Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Putting on the brakes...

I've been watching so many kids - mostly boys - really struggle with being in kindergarten this year. They are overwhelmed, tired, and uncomfortable with the environment. They lash out in terrible ways.  I've been talking to classroom teachers, psychologists, special ed. teachers, and behavior specialists about it.  The common theme that runs through these conversations is, "I think they just need more time to play."

Tons of research has been done on the importance of play. Nothing new here. I just feel like we as a county and as a school have been speeding away from the concept. Test performance is taking over.

I also work for a county who is driven by data. The only way to get hard data is to test. The only way to test successfully is to prep. The only way to prep is to refocus free play on learning centers and tests with measurable outcomes.

I work for a school who looks at testing through a realistic lens: our kids struggle with tests.  We must learn how to teach them to be life long learners AND good test takers. It's just reality.  State tests start in 3rd grade so we cycle all the way back to kindergarten to begin the prep.

Kinders need to know how to read 25 high frequency words and a level 3 (DRA) text by the end of kindergarten. They need to know how to add and subtract numbers up to 10, count to 100, and identify fractions (0, 1/4, 1/2, 1). This is big deal stuff for kids who haven't ever been to school.

I was talking to one of our Head Start teachers and she mentioned that the gap between HS and K seems to widen every year.  Head Start is still focused on early childhood and school readiness, but then WHAMMO, welcome to kindergarten.

I'm beginning to babble...

I'm leaving in a few days to have my second baby.  I'll be home until the 2012-2013 school year and then I plan to come back with a fresh new idea on how to structure my day.

I want to take all of our required elements (Reading Workshop, Math Workshop, Writing Workshop, etc) and break them up into small chunks through the day. I want to make free play the bigger chunks in between. FREE play meaning children will be allowed to interact with each other and their environment free of specific instructions. During free play we will focus on dialog, friendships, working together, and problem solving. I also want to get back to my 1/2 hour of Quiet Story Time where I would read chapter books to my kids while they relaxed on the carpet. If a tired cherub fell asleep, so be it. It's a long day!

I will take data - because you can get great data by observation. I will use this data to hopefully convince others that it's okay... my kids are still learning, they're still meeting the academic benchmarks, but we are all happier. It will be less structured than I am used to (and honestly than I am comfortable with), but if we continue to speed away from the idea that 5 years olds are still just little kids who need to play, to explore, to be curious, then we are going to create a generation of angry maladjusted adults.

Oh, and let's hope I'm allowed to try this.



Friday, November 11, 2011

If you think you've had a bad day...

... think about a colleague of mine that slipped and fell in a pile of vomit. She fell so hard she thought she broke a bone and is bruised.  There might be pain meds involved.

Gah, can you imagine?

HAPPY FRIDAY!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

And here we go again...

It's parent conference time!  We've been here before, but this year, since I don't have a classroom, I have been given a different perspective. I've been working in our office for both parent conference days.

Unfortunately, my different perspective hasn't improved my thoughts on these days. It's worsened.

You see, as a kindergarten teacher, I understand that we are the front-line for many families.  We are often the first experience many families have with the school system. We are often the ones that try explain the importance of showing up for meetings and being on time. We are often the ones that have to convince parents we are here to help, but we need them to show up. SHOW UP.

Turns out, we don't make as big of an impact on our parents as I assumed.  Parents of first, second, third - all the way up to fifth, are just as bad as the K parents!  Here is a typical conversation I was involved with:

Me: "Hello, can I help you?"

Parent: blank stare.

Me: "Are you here for a parent conference?"

Parent: "Yes."

Me: "Do you know what time?"

Parent: "I don't know."

Me: "What's your child's teacher's name?"

Parent: "I don't know."

Me: "Okay, what grade is your child in?"

Parent: "I don't know."

Me (giant inner sigh): "Okay. What is your child's name?"

Parent gives name, I have to ask for clarification a few times, I finally write it down. I give name to someone with special computer access to look up child to find the teacher's name (remember, I'm just helping, I'm not "official.") Then I look for the teacher's schedule (we had about half) to see if the child's name is listed.  Then, when I can't find name, I call the teacher and we hope that stars are aligned that the parent actually showed up on time and the teacher and translator are waiting.

More likely, they never responded to the teacher's multiple requests and just showed up.  Then we scramble to find a translator for the last-minute conference.

