Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Happy pills.

It's NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month), and I've been neglecting my poor blog for a while. Sorry! I'm back though. Here's today's post.

Today I had one of those moments where I forgot. It happens every once in a while. Sometimes the weight of all the non-child things that we deal with every day just gets so heavy...I started to feel like Eeyore always did when he'd walk around the Hundred Acre Wood and that little black raincloud followed him, raining on his head all day. Sometimes, it's all just overwhelming.

I went to go talk to my teammate, who sweetly went on a mini-quest for some chocolate to cheer me up (though all he ended up with was granola--it's the thought that counts, right?). And as lovely people are wont to do, he reminded me of the thing I momentarily forgot--my Reason.

The Reason I wake up at 5 every morning and stay at work til 5 most evenings. The Reason I can stand in the doorway at 7 am with a smile on my face. The Reason every day is filled with songs and smiles and random dance breaks. My Reason is my children. I love them more than anything. And no matter what happens outside of class time, no matter how dark or how heavy the cloud over my head sometimes appears or how hard that rain falls, all my children know is that their teacher loves them, they are awesome readers, writers, mathematicians and thinkers, and every day is one big dance party. And that's all they need to know.

When I remembered that, and looked into their sweet, smiling faces after lunch...the cloud lifted and the sun came out. So much better than chocolate--my children are my happy pills.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Crazy times

Today we were reading this great story about Minerva Louise, a very funny chicken. She leaves her farm one day and goes for a walk, arriving at a school. However, since she's never seen a school before, she just thinks it's a funny-looking farm. Everything she sees (a flag, blocks, cubbies, sweaters) she describes in farm terms. When she called the baseball an egg, I asked the kids to check for understanding (one of our CAFE strategies) by telling a friend what the story was about. Their response: "It's about a hen that's crazy."  

It's times like these when I have to mask my laughter with a question, like, "Why do you think that, darling?" ("Because she thinks the baseball is an egg, DUH, Maestra.") But what I really want to say is, BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! My kids are hilarious. 


This summer, my assistant and my mom accompanied my kids and I to the zoo for our field trip. Upon meeting my mother, he informed her that I apparently have "chronic dancing disease." This is probably true--given more than a few seconds with nothing to do, I often start dancing around (much to the amusement of my students). So whenever I can, I make dancing part of our normal classroom fun.

Yesterday the kids were working on some measuring activities. Actually, they were "working" on some measuring activities. I went through their work at the end of the day and half of them weren't finished. Disappointed by the amount of work accomplished in comparison to the amount of time I gave them to do it in, I decide that today's learning objective would be "I can do my best work in math class." 

I gave them my usual speech about how working harder makes us smarter, and we learn both by being good listeners and by getting our work finished (or as much as we can). And then I introduced them to the Smarty Pants Dance. If you haven't seen it, it's amazing. Arty Smarty Pants is a puppet from the reading show Between the Lions (a fantastic show if you've never seen it--totally worth watching with your own kids, or even your students) on PBS. Arty Smarty Pants is all about word families, so he pulls  these words out of his big red checkered pants ("Hot, pot, lot, popcorn!" And then popcorn also comes out of his pants. Random, I know, but highly amusing). 

We talk about what a "smarty pants" is (someone who works really hard at school and as a result knows a lot of stuff) and then whenever we have a day that everyone works really hard, we get to watch the Smarty Pants Dance. (And of course, we sing along.) 

On this particular day, not only did we watch the Smarty Pants Dance, but we also did a little dance every time someone finished their work. And whaddaya know, the more we danced, the more kids got their work done! 

Dancing is a magical thing. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


I love waking up to the rain. It's so calming to sit in bed and listen to the raindrops falling on the street, the cars, the roof of my house. I love seeing how green my lawn is when it stops (even though that means I'll have to mow it again soon).

Training and things have started for me this week, and at first I was feeling like this:

but it turns out it's a blessing in disguise. I'm slowly growing more accustomed to getting up in the morning, without the shock of going straight from sleeping in to getting up at five. And today we picked up lots of goodies on the way out of our meeting!

