sure of it!

I already told her she can't leave in April, I'm not letting her! I know what it was like when I was a student teacher and how hard it can be but I also want her to feel comfortable trying new things so she's comfortable in a class of her own some day.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The End and The Beginning

Well, here we are. The end of break. Part of me is going to be glad to get back into a routine (although I've had a routine these past two weeks...sit on my bum and relax!) but I also have absolutely loved the time off. 

Before break, I had big plans for the break. I was going to get things done; I was going to create some teaching materials I've had floating in my head for the past few months; I was going to finish my NaNo novel so I can start editing; I was going to clean and purge the bookshelves in my bedroom.

I didn't do any of it. I have put off my school cart so many times too. I've done a little of it here and there this week but it isn't done and we go back tomorrow. That means I have to kick it in gear tonight (never mind that it is 7 p.m. right now!).

It has, by far, been the best break I've had in a couple of years (not counting summers),  probably due to the fact that we had such a long break after the holidays had ended.

In the interest of being positive and looking on the bright side, tomorrow is also a beginning. It's the beginning of my first stint truly mentoring someone in an official capacity (I've unofficially done it so many times). It feels different because this person will be in  my room with me, watching and learning from me. It's kind of surreal but I am really excited about it and I know she is as well.

Here's to the second half of the year and making it the best it can be!


Saturday, January 5, 2013

A Tablet for the Teacher Sweepstakes

How super cool is this?? Teacher's Notebook is having a "Tablet For the Teacher" sweepstakes. You can enter DAILY to win an iPad mini, Kindle Fire HD OR a Nook HD! How freaking awesome is that??

The best part is, if the winner goes through a blog/website link, the blog/website owner wins their choice of tablet as well. That is awesome!


Friday, January 4, 2013

Rigor vs. Cookie Cutter Teaching

This morning, as I lazily scanned through my blog feed whilst sitting in my pjs, sipping flavored water and enjoying my last lazy morning of vacation, I came across this post (Ralphie's Math vs. the Common Core)  by Angela over at The Cornerstone for Teachers blog. As always, she shares a lot of great information and then poses a  question at the end:
What are your thoughts? How has your curriculum changed over the years? How do we balance the increased rigor of the Common Core with the developmental needs of our students?

The article and the questions clearly struck me because I composed quite a lengthy reply to her:

I totally agree with you! I gave my class (4th/5th grade) a math facts test just before we went on winter break. 60 problems, 3 minutes. I have 4 students (out of 29) who got 100% of them done and correct. Just 4. I have students who got 1 right in 3 minutes. Yet I will be blamed that these children don’t know their math facts (something we start teaching in 2ND GRADE–I know because I taught 2nd last year and we had to show proof that they knew their 0-5 facts).

It’s frustrating. I think that many times we just move on, without really showing that the students know or understand what is going on, especially with math. I think the Common Core is a good thing. Perfect? Of course not, but definitely a step in the right direction. Children need rigor in order to succeed in HS and college. However, a lot of what we ask students to do, isn’t very developmentally appropriate.

A couple years ago, my district partnered with the Institute for Learning and they created a bunch of “high rigor” writing units for us. Except that these “high rigor” writing units have students sitting through FIVE ENTIRE LESSONS OF TEACHER TALK before they ever really even pick up a pencil. That’s not rigor and it sure isn’t developmentally appropriate. They were created by researchers, not teachers. I doubt very much any of those folks who created them had ever been in front of a classroom of real children.

Another example, we are using Reading Street for our weekly reading program (its our 2nd year with it). I like it, the stories are good and its a very balanced approach to literacy instruction. However, my district had grade-level based PD this summer (ie all 4th grade teachers from the district at one venue) and our task was to come up with higher order questions to ask while we’re engaged in the shared reading. The 4th grade team did this independently–each school worked together and made questions based on their students needs. But the other grades did it collectively and then sent out a list of questions we’re supposed to ask our kids while we read the stories together. I get the concept but my kids aren’t like the kids across town or even in the school three blocks over! You can’t simply give them “cookie cutter” questions and expect that to be rigorous.

I stick by my motto a lot….smile and nod and then close my door and teach to my students strengths and needs. It can’t be cookie-cutter because the KIDS aren’t cookie cutter!
(If you can’t tell, you struck a cord with me on this one lol)

I think rigor IS a good thing. I really do. Students are capable of a lot. When I was a kid, we never did anything algebra related before middle school. My 2nd graders last year had some beginning algebra concepts in our math program that were simple but appropriate for them. Over the past 20-30 years, educators have realized that yes some of these things can be broken down and taught in small chunks in earlier grades. We use Everyday Math. People either love it or they hate it. I personally don't mind it. I hated math as a kid because it made no sense to me. Everyday Math's algorithms do make sense to my non-mathematical brain and thus I find it much easier to teach it to my students. I teach them the way I was taught and the algorithms in EDM and then allow them to choose which they prefer. I say to them flat out, "I don't care which way you do it, friends, as long as you understand the concept and can explain it to me."