Luckily, due to our amazing staff, 9 times out of 10, the parents gets connected with the teacher with a translator.

Also, I will admit, luckily, these parents are showing up. BUT LORD ALMIGHTY, why does it have to be so hard?!

I am looking forward to getting back into my own room and dealing with 20 parents, instead of hundreds.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Tests are such great measurements of knowledge...

Raise your hand if you got even a hint of my sarcasm.

So one of the tasks on our big-deal fall assessment asks the kids to choose the word that rhymes with the initial picture. Turns out, if they simply choose the last choice every time, they make benchmark.

Sort of like answering "C" every time.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Something to chew on

I was chatting with our school psychiatrist the other afternoon. We were having one of those, "what is going on with these kids?" moments. In multiple classrooms, we have multiple kids, whose needs seem to be above and beyond what we are capable of meeting. We have runners, we have screamers, we have biters. Thinking quickly, I can count 4 classrooms that have more than one child in each room that routinely needs to be restrained.

The school psychiatrist said it's not just us. Other schools she works in are experiencing the same thing.

"Shut up" I said. No one has it like us.

"Oh but yes, they do." she says.

My mind immediately starts thinking back to 5 years plus or minus 40 weeks ago. What world event was going on that caused people to shag, and then bring a child into a world where the environment was so stressful that might have caused this?

She immediately said, "it's the lack of play, don't you think?"

Hmmmmm. Yep, I can see that.

I've only been teaching kindergarten for 5 years. In those 5 years alone I have seen the elimination of nap time, a decrease in play within the classroom, a decrease in free play outside, and in turn an increase in structured time like Reading Workshop, Writing Workshop, and Math Workshop. I am testing more this year than last. Last year I tested more than the previous. We talk about common assessment (TESTS), results (TESTS), and remediation for kids based on those assessments (PREP FOR FUTURE TESTS).

I like the structure of all the workshops because I am a structured person. That doesn't mean it's the best for 5 year olds. I do think our day lacks play, and while I do try to make centers in the workshops fun and hands-on, it's certainly not play.

Is this our fault? Are we creating these little runners, biters, and screamers?

But what does a classroom teacher do? Defy the rules and close the door?

Something to chew on, no?

Doing the math

We have parent conferences coming up. Many, actually most, of our students have Spanish speaking parents. In my classroom alone, over the past 5 years, I have had only 3 - 5 students whose parents speak English each year.

This is the message we received from our office staff: The school district is only providing us with two Spanish speaking translators for both parent conference days, and two more that will only be here for a half day. FOR THE WHOLE SCHOOL. We have around 900 students.

We have 9 kindergarten classes alone. Each conference is 20 minutes which is never enough. Each class has 20 - 22 kids.

We have three fabulous instructional assistants in kindergarten who speak Spanish. They have been asked to help the entire kindergarten. The math alone on that doesn't work, but it's a step in the right direction.

Everyone else has to request slots and we're already receiving emails from staff saying, "there are no more slots, can anyone help?" This is not the fault of our school, there simply is not enough support to go around. Two full day and two half day translators will not come close to meeting our needs. The math simply doesn't work.

When discussing parent-teacher communication, parent involvement, home-school connection, etc., keep in mind that if translation resources aren't made available, none of those things are possible.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Looking for the humor...

Depending on the day, my mood, the weather, you name it, I will give you a different answer if things are on the upswing with our needier kinder kids.

Friday was a good day, and even though I had to accompany a colleague carrying a screaming child to the office, I would admit, the screaming is less frequent (still daily, but less frequent). Another special friend spent his lunch crawling around the carpet roaring like a T-Rex causing his classroom teacher to miss her own lunch, again. Other special things happened that I don't have the energy to share with you. On Friday, I laughed a lot with my colleagues and looked for humor in everything. I mean, how can you not laugh about a child who spends his entire day being a puppy or a T-Rex? He's having a good time, why can't we?

Today, at 9:15 a.m., I am currently barricaded in a classroom because another special friend has been trying to run out. The classroom teacher has already broken out in a sweat trying to get this child to stay in the classroom safely, and teach her other students. She said, "I'm too old for this." I told her her pay scale is too low for this. I'm not seeing the humor today.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The New Colossus and Horse Lips

I've been a bit of a smart ass lately sharing my thought that our school seems like the Ellis Island of public schools. I've been saying, "you know, give us your sick, your weary..."