Cleaning my classroom, clearing the walls, organizing my materials and documents has started to get me back in the mood.

Like the rain makes my mornings gets my day off to a relaxing start and brings life to the plants in my garden, I'm slowly beginning to feel refreshed and energized for a new year. It's going to be a good one.


Yesterday, for the first time since summer school (a whole two weeks ago), I walked into my classroom. As always, the engineers had left me a lovely present--a huge pile of furniture on one side of the room. Fortunately the sweet lovely fifth grade teachers came down and helped me move things. So now my room looks all nice and neat again, except the chairs. I'll do those later.

I have mountains of crayons. Literally boxes upon boxes of the things. So many, in fact, that at the end of last year I just got a bunch of plastic bags and told my first graders to go to town and just take them home. That worked out okay until someone took all the crayons at her table and left her little crying friend with an empty bag. I was shocked. Didn't we JUST read Compartimos todo (We Share Everything)? Has Robert Munsch taught you nothing?

Alright, alright. In hindsight, I should have distributed them in a bit more organized way. But I really just needed to make room for the millions of new crayons still sitting in my storage closet. Maybe they'll be prizes or something?

I went to the office to say hello to everyone. I decided (unwisely?) to ask our lovely office lady (what is her title again? I think Queen of Organizational Awesomeness or La reina de la oficina would work) for my class list. I know it's two weeks til school and I might not actually know for sure who I've got til Labor Day, but I just wanted to mentally prepare myself for what I'm going to get. And what I got was


I know that for some of you, this is nothing. For some of you, you've had 30 or more before. But I saw that number and I'm pretty sure my hair stood on end.

29! My first year in first grade two years ago, I had 26. And I'm pretty sure that by November I only had 3 strands of hair left. (I've been wearing a wig ever since...shhhhh don't tell my kids!) Granted, those little darlings went on to second grade and bring joy to their new teacher's lives (and by that I mean they are all wearing wigs now, too. We look FABULOUS). 

Que Dios me de gracia, paciencia y fuerza...

So while I was bouncing with excitement (read: wallowing in my misery) at the news, I took a look at the class lists for the two fifth grade teachers--32 and 32. At first I thought, Meh, you have big'll be fine. And then I remembered that one is a first year teacher and one is a second year teacher.


I think this year will require lots of support (read: trips to happy hour).

Thursday, August 9, 2012


This video is amazing. Some great encouragement for this year -- let it make you!

The Myth of the Super Teacher from EdWriters on Vimeo.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Chatty Cathy


Anyone remember these Chatty Cathy dolls? The one on the left looks sleepy...I bet she goes to an early start school like mine (sorry sweetie!) The one on the right looks a little smirky...I bet she's trying to figure out if you saw what she just did to her neighbor (or her crayons).

My students LOVE to talk. Often times, I'm excited to hear the amazing academic conversations they are having or the ideas they are bursting with excitement to share. And then there are times when I look at them and grit my teeth to prevent myself from saying "BE QUIET, doggone it!! It's NOT your turn!" But then I have to remind myself that when I was in first grade, I drove my own teacher batty with my constant talking.

(You know what they say about karma...darn.)

But then again, look at me now. I get paid to spend the entire day talking to little people and big people. So now I look at my little chatterboxes and say to myself, "You're going to be a teacher, and you're going to be a lawyer and you're going to be a motivational speaker, and you're going to be the president..."

There's got to be a good reason for it, right? If my students have been blessed with the gift of chatter, I might as well embrace it.

Mental Muscle Memory

Yesterday I went to the gym. I've recently become a Zumbaholic, an addiction that has succeeded in getting me to the gym significantly more frequently than normal, and it's a good thing. What can I say? When reggaeton comes on the radio, I can't sit still.

Unfortunately, after a weekend trip to a friend's wedding and some busy/tired days afterward, I'd  missed 4 Zumba classes in a row. I felt like I was melting into a puddle. So I broke down and went to the gym on a non-Zumba day (inconceivable!!) and lifted weights (not because I actually like it, but hey...gotta stay in shape).