Let's talk about that Reading Street thing for a second. It drives me batty that they gave me a list of questions that I'm supposed to ask my students while we're reading together. Maybe some people do need the cookie cutter questions handed to them. I was talking to my Lit Coach about this and said I had a real problem with this because I  never want to stifle my students thinking. Using cookie cutter questioning seems like that's all it will accomplish. So while I do have the questions for my 5th graders, I don't really use them. Sometimes I do if they are really good thought-provoking questions, but often I don't find them to be something relevant to what I'm discussing with my students.

I teach two separate reading curriculums: 4th grade and 5th grade. I have refused to combine them because my students need to be taught grade-level content, period. It's a bit of a juggling act sometimes but we've made it work. I gather my group to the carpet with me while my other grade is working independently on review or another activity. We focus on shared reading--we read together. We look for text-based evidence to answer some multiple choice questions (for the Fresh Reads we do which are short-texts to help build comprehension) or text-based evidence to a question I might spring on them. We look at vocabulary and focus on a short passage to help us with our weekly comprehension skills and strategies. When we read our weekly story, we talk about it. We stop to make meaning (National Board language!) and process what we've been reading. This is a big one for the kids because often they just read and forget to stop and think about what we've been reading. So we stop, we question, we talk and sometimes, they amaze the heck out of me with the connections they make all on their own. 

Once when I was working with my 4th graders, one of my young men raised his hand and made a huge connection to something we had read in our small reading groups with the story we were reading. The connection hadn't even occurred to me and we had a great discussion about it. Even the students who hadn't been in that small reading group were able to join in once the young man and I had quickly explained the context of that lesson and how it related to this one.

That is rigor, in my opinion. This 9 year old child was able to make this huge connection that I hadn't even thought about as we were reading together with the class. You can't make those connections and have those genuine discussions where every single child is learning and participating when you use rote questioning that someone else created for you. Yes, some of those questions are very good and worthwhile, but the spontaneous higher order questions are so much better--the ones that come to you in the moment when a child makes a statement and you want to expand on it for the rest of the group; the ones that really get your students engaged and thinking about what else you've learned in the class, be it in reading or better yet in another subject area. 

Clearly I have some passion for this. I never, ever want to teach where I can't be creative and use my own thinking and what I know about my students to help them grow as readers, mathematicians, scientists and historians. 

I have a lot of passion for the Common Core too. I think it IS a good thing. Again, it isn't perfect (is anything?) but it's a step in the right direction. I have so  much passion for the Common Core and the rigor that it is pushing us toward that when I read an article about how lame it is and how it is really just a regurgitated program with a shiny new bow (in the quarterly magazine I get from my College of Education), I decided it would be fodder for my next PlanbookEDU Common Core post later this month. 

As teachers our jobs are always evolving. Kids have evolved too. No more straight rows of desks and plain looking classrooms. We use anchor charts, pictures, posters and more to help our students learn and master the concepts we're in charge of teaching them. Somewhere in there, however, we have to find that rigor. Developmentally appropriate rigor, that is.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

What's Ahead in 2013 {Linky!}

I'm linking up with Michelle at Making it as a Middle School Teacher for her super fun "What's Ahead in 2013" linky party!

There are WAY too  many professional books I have on my "to read" list but I narrowed it down to Making Thinking Visible. It's such a hard thing for my cherubs to THINK. I want to guide them to do their own thinking instead of expecting me to think for them.

For personal--I read a ton and want to read 100 books this year!

My professional development goal will be mentoring my student teacher--I chose this because its my very first time having a student in my room like this and I know *I* will grow as much as she will as it will force me to be very cognizant of every.single.thing I do in my room.

My favorite unit coming up is the American Revolution! I will likely let my student teacher use it as her unit plan (college of ed requirement) because she's a history major but its my favorite one even if I have to watch her teach it :)

My oldest will be turning 18 in June and heading to West Virginia (from Michigan) in August to attend college.

My classroom must-have and must-go go hand in hand: I have WAY TOO MANY PILES OF PILES! I need to purchase (more) organizers and really step up my game. I am terrible about filing in a timely manner which is what leads to all of those piles. I need to get better at it.

My vacation this year will be at least one whole month at my cabin...although if we're honest I'm planning to be there at least 6 weeks straight so I can write to my heart's content and RELAX :)

My very favorite school-wide activity is Bingo for Books! We do this in April. It's just like it sounds--you play bingo and when you win, you get a book! It's super fun.

For technology I want to make sure we use our walkits from The Walking Classroom three times per week (Monday, Wednesday, Thursday).

My personal goal is to get myself back into a healthy spot and lose the extra 60 lbs I'm carrying around!

Professionally I want (and NEED) to achieve National Board certification this year or I might lose my mind (haha)

Head on over and link up!


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy 2013 & Currently

Happy New Year Bloggers! Super excited to see what 2013 brings.

I'm linking up with Farley for the infamous Currently linky for the first time in 2013.

My OLW is "Passion" because I tend to be very passionate about everything I do. Writing, advocating for my girls or my students, etc. This year I want to throw that passion for teaching onto my new student teacher and really focus on what matters in education: showing MY passion for learning so my students will find THEIR passion for learning. It's the best gift I could possibly give them.