So I decided to actually look that passage up, because I really only know a few words.

Turns out my smart ass isn't that smart.

The passage is actually a poem, and it's not at Ellis Island, it's mounted inside the Statue of Liberty. Liberty Island is near Ellis Island, but it's not the same thing.

So I am adjusting my comments.

Our school should have it's own plaque with The New Colossus posted at the door. (That even sounds smarter.)

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Emma Lazarus, 1883

Am I being a bit dramatic? YES, of course I am. But this week has been so hard. This week has just wrecked me, and some of my colleagues. Our school, and I am speaking specifically of kindergarten, has enrolled some very special friends. If you teach, you know that's not a positive label. I'm not talking about actual special-needs friends. I am talking about the children that require astronomical amounts of time, effort, patience, physical strength, etc...

We have so many special friends right now, that I truly feel like we have a sign on the door that says, "GOT CRAZY? GOT DEFIANT? GOT DISRESPECTFUL? COME ON IN!"

My yoga instructor just taught us "horse lips," deep breath in, floppy horse lipped exhale.

I just horse lipped.

I know our doors are wide open to every child. Please don't post a comment reprimanding me for being exclusive. I'm just feeling overwhelmed. Overwhelmed and flabbergasted.

Yesterday I was sitting in the hallway with a child who was screaming "NO! NO! NO!" and kicking anything that came near. He wasn't allowed in the classroom until his body was ready. Clearly his body was not ready. Two other teachers joined me. This child is what we call a frequent flier and this is a daily occurrence, so everyone pitches in when they can (that's just the kind of staff we have). Another colleague walked by and pretended to take a picture, "CLICK! Your tax dollars at work."

Horse lips.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

I miss it.

I'm a full month into being a resource teacher and have now developed a strong opinion of the position. It's not for me. I really miss my classroom. I miss having my own community, I miss having a strong relationship with 20 kids, versus having a weak relationship with 80+. I miss the rhythm and routine of a classroom. I miss having the control to change plans on a moment's notice based on the needs of the kids, or my needs.

I'm still enjoying being in my colleague's classrooms - it's giving me fabulous ideas for next year. But, BUT, I just miss having my own room and my own kids. I miss having Choice Time and Recess. I miss being in control of my lesson plans and routines. Right now I am co-teaching Writing Workshop three times a day. Writing is definitely not my favorite thing to teach in kindergarten, and now I do it three times a day!

Breath.

I am still grateful and know I am lucky to be in the position I'm in. It's just been a good experience to show me what wouldn't work for me in the future.

Off to Writing Workshop!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Appalled.

One of the basic purposes of public school is to create and foster good citizenship (oh, and that pesky trait called respect). In kindergarten we teach who the president is, what our flag looks like, and we learn the Pledge of Allegiance.

I'm appalled that we were given the message from the head honcho today that if you choose to show the president's address to students, you have to provide an alternate activity for students who wish not to view it.

Not okay.

Not okay!

I don't care what your political views are, when the president addresses the nation, YOU WATCH.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Sometimes it is their fault.

Working with an economically disadvantaged population, mostly comprised of other language speakers, comes with many things a teacher needs to accept with the job. For example,
  • Regular parent-teacher communication is not a given. In fact, if it happens very rarely. Many of our parents don't speak English and therefore are unable to communicate, and aren't aware of the resources available to them.
  • Many of our parents are illiterate. They didn't receive an education in their home country or the one they did receive was poor at best. It doesn't matter how many languages you translate your field trip letter in, if they can't read, they can't read.
  • Living conditions in our community can be very very poor. If your rent is very low, you can bet that the living standards are too. Backpacks often come to school with cockroaches along for the ride. Many of our kids are riddled with bed bug bites. Lice happens, but if many children share small spaces, it's hard to get rid of it.
  • Many of our kids only eat here at school and they eat for free or at a reduced price. There is no reason to begin any instruction unless you have made sure everyone has had their breakfast.
  • There are many instances throughout the day that our children are simply not available for learning because of a variety of reasons (the police came to the building in the middle of the night, the baby sibling sleeps next to the 5 year old and cried all night long, mom or dad just went to jail for immigration status, etc, etc, etc...)
I don't think any of this is our parents' or students' faults. It's their reality and it's our reality. We work with it.