This morning I was thinking about my week, and somehow got confused as to whether I'd worked out Tuesday or Wednesday (anyone else sometimes forget what day it is during the summer?). I lifted my arm and said OUCH! Yep, I did...but the more I work out, the sooner the pain goes away and I get back into my exercise groove.

Then I thought to myself, do our kids ever feel like this? I recently had one of those experiences where I'd taught them a concept and we'd been over it and over it and over it and over it...and yet and still, my assumption that they would definitely know what they were doing was apparently off-base. It's amazing to me how quickly they forget things sometimes. And in those moments where I think to myself, "WHAT? But we've been doing this since September! It's only been three weeks since we last reviewed it, and they've already forgotten? HOW?!"

It's moments like that where I have to remind myself that if I can forget what day yesterday was as quickly as this morning, my students can forget their vocabulary words or how to show their work on a story problem or the parts of a plant or what a living thing is or the difference between fluency and accuracy. And you know what? After a brief period where I really thought I'd have to stop and reteach it all over again, my kids hit their stride like little runners, and everything I'd taught them showed up, slowly but surely, on their papers.

It may take a little longer than I'd like or expect, but if I give them time, it all comes back to them.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Choose Your Own Adventure: Behavior Edition

I frequently read the awesome blog Look at My Happy Rainbow. The author day, the author was talking about his behavior management plan and how he doesn't have time out or consequences, just conversations with his students about their behavior and a "rest stop" for when they need a break to regain control of themselves and calm down.

I have no experience with or training in Responsive Classroom outside of the Morning Meeting Book (a good one, I like it), so when it comes to collaborative vs. authoritative management techniques, I'm a little outside of my box. But this time around I thought I'd try something new.
My chiquitines were on their way to lunch. Yesterday two of them had to take a little thinking break after their behavior yesterday. So today I reminded them to make good choices and be good listeners while they were in the lunchroom. After lunch, I went to pick them up and was informed that over half of them had NOT, in fact been on their best behavior and had made some quite unfortunate choices.

In the past, I might have sent them to time out, or taken away some recess time, or imposed some other consequence on them. But today, I decided to try the "let's figure this out" solution.

So we sat down, and I asked them to tell me what happened, and then I cut them off when they started accusing each other. Then I asked them for ideas as to what a good consequence should be when they make these kinds of choices. They came up with some interesting ones:
-everyone turn your card (I still use a card system, yes)
-only the ones who were in trouble turn your card
-everyone play but the ones who were in trouble go read a book (I vetoed this one; reading is fun--it shouldn't be a punishment. They agreed)
-sit in silence at their tables (they decided this was a bad idea because they would be tempted to play with the things on their tables)

They closed their eyes and voted, and decided they should sit in silence til the end of recess (actually, it was literally half and half, so I broke the tie and decided on 5 minutes of silence). So that is what we did.

It was really interesting listening to the kids decide for themselves what their consequence should be. Lots of debating, thinking about the implications of each consequence. You could tell some of them were voting down specific consequences because they wanted to get out of them, but for the most part, the kids were really thoughtful throughout the process. We actually spent more time talking about our problem than sitting silently. All in all, I think I liked the process. I'll probably use it again in the future for large-group issues like this...if their behavior improves.

Let's hope things go better tomorrow...

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Email Withdrawal?

You know what's weird about summer school? 

No email. 

During the school year we get something like 5 new emails an hour (I might be exaggerating a little). Considering that we're with the kids for 6 hours and I often only check my email before they come and/or after they leave, that's 30 emails a day. All those little bolded titles in my inbox list, blaring at me through the megaphone of extra "ink": JOB POSTINGS! BUY MORE BOOKS! TAKE THIS E-COURSE! BUS INFORMATION! UPDATE YOUR CLASS LIST! I'M A GREAT PUPPETEER--INVITE ME TO YOUR CLASS! MEETING TOMORROW! MEETING TODAY! MEETING RIGHT NOW! DO WE HAVE A MEETING? 


In the summer, I get maybe one a day, maybe...and that's it. 

