Thursday, October 17, 2013

We win at partying!

We love to jump around get down in my class. We sing and dance all the time. Our animals dance, we dance, and sometimes our letters dance (though they are not supposed to...those naughty things).

We've jumped and danced the alphabet, our morning greeting and we've danced with Cosmo (a very cute song). We've danced to the crocodile rock and the Gummy Bear song. Last Friday we even danced to One Direction.

We like choreographed dancing and Ms. M is not a choreographer, so Youtube is a good friend of ours. It turns out that there are tons of videos on youtube where someone just ripped a dance from a wii console and posted it, so we dance with them. The funny thing about doing a dance that is ripped from a wii is the part where the kids forget it's a video...and not an actual game.

Last week we stayed in for recess because of the rain, but Ms. M insists that we get some kind of exercise so we did some dancing before we took out our toys. We danced and danced and at the end of the video, there was a part where "Player 1" "scores points" for dancing so well. The kids saw the points meter go all the way up to the top and congratulate them, and they actually started jumping and cheering because they were so excited about having "won" the "game."

Little minds, man...they are hilarious.

Your impact is priceless.

I know I haven't posted in a while -- it's been a really busy year! But I couldn't help but share this story because it got me a little choked up.

The past two days this week we had parent-teacher conferences. Conferences are great because we get a chance to talk to parents about how their kids are doing and what we're learning this year. Conferences are exhausting because you sit in a chair and talk nonstop for something like 12 hours and most of what you say is something that you already said 20 minutes ago to someone else. Have you ever given the same speech 18 times in 2 days? I did...and then I ate half a pint of double-chocolate ice cream. (Don't tell my trainer.)

Most of my conferences are pleasant and not terribly emotional - except for two this year. One I will not mention here but the other made me seriously re-think my thinking.

About two weeks ago my little friends and I were learning all about composing and decomposing numbers. Being the ridiculous, theatrical person that I am, this unit involved imaginary school buses, animal sleepovers, letters from aliens, and a full-fledged birthday party for our bovine friend Sr. Vaca. Since 10 is such an important number, I told the kids it was his 10th birthday. (Based on when I got him, he's actually 11...sssshhh!!!! Don't tell!)

The birthday party for Sr. Vaca happened on a Friday. The previous Monday, our little friend M told us during morning meeting that her birthday was the day before. Since she joined our class a few weeks after the other students, I didn't have her birthday on my calendar yet and I was completely caught by surprise. Yikes! So on Friday, in honor of her birthday (and to make up for my not realizing it) we had a joint birthday party for little M and Sr. Vaca. There were fruit loops, skittles, tootsie rolls, two kinds of koolaid (blue and green), balloons, noisemakers, a cake and 10 candles. We sang to our cumpleaneros and as is a tradition for most of our families, M blew out the candles and then picked a friend to smush her face in the cake. The pictures are quite cute. When they left for the day, we gave her the leftover treats and some balloons to take home.

I thought this was no big deal. In fact, I was kind of annoyed at myself that day because I thought I'd overspent on the supplies for the birthday party (who breaks open their piggy bank to throw a birthday party for a stuffed cow? Me, that's who. Apparently).

When M's mother came to conferences, I showed her her daughter's little poster that she made about the number 10 at the party. Her mother's response was, "Yes, she told me that you had a party for her and the cow. We were sad because we couldn't throw her a party this year. We told her maybe next year. But she said to me, you don't need to throw me a party, mom. I had a party at school."

I. Almost. Cried.

Here I was, thinking that it was no big deal - just a regular over-the-top math lesson. In fact, I was annoyed by the number at the bottom of my grocery store receipt. All the while having no idea that making 10 and celebrating with Sr. Vaca meant that a child who would not otherwise have had a 7th birthday party at all got to have one with 17 of her friends, a blow up alien, a stuffed cow, and a cake.

20 years from now, who knows if she'll remember me. Or how much time we spent learning about the numbers five and ten. Or how great my learning targets were or how well I differentiated my lessons. But maybe, just maybe she'll remember the day we threw her a birthday party.

To all of you who spend your own money on your class, who take time outside of work to plan great lessons and exciting activities, whose Lakeshore and ABC Zone and Discount School Supply bills are 10 times higher than what you can write off on your taxes...remember this. The money that you spend is trivial, but the impact that you make on that child's life is priceless.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Crazy PD lovers

I was just reading this adorable blog called mybilingualclassroom and the author said something interesting: "I'm crazy. I actually like PD." It was kind of funny that I read this today because I was recently re-reading Harry Wong's book The First Days of School and he talks about how great teachers like meetings and don't complain about or get annoyed by them.

I happen to work in a district where we have meetings all the time. We do an incredible amount of meeting and PD-ing and training and clustering and PLC-ing and focus-grouping and session-ing and whatnot. The sheer number of hours we spend in meetings would probably blow my mind if I actually counted.

Anyway, I'm writing about it because I just read that blog and the book, and also I just spent 6 days (yep, our workshop week was a day longer this year) attending meetings and trainings and related things. And I can say with confidence that teachers do not actually hate meetings, and we do not hate being professionally developed. (WHAT?! SHOCKING!! You don't believe me? Well I'll explain to you why I'm right in a minute.)