What has been bothering me are a few things that I believe are the parents responsibility, no matter their economic conditions, their living situation, their work schedules, or whatever other barrier they might face. Oh, and when these things are ignored, it makes teaching very very difficult. In short, these two things have been driving me BANANAS.
  • When a child hears his or her name, THEY MUST ACKNOWLEDGE IT. Trust me, I have a child of my own who at times ignores his name. But you know what? I let him know that it's unacceptable. I teach him that when an adult says his name, he turns and looks at that adult. (This should apply to his peers too, but right now, I'm focused on the teacher-respect thing). And yes, he is TWO. So what's the 5 year old's excuse? I can't tell you how many times a day, in all of our classrooms, teachers are having to say a child's name 4 to 5 times before the child acknowledges it. And then a lesson must be given to that student, or the whole group, on this "skill" that didn't come to school with the children.
  • Bad behavior is bad behavior. I can work with a child who exhibits poor behavior because of something else (emotional, physical, mental stress from home or school). I can put together individual behavior plans. I can spread so much positive love on the student that they don't know what hit them. I can start the referral process for kids who have greater needs than I can meet alone, but what I can't do, is day-after-day-after-day deal with a child who is disruptive because "that's how he is at home." If I spend hours working to help your child learn appropriate behavior and spend hours meeting with specialists to get advice and strategies -- and you don't see my problem, you don't see your problem, and you just keep picking him up and dropping him off like all is fine? Well, keep your kid at home. (Yes, I said it).
I understand and accept the barriers our parents face. But the barriers can not be an excuse.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

My child already knows everything.

I am really enjoying being in my colleagues' classrooms. I've always wanted to see how everyone else works their magic, and how everyone is different and wonderful in their own way. Each teacher has a different approach, but there are always similar themes that run through the rooms, which makes coming in and out fairly easy.

One thing I have been encountering is that more that one of my colleagues is dealing with parents who think that their child is "too smart" for kindergarten, or "already knows everything." I have had a few of these in the past, so my eyes automatically roll when I hear about it.

I wish I could be very blunt with each of these parents, or have enough expendable income to do my own public service announcement. It would go something like this:

Dear parent of the smartest child in the world,

Just because your child can read every word in the dictionary, count to infinity and beyond, speak two or more languages fluently, and identify every color that ever existed like charmeuse and aquamarine, does not mean they are ready for first grade. I know these children. I love these children. But these children have a hard time telling me what day tomorrow is, or telling me about a book they just read, or sharing their toys with their classmates. These kids have lots of facts and information in their smart little heads but they have no idea how to use it. Please allow their kindergarten teacher to help them learn how to use their smart brains.

Love,
Me

Thursday, September 8, 2011

And I shall wear many hats...

You might be wondering where I am. I am still here, at my school, as a kindergarten teacher. But that's all that's the same. I've got another bun in the oven and I will be leaving on maternity leave at Thanksgiving break. Last spring when I got pregnant, I immediately began pondering if I wanted to take the normal leave or take more.

Thinking back to my experience after my first child was born, and looking realistically at our household finances, I decided I would take more.

As I told my fabulous boss, "I would rather not be here and want to be here, then be here and not want to be here." Make sense?

Now, as a side note, I am a terrible stay-at-home mom, so this isn't about me wanting to stay home with my baby. I had no problems putting my first in day care. The problem was trying to be engaged and happy for my class while utterly exhausted. Trying and trying to find a location to pump and finally resigning myself to pumping in my car (3 times a day). Wincing as I squat down to help a kiddo because I still had pain from giving birth (moms, you know what I mean here...)

I decided to take the remainder of the school year off and return full time next fall.

So once I made my decision, I was faced with this issue: does it make sense to have a kindergarten classroom for one quarter and then find a long-term substitute for the last three quarters?

No, it didn't make sense. After all, the first quarter in kindergarten is all about setting tone, establishing routines, learning rules, and community building. Teaching, in the traditional sense, does occur, but the nitty gritty begins 2nd quarter. Why would I establish a relationship with 20 five year olds and then abandon them?