It's so strange. The empty silence of an inbox that is not constantly filling itself with new messages, however relevant they may or may not be to my life. Is it weird that I'm a little sad? No one wants to send me another update to the bus list? There are no new e-courses to advertise or puppeteers to offer services? No books to buy? No meetings?

For a twenty-something, technology-obsessed constant email checker like me, it's like I'm in technological limbo...I can't stop checking, but there's nothing new to read.

I need a hobby. 

Or maybe I just need to work on my lesson plans.

Or maybe go buy some cheesecake. I like that idea. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


I am a cheerleader. Not a former cheerleader, like back in high school, but it's actually what I do for a living now. I spend all day, every day, saying, "Come on, come on, you can do it! You are smart! You can do it! You're so smart!" And of course, it naturally follows that when my children share their ideas, I do my best to listen with rapt attention as though whatever they are saying is the most interesting thing I've ever heard.

And on days like today, it kind of is.

My kids and I read Pastel de Truenos (Thunder Cake) by Patricia Polacco today, looking for words written in all caps. Then they did a little hunt with a partner in an independent book, looking for more words in all caps and figuring out why the author decided to write the words that way. Turned out that most of the time, they were sound words. KABUUUUUUUUUUMMMM!!!!

On a totally unrelated note (or so I thought), we started writing class after reading, and talked about what good writers do and how to confer with the teacher. Then my kids bounced off to their seats to write exciting stories about their 7-year-old lives. I was conferring with one student when another said, "Look, Ms. M, I wrote a lot!" I glanced at her paper and saw the word SPLASH! written with big exclamation points after it. I told her how cool it was that she used a sound word and how I could just hear the water splashing in my head, and I could tell it was a swimming story even without reading the rest of it, and could she please keep using cool sound words in her writing? Grinning from ear to ear, she nodded yes and kept working.

As I made my way through the rest of the students, reading their stories and conferring with other writers, I discovered that several other students had included sound words, words in all caps, and exclamation marks in their own writing.  I was actually a little bit shocked. Lucy Calkins has an entire unit on taking cues from published authors and trying some of what they do in our own work. I hadn't taught my kids to do this. I hadn't suggested or even mentioned it--we just studied it as readers and why it's done, and suddenly my kids were taking cues from this author and treating her as a writing mentor, all on their own. Their intelligence and initiative is awe-inspiring.

On days like today, SPLASH! really does feel like the coolest thing I've ever heard. I can't wait to see what they write tomorrow.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The #1 Lesson

After a challenging several months with little M, we have finally begun to overcome the self-efficacy hurdle. The other day I said to her, "Did you know that I love you very much?" With a beaming smile she replied, "Yep! Cuz I'm a Smarty Pants." I went on to inform her that her intelligence isn't the reason I love her, but it is something I love about her. What a change from 6 months ago--"NO, I am NOT smart!!" were her insistent (and sometimes defiant, and sometimes tearful) words back then.

Now, she works hard on all her work, every day. Today she was so excited and proud to be finished, I taught her to air five!

Yo sí puedo: the most important lesson my students learn all year.

Word Pictures

At recess today, it was too hot to go outside. So as a few of my children frequently do, little M hung around me instead of the other kids, looking for something to do. I didn't have a job for her, so I asked her to draw me the prettiest picture she could. She said ”Okay!” and bounced away.

A few minutes later, she came back with this:

I couldn't have asked for a more beautiful picture.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Little Blue Engine is Back!

luigi diamanti /

There are days when teaching feels so great. You are pumped, your kids are engaged, they get it, and everything moves like clockwork. Then there are days where you feel like you're in a boxing match. With little M, I'd been boxing just about every day for months. 

The problem was, she wouldn't do anything. It wasn't because she wasn't capable, it was just a choice. She would sit there for hours and do nothing. Maybe she'd write her name on her paper, and maybe even the date. But the rest of it? Blank. She'd play with her pencils, she'd play with her eraser, she'd use her pencil to draw on her eraser, she'd knock her cubes around and talk with her friends, use the bathroom for 10 minutes, stare at the ceiling...anything but work. 