Think about it: teaching is a job where you get paid to talk all day. Also, most teachers are women, and women (stereotypically, anyway) really like talking, especially to each other. So if you think about it, meetings are times when people who like talking sit around and talk to each other about things. And yet...they make so many teachers feel like this:

Why is that, you ask? Well, I'll tell you.

What bothers us isn't the existence of the meeting. What bothers us isn't the new learning. What bothers us is inefficiency. I imagine this is true in any industry and/or company, but it's especially true for teachers (I say that because I am one). Sometimes meetings are longer than they need to be for you to learn the information or finish the conversation. Sometimes the information isn't new or isn't differentiated enough to be meaningful to you. Sometimes you spend a lot of time doing independent reading of an article or a teacher guide or a book excerpt and not enough time discussing and applying and planning. Sometimes it's summer and you really just wish you were at the beach. And sometimes (or most of the time), you're thinking about how much needs to be done in your classroom, and you can hear the mental clock tick-tick-ticking as your shape-cutting and pencil-sharpening, and crayon-picking-up and book-choosing and lesson-planning and flipchart-creating time float away. And when those things happen, you get tired. And cranky. And hungry. And distracted. And hot (especially if the building doesn't have air conditioning).

We don't hate meetings. We don't hate PD. We like accomplishing things, and we love to learn. (I mean, we're educators, aren't we? Learning is what we do.) So when you have a really good session or a really helpful training (like one I went to last Friday) or a really meaningful discussion or a great opportunity to apply new information, or just a really productive conversation that ends when it's done (and not at an arbitrary scheduled time), it's like a breath of fresh air. And you leave better for it.

I'm back!

Oh man, it's been so long! I am happy to be back at school. I only had ONE back to school nightmare this year, so I'm getting better... the weird thing is, even though I stopped dreaming about sleeping in and forgetting to go to work and leaving my precious darlings teacher-less for a whole hour on the first day of school (I feel like First Day Jitters was written about me!), I've still been having weird dreams this whole month.

I dreamed about massive insects running around my house. With shoes on. On the walls.

I dreamed about my coworker, though I can't remember what she was doing.

I dreamed about more weird bugs. Possibly in my classroom.

Maybe I should lay off the sushi and ice cream?

Happy school year!

If you tell a kid a story...

If you make up stuff when talking to your students, don't forget to make up an explanation to go with it.

One of the things that I love about first grade is that I can spend the entire day saying totally ridiculous things and my kids ALWAYS go along with it. Every inanimate object is animate, superheroes hang out in our classroom when they are at home, and Ms. M is over 100 years old. (Okay, they sometimes question that last one.) The problem is that sometimes they ask me why things are they way they are (in my invented first grade world), and then I have to come up with an explanation that logically follows the thing I just made up that I hadn't intended to explain (oops).

For example, we were working on letter formation today, because we're not so great at it. And I was explaining that letters don't have wings and they don't have claws, so they don't float in the air (above the line) and they don't dig in the dirt (below the line) they just sit on it. Except then we started writing lowercase g's, and I had to explain that lowercase g's and j's have roots, like plants, or are friends with the worms or something, so they like to hang out below the dirt. And why sometimes uppercase J wears a hat, and sometimes he doesn't feel like it. And how the little i doesn't touch the sky because it's the big I's baby, and the big I is its dad (or mom?) and so it doesn't have a hat, just a little dot. And then I said that uppercase I has a gorrita y zapato and then someone had the nerve (ahem) creative curiosity to ask me how he takes his shoes off since he doesn't have hands and so I just said he wears them all the time.

Kids and their pesky adorable least they'll remember the uppercase B, now that he has a cabeza y panza.

Leave a message after the tone...BEEP!

Today I did something I've never done before.

I did not ignore a call.

I did not pretend to be my voicemail and ask someone to leave a message after the tone (although sometimes it's tempting to do that).

What I did was say "Just a minute, please, excuse me" to a parent who walked into my classroom unannounced and interrupted me in the middle of my sentence as I was explaining to a child how to count money.

And I felt a little bit bad, because parents are important people. And I also felt a little bit annoyed, because children are also important people. And because I have 25 children, not just one. Not just yours. And because you walked into my room in the middle of learning time and you want us to stop learning so you can talk to me. And then you want your child to stop learning so you can talk to her.

I know there are only a few days left in the school year and it should be no big deal, but...learning time is important! AndwearelearningsomethingtotallynewbecauseIdidntgettoitearliersodonttellmybosslolbutreallythough!


Monday, May 20, 2013

Math, man. It's serious business.

My kids and I have been working on reading fluency. And naturally, that means we get to read cute poems and sing fun songs. I found this one on youtube, and they love it.

El reino del rev├ęs is this hilarious kingdom where everything is backward and silly. The kids cracked up when we first read the lyrics (and several times after that), especially when we got to the baby with the beard. But no matter how funny it is when the dog "falls up" instead of down and spider rides on a chess piece, when they say that 2+2=3, everyone simultaneously shouts, NO!!!

We can joke about babies with beards and dogs falling up and invisible chimps, but in my class, man, math is serious business. Incorrect facts are no joke. (So they tell me.)

Happy Tuesday!