So here I am. I am a kindergarten resource teacher. Our numbers have absolutely exploded this year so there is plenty to help with. With 9 kindergarten classes, someone always needs help. This first week has been a challenge as I tried to make sure each kinder went home the right way. Some of you might be a bit bug-eyed right now thinking, "that's a challenge?! Shouldn't that be EXPECTED?!" Well yes. It should be. But we have 200 kinders, most of whose parents don't speak English and seem not to understand the need to pass along important information. Trust me, boggles my mind each year. "You're looking for your daughter? Well she's on the bus because that's what you wrote on your form at Open House. You changed your mind? Oh, well, I didn't get that message..." Or the child that jumps bus lines for fun. You get the point.

After this week, I will be helping with small groups in our K classrooms, helping with testing, and just being available to help the classroom teachers where they need it.

It's weird. My colleagues are deep into the first week with their classrooms getting to know their kids and establishing routines, while I find myself crazy busy one minute and then aimlessly wandering the next. Sometimes it is good weird, and sometimes not.

But I know once I establish a schedule it will be better... and when I sit back and think about it, or when I am waddling down the hall, I think this will work out just fine.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Little Things

Last year I was a mess on the last day of school. This year, not so much. My class is a good bunch of kids with two or three tough cookies that challenged me, but nothing that was out of my ordinary. I did have some challenging parents, parents who seemed to advocate not for their child, but for their own laziness, and that was certainly challenging, but again, nothing too far out of my ordinary.

As I told a colleague last week, this group of kids and I have grown apart and it's time to move on, so when other colleagues have been sad and wistful about the last day, I've been indifferent. I'm not cheering the kids out the door, but I'm not sad to see them go.

It wasn't until our last recess on the playground today that I felt much of anything. Looking over at the swings, I saw six of my girls pumping away, feet to the sky, giant smiles on their faces. Not many of my kids could swing at the beginning of the year. Now they can. That made me happy.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Poem for Tuesday

We did it friends,
Another year.
Here’s to summer,
And some mighty nice cheer.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Poem for Monday

My two year old can do it,
And so can you.
How many days left?
JUST COUNT TO TWO!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Poem for Friday

We’re all getting antsy,
The kids want to shout,
Just three more days,
UNTIL SCHOOL LETS OUT!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Poem for Thursday

Noses are red,
Waves in the pool,
Just four more days,
'TIL THE END OF SCHOOL!

Blech

A summer seminar was advertised at school, with this as the first topic addressed:

"
Raise standardized test scores for all students."

Ooh, ooh, sign me up.

Eyeroll.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Perspective

I don't know about the end of the year at other schools, but at our school, with constant growing numbers and lack of space, the big questions are always looming. Are we moving rooms? Is anyone changing grade levels? Who is leaving? The administration, and I have learned it's the same no matter who is in the role, is left responsible for these questions. Frustration grows, rumors swirl, doors close. No one has definitive answers. It becomes tense. Everyone thinks they have an answer or solution, so why the heck can't we just decide and move on?

Well, turns out, on top of all the end-of-the-year junk that our administration has to deal with, other issues pop up that require immediate attention.

Like, let's just say as an example, a parent is complaining because they've spotted a bus driver making out with their sweetheart on the actual bus - on numerous occasions.

Snarf.

Have fun with that one boss!

It's good to have some perspective, especially when the stress level is rising.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sparkly Things Store

It's nearing the end of the school year which means two things in kindergarten math: time and money.

I decided to tackle money first. We spent awhile learning how to identify each coin and what they were worth. Most kids usually pick this up fairly easily. Then we began talking about making change. How can we make 8 cents? 6 cents? How about 10 cents? How about ANOTHER way to make 10 cents? I focused on this during morning calendar math for weeks (i.e. we beat the horse...)

Then, the very best part of the money unit was upon us. The classroom store. For two days I let the kids lose with crafty scraps and craft glue and asked them to make beautiful things that other people would want to buy. Look how busy they were!

So proud...


So focused...


So creative...

After two days of creating, the kids named the store and settled on prices. We gave them choices (10 cents, 8 cents, 5 cents, 3 cents, 1 cent). I let 5 kids shop at once and I ran the register. I was checking to see who could make the right change and who needed help. Halfway through the shopping spree, I announced a SALE! WE SLASHED EVERYTHING! Ha, now they had to make different change. Bwahahaha.