So I tried everything I could think of, but nothing I said or did seemed to motivate her to do her assignments. I asked her if she needed help. I read and re-read and re-read her the directions. I gave her a personal copy of the book so she could look at the pictures to help her remember. I encouraged her. I cajoled her. And when none of that worked, I tried time-outs and recess periods spent doing the work she'd refused to do in class. And when that didn't work, I started giving her extra love and attention all day. Then I called her dad. Then I called the social worker. And yet, we boxed. Every. Day. 

One day, I'd asked the kids if they were a Smarty Pants (the Smarty Pants Dance is a big deal in our class...check it out on Youtube). While nearly every other student had their hand in the air, M not only refused to raise her hand, but she actually turned her back and crawled away from me when I asked the question. It finally dawned on me: low self-efficacy. My little girl didn't refuse to work because she didn't want to; it was because she actually thought she wasn't capable. Boy, did that change the game. 

Things had been getting better a little at a time, until yesterday. During our guided reading lesson, she got stuck on a word. It was a hard word, and she wasn't sure how to pronounce the second syllable. I reminded her of the sound the second letter made and told her it was similar to the one in her name. We tried saying the syllables and blending them. But by that time she was so frustrated that she gave up on the word and started to cry. 

I knew this was a crucial moment for us. I knew that if I let her give up now, she'd give up every time. So I sent the other kids to their reading stations and I told her to come around to my side of the table. I grabbed a copy of The Little Engine That Could. With my arm around her, we looked at the pictures and retold the story together, stressing the fact that the dolls, the toys and the little blue engine never gave up the fight. I told her, "You are that little blue engine. I won't let you give up on this book and this word because you are too smart to give up. I know that you can do it, but sometimes you don't know that you can do it. And I need you to know that because if you give up on everything, you won't learn anything. And learning is why we're here. Just like the little blue engine, you need to say 'Yes I can'. " So she did. We practiced saying "Yes, I can" over and over until the tears were gone. And then we went back to the hard book with the hard words, and she read the whole thing herself (except for a few that I helped her with). Then she grabbed a book called I Don't Like to Read by Nancy Carlson (one of my favorite September books) and decided to sit and read it to herself for a while, which I said was perfectly fine. 

When she was finished, she got up, handed me the book back, and said, "I'm going to go find a hard book and try to read it." 

I saved my happy dance for after she went to music class. 

Warm Fuzzies

One of the things that we often do as teachers is relate our lessons to things that are happening in the lives of our students. If someone loses a tooth, we read a book about teeth or the Tooth Fairy. If someone is being bullied, we read about about standing up for yourself. And if someone has a new sibling, we might find some books about new babies.

Well, a friend in my class was recently gone for a few days because his mother finally give birth to his new little brother. I told him that his story reminded me of a poem called "Tengo un hermanito" (I have a little brother). He said, "Why?" and in the few minutes before we headed off to the buses, I took a moment to read it to him. It's about a boy (or girl?) whose mother just had a baby, and the boy thinks his new baby brother is downright annoying. He doesn't know how to read, or eat, or use a spoon, he definitely can't play soccer, and on top of that, he's BALD! 

When we finished reading the poem, my little friend looked at me, then put his head in my lap and gave me a hug. He had the sweetest little smile on his face. 

Literature, love and warm fuzzies. What a great way to end the week. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Cute Misconceptions

Stuart Miles /

Kids are so funny. No wonder Art Linkletter and Bill Cosby had a whole show devoted to the hilarious things they say.

Since Earth Day is this Sunday, and I wrote this Earth Day unit last year for my Masters' class that I really liked, we've been learning about the environment these last two weeks. We've been learning big, important words like medio ambiente (environment) and contaminacion (pollution) and vertedero (landfill) and reciclar (you can guess that one). All very exciting stuff. Naturally, after learning several new vocabulary words, my kids sometimes get them confused. Or just the whole concept itself.

Today I asked R, "What does recycle mean?" I'd taught it to her earlier in Spanish but asked this question in English, so I was curious what she would do about the words she didn't know. She said, "It means you throw trash away. And then it goes to a fair and they make paper." A fair, huh? (She meant fabrica, the Spanish word for factory.)

Later, A came in and told me they'd recycled their trash after lunch. I asked, "What will happen to it now?" She said, "They're gonna take it and make more food." I told her that they can't make food out of plastic, at which point the other kids laughed. A, however, disagreed with me. "They're gonna make new food," she told me, insistently. I hope that plastic food is part of a toy kitchen set...

Well, they got the concept, at least. Landfills are gross, recycling means making new stuff.

Happy early Earth Day! I'm so excited to watch The Lorax tomorrow. (Quite possibly moreso than the kids themselves.)


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Facing fear head on!

Today we took the kids on a fantastic field trip to an ice arena. It's always interesting taking them out of Academic Land and putting them in a situation that is totally different. You see them in a new light and get a chance to interact with them in a new way, and I love it.

The kids got their skates laced up and put on their elbow pads, knee pads, helmets, and these huge gloves that were about 4 times the size of their little hands. Honestly, they couldn't hurt themselves if they tried. Once they were all dressed and ready to skate, we took them out onto the ice. Many of them latched themselves to the wall and held on for dear life. 

One of my little darlings was so afraid, she came to the door crying and tried to get off the ice. The other teachers were going to let her stop skating, but these types of situations bring the fighter out in me. I asked her what happened to make sure she was not hurt, and she said through her tears, "I can't skate anymore. I'm too scared." "What are you scared of?" I asked. "That I'm going to fall," she sobbed. "I want to stop now." 

"NOPE!" I thought to myself. "Not a chance." I told her no, she was not going to quit because she was afraid of falling. I took her in my arms and we slid away from the wall. Then, without letting go of her, I simply let her fall. She hit the ice on all fours, completely unhurt. I then asked, "And what happened when you fell? Did you hurt yourself?" "No," she replied. I then proceeded to pick her up off the ice, and immediately let her fall a second time. "What happened that time? Did you get hurt?" "No." We repeated this exact same exchange three more times, and by the fifth time she fell, she was smiling and chuckling. When I was sure that she'd been convinced that falling wouldn't kill her, I picked her up and sent her off to skate, reminding her that if she fell again, she should just get back up and keep skating. 

When it was time to get off the ice, she couldn't wait to tell me how brave she'd been. "I skated! I skated all the way over there, all by myself! And when I fell down, I got back up again! All by myself!" 

It's moments like these that remind me why I do what I do. There are few things in the world more beautiful than a child learning to believe in herself.

Sometimes, the worst thing that can happen is not nearly as bad as we fear it is. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Some days,.I'm pretty sure that the entire Youtube video "Stuff Teachers Say" could have been filmed in my classroom, quite possibly in the course of one hour of regular class time. If I had a penny for every time I've repeated myself today, I'd be the richest teacher who ever lived.

"Stand up. Sit down. Stand up again, QUIETLY. Sit down, QUIETLY. Walk. Go back and walk. Go back and walk. Go sit down. Get started working. Tell him to stop. Open your book. It's time to read. At work time, I expect you to be working. Open your book. Go sit down. That's not how we do that. Do it again. Do it again and do it correctly." And on, and on, and on...

I was chatting with a teammate after school, telling her how bad I felt that my college student volunteer had to watch me do this today. I want to always be that teacher that inspires her volunteers to say wonderful things like "I want to be like you when I grow up."  I had one say that to me a couple of years ago. I want to be back in that moment. But alas...not today.

As I was sharing my frustration, my lovely teammate responded most insightfully and encouragingly, "That's first grade. This is what we do." And she's right--we do. We deal with management issues. We tell our kids to go back and practice correct procedures. And if we have to, we say the same thing over and over until they get it. My awesome mother concurred: "She's seeing real first grade. So now she'll know what it's like and how to deal with it when she gets there." True. All very true.


Sit down QUIETLY. Go back and walk. Open your book. Pick up your pencil. Do it again.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Sometimes, You Close the Door and Cry.

Sometimes, love hurts. And on days like today, it hurts a lot. 