All in all I was able to focus on about 4 kiddos who still need help and feel confident that the others understand the concept. And they have beautiful sparkly treasures to boot!

Any other ideas of fun ways to teach money?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Money/Store Books

Here is a list of books that were recommended to me by our fabulous librarian. They all focus on goods and services, having money, or simply buying stuff. Exactly what I needed to get the kids' brains around our store!
  • Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday by Judith Viorst
  • Something Good by Robert Munsch
  • Money, Money, Honey Bunny! by Marilyn Sadler
  • Bunny Money by Rosemary Wells
  • Goat and Donkey in Strawberry Sunglasses by Simon Puttock and Russell Julian.
Thanks Library Lady!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Need Book Advice!


Can anyone recommend a good read aloud for kinders about buying goods at a store? It doesn't need to be obvious (I'd like to stay away from, "Rosa goes to a store to buy apples." Boring.)

I'm having a hard time brainstorming.

My kids have been making beautiful treasures with crafty scraps and later this week we will price them (everything 10 cents and under!) and then buy and sell in our classroom store. I'd love a great book recommendation to support our activity.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Deep Breaths

A few deep calming breaths after my previous post, nothing improves a day quite like a really good read aloud.

Thank you Cynthia Rylant for writing such a wonderful story.

The Perfect Storm

A recipe for the perfect storm:

1 newly pregnant teacher suffering from exhaustion and headaches.
1 year of working within the standard calendar
3 less breaks than previous years
22 more days of school left
18 children who seem to have lost ability to function

Put all ingredients into a classroom and stir.

I know many of my colleagues are suffering from similar complaints*. I am fully aware that some of it is me, but I am fully aware that lots of it is them. Just looking at colleagues faces confirms that. My daily pattern has been that I start off positive, I quickly become frustrated, then I speak slowly and softly, and then whammo, I yell. And I yell because I worked really hard to speak slowly and softly (I'm already mad at this point), but when a kid simply chooses to ignore me, I can't control it.

*The complaints are:
  1. incessant talking when a teacher is talking.
  2. incessant noise and playing during routine transitions.
  3. consistently being given specific one and two steps direction and NOT FOLLOWING THEM.
Not good. Not good at all. I've been saying things like, "there is NO WAY I can do this for the rest of my professional life." That's a big deal. This is my 4th year. Next year is that magical year that all the statistics say I have a good chance of leaving the classroom. Will I be another statistic? Or can I finish this school year, recharge over the summer and remember why I do what I do, because that list is a lot longer than my list of complaints.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Tooth Brushing Club

Without going into specifics for reasons of privacy and also covering my butt, my fantastic co-worker and I came up with the idea of having a Tooth Brushing Club here in our classroom. Why you ask? Here is the non-specific butt covering reason:

I have a friend who missed a crazy amount (lots, I mean LOTS) of school due to very poor oral hygiene that likely led to weakened immune system that likely led to illness. Unfortunately I do not feel confident that his oral hygiene is a priority at home, so I made it a priority at school. With 17 of his friends.

Our fabulous administrator went out and bought 18 toothbrushes for my classroom. No one asked her but she did it. And she didn't get the cheapo ones. She got the fancy Oral-B ones with Toy Story, Cars and Disney Princess characters. That's some cash.

This morning I scrapped our normal routine and had the kids watch a 5 minute Brain Pop, Jr. flick on teeth brushing, then introduced The Tooth Brushing Club. I said it's not mandatory and you only had to sign up if you wanted to. Everyone wanted to sign up except my little friend with the dirty mouth. (I keep thinking of Orbit commercials, hence the "dirty mouth.") Unfortunately I forced him into it, but sometimes we need tough love right? It truly was a , "come on! Everyone else is doing it!" Great lesson to teach, right?

The poor little kiddo clearly doesn't like brushing his teeth because it hurts. And it hurts because he doesn't brush his teeth. Ugh. That's the tough part of this story. One that has been keeping me up at nights since November.

The untough part is that everyone else is so enthusiastic about brushing their teeth, we actually are running into management issues. But you know what? There are worse things. We made a list of when we can brush, and how many can do it at once. I have no doubt that the wrinkles will iron out...

In the meantime, brush away kiddos. Brush away.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Long Overdue

For the first time all year, I have made the Smart Board a student-run center during math. I'm not sure why it's taken so long, but I'm glad I finally got to it.

Or maybe it's good I waited this long? I was happily surprised that this group needed very few reminders on how to use it independently. They were definitely ready.
(P.S. If you're curious, the kids are playing a coin/money game. It's been great because we are in the early stages of learning about money.)

Ants Freestyle

I'm trying something new this year with ants. Normally I would set up the ant farm and then lead lessons on the parts, the life cycle, the tunnels, etc.

I'm not really feeling that this year.

So, instead, I set up the ant farm and gave the class instructions on when they could come observe. It took a few days of reminders, but they have it down now. Throughout the day, kids are at the farm staring at the ants and making comments like, "oh I can see 6 legs!" or, "they are the same color as a penny!" or, "look, that one died!"

We also learned our Ant Parts song, and I will likely do a lesson on the life cycle, but nothing too serious. I'm more interested in them watching the ants, that's the fun stuff.
(Don't worry. That giant ant to the left is plastic. The kids also play with models of the lifecycle while they observe.)

Monday, May 9, 2011

How much does good behavior cost?

Turns out, it costs about half a million dollars. That's how much our school district is budgeting to address the "discipline problem" in our schools.

Hey, parents? You owe us $500,000. And no, we don't take checks.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Thank Yous Don't Cost Money

Everything in my mind and body is telling me that it's time to get positive and refocus on what I love about my job, but it being Teacher Appreciation Week, I'm having a tough time not feeling just a little bit bitter.

Our administration has fallen over themselves showing us love this week with treats, gifts, lunch and breakfast. And frankly, they have to because there is a huge, obvious, awkward void in the actual classroom.

Our school send out calls to parents reminding them that it's teacher appreciation week. MORE THAN ONCE. They encourage families to have their students write their teachers notes about why they appreciate them.

Newsletters and fliers with similar information.

The administration is practically begging our families to show a shred of appreciation for the teachers.

I got a box of chocolates.

The chocolate giver is a super sweet kiddo and even if he just gave me the card that said "thank you" from his mom, I would have been happy.

One kid.

As teachers we don't ask for much from parents. Please just keep your kid fed and somewhat clean, return permission slips when we ask, and show up once a year for a conference.

But when you're actively being encouraged to show a little love, and you simply ignore it?

I'm not going to say it doesn't sting a little bit.

Especially, (and warning, here comes the bitter) when I have friends in wealthier schools who clean up in Starbucks gift cards this week.

All I want is a simple thank you. Thank yous don't cost money.

***Update*** Apparently the most recent call-out to parents sparked something. I received a few very thoughtful gifts this morning, and more importantly a note from a student saying thank you. A small portion of my class, but more than just the one I previously complained about. Now, who wants a box of Ferrero Rochers? How about a frozen Sara Lee Cheesecake? A dozen mini cupcakes with bright pink frosting? I'm happy to share.

OH, I almost forgot to mention my favorite... a small plastic trophy for my desk that says WINNER. Ha! I'm the Michael Scott of kindergarten.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

DEFCON 1

Things are getting pretty bad in here.

Here are some of the things students are not doing:
  1. listening
  2. following directions
  3. acting like human 6 year olds
Because it's better to be positive, I suppose I can list the things they ARE doing:
  1. arguing with each other
  2. arguing WITH ME
  3. pushing
  4. shoving
  5. stealing
  6. lying
I always accept some responsibility for my classroom's behavior, and I'm happy to do it this time as well. However, if an informal observation of every single teacher's face in this school was done, it will be clear that it's not just me.

When I picked up my class from P.E. today they were standing in a very quiet line. "Is this a good thing, or a bad thing?" I asked.

Turns out, a bad thing. The ENTIRE CLASS had to sit out of P.E. class for not following directions and talking incessantly while the teacher was talking. Normally we have one or two kids sitting out because when you have 2 classes of kinders in a room it can get a bit hairy. But on Thursdays, it's just my kids and the P.E. teacher. The giant gym, 18 kids, and a teacher. No class is ever that lucky. And my class blew it.

As I type this (i.e. vent my extreme level of frustration so I don't do or say anything that could get me fired) my class is sitting in the dark with their heads down.

Someone is sniffling and I don't care.