One of my students is a bit of a late bloomer. She's been struggling since the beginning of the year, and I've been working with her individually every single day for the past three months to help her be a more successful academically. After all of the time, effort and data collection (that's always the hardest part, really...keeping track of everything I do), I had finally completed all the requirements to have her referred for extra pull-out support. I left work Tuesday on a high, excited that my little girl would finally be getting the support she needs. 

That was three days ago. Today, I got a phone call in the middle of class to let me know that my little girl, the one I'd been working with for so long, the one  I'd had to keep and report so much data on, the one I'd FINALLY gotten referred after all of the backflips and handstands I had to do to make it happen...that little girl was gone. 

Just like that. She left. 

It was all I could do to hold it together until I took them to music class. I was beyond distraught. So much time, so much energy, so much work, and now she's moved to another district. That means not only is she no longer in my class, but because she's not in the district anymore, they may not have or request access to her records. So her new teacher may just have to start from square one. Also, I don't think they have bilingual schools in her new district, so she'll be even more behind because of the language change. 

It's times like these where I wonder what it's like to work in a district where this kind of stuff doesn't happen constantly. A district where the class list you get in May stays exactly the same til the following May and kids' phone numbers always work and their addresses stay the same all year. I bet it's nice...

I held it together as long as I could, and then I just had to shut my door for a while. 

To those who know what it's like to work so hard for so long and have it all fall through your fingers in a day...stay strong. You are not alone. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Teaching comes in many forms, and for me, that means coaching in addition to my regular classroom time. I have a co-coach that works with me at group practice, and he's been gone for the past two weeks. It's been tough without him, but I'm managing.

Last year, we tried holding workshops where we'd take the large group, split it into two parts, and work with the kids separately. I tried doing it myself last week and it ended up being difficult to manage and less than successful. Determined to make it work, I adjusted my strategy today and made practice more interactive and engaging for everyone, and the team members who were excused early actually seemed sorry to leave! Better still, we were able to finish in less time than usual.

I was talking with my mom about how I was feeling quite efficient and productive after practice and how it was a big improvement on last week. She replied, ”You're really good at reflecting and adjusting.”

A high compliment for a teacher! After all, isn't that what we do every minute? We gauge how well our students are understanding and responding to what we are teaching them and we adapt accordingly. We reteach, demonstrate in greater detail, stop and do some jumping jacks, shift gears, simplify or increase challenge, add scaffolds and support. We are constantly taking the pulse of our class and making adjustments accordingly. To do it well is to do our best.

Thanks, Mom.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Let Them Lead

I have to blog this because I laughed out loud as I was reading it.

I'm working on my Capstone and I'm studying conferring, and I'm reading this book No Better Way to Teach Writing, which is about how a group of Australian teachers. After listening to Donald Graves and reading one of his books, they decided to implement Writers' Workshop, which they called "The Conference Approach." One teacher highlights her struggle to let the child lead during a conference, allowing him to teach himself rather than just telling him what to do:

"Wait," I said. "Where is that part in the story?"
Irritated, he looked, then said, "I haven't wrote that yet."
"Well, where would you write it so the reader knows your story is about a car race?"
He picked up his pencil and wrote the sentence--at the end! Into my impatient mind flashed the uncharitable thought, 'No, dimwit, write it at the beginning.' But I managed to stay silent...When he finished, I asked him to read it back.
...he said..."That sentence doesn't make sense there."

Isn't it amazing what can happen when we allow children to take the lead in conferences? Providing lean prompts, asking good questions, directing children to notice and consider pertinent aspects of their own writing...because she let him figure out for himself that it didn't make sense, this student learned a skill that he could use in subsequent pieces, all on his own. He learned the importance of telling the reader what his story is about, and how to use an arrow to insert information that is missing from the beginning or middle of a piece.

Holding back our own ideas and letting children lead in difficult, but so powerful.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Sometimes, Listening is Teaching

As I'm diving deep into the heart of conferring, I'm learning so much about how to listen to kids when I converse with them about the work that they are doing. Every so often, particularly with students who don't demand quite as much of my attention, I'll ask a simple question and the child will freeze. I am then hit once again with the painful realization that they think that the purpose of teacher questioning is to inform them that they did something wrong. What a horrible message to receive.

I had this experience just yesterday with one of my little ones. He was writing a story about playing in the park with his family. I was watching him, just observing and writing down everything I noticed him doing as a writer. When he erased part of a word and changed it, I asked him "Why did you do that?" 

He froze.

He stared at me, with a cross between mild wide-eyed shock and frowning confusion. He seemed to be thinking, "What did I do wrong?" and "What do I say?" Since kids erase for a number of different reasons, I was genuinely curious about his thought process. And in fact, he hadn't done anything wrong. He'd done something very right. I just wanted to know what it was.

Debating how thaw out this frozen moment in the conversation, I rephrased my question. I said, "I noticed that you wrote that word, and then you went back and changed it. I just want to know what you're thinking. Can you tell me what you were thinking?" He then informed me that he was thinking, "...that it was the same as this word (he pointed to a word in the previous sentence). And I already said that." He changed "and we played the played" to "and we played the game", which made perfect sense. I then complimented him for independently going back and rereading his work to make sure it said what he wanted it to say, and I told him how smart that was and that good writers always do that. By the end of our conference, he was smiling and happily writing again. We didn't have time to get to a teaching point, but I didn't care...that was enough.

Sometimes our teaching point is as simple as:

I'm not listening to correct you, I'm listening because I care what you think.

Friday, January 13, 2012


I have the greatest kids in the world. I really do.

After two weeks of vacation, it was hard getting up before sunrise and driving to work again. It's always a bit of a rough transition getting back into the swing of things. But it's times like that when I remember that I love my job, and that's why I do it.

I love that nearly every day, someone draws me a picture. I love that half of the pictures say "I love you" or have hearts somewhere on them. I love that my kids jump up and down and squeal and wave every time they see me, even if the last time they saw me was literally 2 minutes ago. I love how when I take them to science or music or gym, they stop and hug me goodbye, even though they know I'll be back to pick them up in an hour.

As I was walking my students to the buses after school, one of them bounced off toward his bus (I was going to say walked, but this one, if he were a cartoon character, would be Tigger). Then he suddenly stopped right before he reached the door. He turned around and said "Bye, Ms. M!" then ran toward me, arms outstretched in a goodbye hug. I smiled to myself as we hugged and he turned around and ran back to get on the bus.

We don't get paid much, and politically, this is a rough time to be a teacher. But when I see their sweet faces first thing in the morning and bask in their random hugs throughout the day, it really is worth it. I love my job.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Happy New Year!

Image: dream designs /


That's what I love about each new year--it is absolutely bursting with possibilities. All of the amazing things that you can do for yourself, for others, with others. Your hopes, your dreams, your goals. Amazing things that you don't even know will happen, are going to happen to you this year. There is nothing to be discouraged about, no disappointment, no failure. The past is gone. Things are made new. 

This is my first post in a few weeks, so I know that the year isn't as new today as it was 10 days ago. But even better: since the first day of the year, I've been complimented, hugged, smiled at, loved. And I have had the opportunity to compliment, hug, smile at and love others. I've moved closer to accomplishing my goals and dreams. I've shared exciting news and celebrated great moments with others. 

And this year has just begun. 

I know it's a bit cliche, but I am re-training my brain to see the possibilities in my classroom. To look at my children and simultaneously see both where they are and where they can be. To look at a child who is struggling, and think, "You are such a smart kid." And then, of course, to tell them. 

And beyond that, to see the possibilities in myself. It gets a bit overwhelming at times to learn so much in so little time--we have weekly professional development, which in addition to my own personal development, is a lot of information to take in. Sometimes trying to remember and master everything at once feels really overwhelming. But I have to look at myself, look at my teaching, and see possibilities. I'm growing as a teacher. My students and I are learning together every day. Like I used to say my first year of teaching (and can now say with more confidence and less stress), a year from now, I will be infinitely better at my job. And I can't wait to see the results. 

What possibilities do you see/hope this year holds for you?