Like I said, it's getting pretty bad in here.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

This is my Shangri-La

Do you see these two? Do you really see them? Do you see them working together? Do you see them checking each other's work? Do you see them working on one project? TWO KIDS, ONE PROJECT?

If you teach young children, you know this is what we strive for but rarely get.

This is my Shangri-La.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

You can take your perfect kid and....

I AM SO TIRED OF PARENTS ALWAYS ASSUMING THAT THEIR CHILD WOULDN'T DARE EXHIBIT NORMAL DEVELOPMENTAL BEHAVIOR, AND THEN MAKING ME EXPLAIN WHAT "REALLY" HAPPENED AND WHAT OTHER CHILD IS TO BLAME.

Phew. I feel better.

Almost.

I mean come on friends! Is it all that shocking to you that your son just MIGHT have pushed someone on the playground?! Do you honestly believe that your child is so angelic (boring) that he never ever breaks a rule? Get a grip.

Newsflash: your child isn't perfect, even if he "always act nice at home." (Insert biggest and longest eye roll ever recorded).

Summer can't come soon enough.

Love Affair Over

**update** I checked the blog again and there might be a fix, but I need the help of our administrator. stay tuned.

Google Docs has become useless to me because for some reason, I can't access them during most of the day. I receive "trying to reach google.com..." message instead. I can't edit them while I get this message. Went to Google's blog to ask for help weeks ago and haven't received any information.

So now I log on during weird times in hopes that I can work off my Google Docs. I'm rarely successful.

All other things network related work fine, no problems. It's just Google Docs. Anyone else experience this message? Any fixes?

Useless. Useless and sad.

Now I have to think of another way to organize my files on my computer. Oh and that netbook I bought so I could access my Google Docs without unhooking my laptop from their various cords? Right now, it's a really expensive email checker.

Grumble.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

God, Eve and Chinese People

6 year old: "I am learning how to fight."

Me: "Really? Tell me about it." (Thinking I'm not going to like this...)

6 year old: "Well my dad is teaching me. He is sending me to karate."

Me: "Oh! Karate! You can learn a lot of good things there."

6 year old: "Yeah, I learned all about God. There was this girl and she ate an apple and she died."

Me: "Huh. You learned this at karate? (Moving on...) Was her name Eve?"

6 year old: "Yes! Eve. The Chinese people told me and they know a lot about God."

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sunday Reflection Revisited

Dear Mr. Nocera,

Thank you for putting my thoughts in a meaningful, researched, and well balanced opinion piece. You are my hero.

xoxoxoxo,
Me.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sunday Reflection

My husband and I were given a lovely gift this morning... the gift of silence. The grandparents had kept the wee one overnight and for the first time in ages, we settled into the Sunday Times and sipped our coffee (hot the whole time!) for over a lazy, wonderful hour.

I devoured the paper like a kid in a candy store and finally settled into the Sunday magazine. There was an amazing article written by Jonathan Mahler about a principal and his school in the Bronx. The deeper I got into it, the more and more I saw our school, our students, our teachers, and our community represented in each line of the article.

The most poignant passage was this:

"It’s hard to disagree with the reform movement’s insistence that poverty, like ignorant or apathetic parents, should not be accepted as an excuse for failing schools. But watching Saquan, it’s just as hard to ignore the reality that poverty is an immutable obstacle in the path of improving public education, one that can’t simply be swept aside by the rhetoric of raised expectations. Is it really a surprise that a child whose family had been forced to move into a homeless shelter where he was sharing a bedroom with his mother and three brothers was having trouble getting himself to school and was acting out in class? Is it realistic to think that demanding more of him and his teachers is all that is required?"

This sentiment is something I frequently think about and talk about. The research shows, as the article points out, "that children’s experiences inside the classroom are responsible for as little as 20 percent of their overall educational development." Given this information, why are teachers being held accountable for 100% of a child's academic success? What about the parents, the family, the neighborhood, the community, the state -- the entire whole of society?

Children's educational performance cannot improve without serious reforms focused on living in poverty, language barriers, access to real health care, early childhood education, and a focus on the family, primarily on the caregivers. Until then, "reformers" are simply missing the boat on the real problems and placing blame on the people who are actually trying to do what is best for the kids.

***There are also a lot of good points made by the author about why charter schools aren't a realistic comparison of public schools, but that issue could take up an entire other post.***