Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Too Young For Me

So, I tutor this 6th grader. And he is almost always in boxers when I show up. Today I decided it needed to be addressed. 

Me: "Put some clothes on. You're too old to not be dressed when I'm here." 

Student's Brother: "Don't you mean he's too young?"



That's not really the angle I was going for. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

I don't know about you...

... but I'm NOT feeling 22, and I couldn't be more glad.

T-Swift obviously had a much different experience in her 22nd year than I did. While she spent year #22 dressing up like a hipster, keeping herself next to you, and, of course, dancing, I spent mine finishing student teaching, submitting 100,000 job applications, moving 800 miles, and jumping headfirst into my first year of teaching. I spent a lot of the year anxious and unsettled.

If you are a first-year teacher, fear not. A year can make a really big difference.

This time last year, I was totally paralyzed by the idea of having my own class (even though I shared it with a co-teacher). Although I had completed student teaching in 2 different classrooms and observed in many others, I had no idea how to go about being totally in charge. There are SO many things to think about. There are simple things like room arrangement, rules, scheduling, and organization, and also more complex concerns, like curriculum pacing, differentiation, behavior management, and dealing with the unique needs of my special ed kiddos within the regular education classroom. To top it all off, the only way to figure any of this out was in front of 31 kids who expected me to know what was going on. I made mistakes, friends, and messes.

Fast forward to this year. I know that I still have a LOT to learn. For one thing, I am starting the new year in a totally different grade level. (I was in 5th last year, and despite my request to stay in 4th or 5th I will be going to 2nd for this year- but change can be a great thing!) Even so, going into the second year is so much more exciting for me than going into the first year was. The general anxiety has subsided, and I know that if I survived last year, I can better than survive this one. I am still amped up about my job and I want very much to be good at it, so I've spent a lot of time reading other teachers' blogs and attending a couple of trainings. The same blogs overwhelmed me last year. I am now more able to take information and ideas from them without comparing myself to the "have-it-together" people I'm reading about. It's great to be starting with a sense of peace instead of insecurity.

Apologies to Taylor Swift, but I'm happy to have closed the door on 22 and glad to be feeling 23.

What is Your Role in the Class? (and other accidentally hurtful questions abut co-teaching)

Tomorrow marks the beginning of my second year of teaching. It will also be my second year as a special education teacher in a full-day co-taught class. I've learned a lot of things since I began teaching, but one of the major lessons I've learned in my particular position is how to check my ego at the door.

As a special education teacher, it didn't surprise me at all when I was told that I'd be co-teaching all day. One of the major pillars of IDEA (special education legislation) is that students need to be educated in the least restrictive environment possible, which is, increasingly, the general education classroom. However, classrooms have traditionally had only one teacher, leaving students and their parents confused to find two. I should not have been surprised to find myself explained away as "the assistant," but I was. Surprised and hurt.

This year, I am lucky enough to be co-teaching with a wonderful second grade general education teacher. We both attended a co-teaching workshop in the summer. Both of our names were on the letter that informed students of their new homeroom. We wrote both names on everything in the classroom and even decided to share my afternoon hall duty to reinforce the appearance of our equality. I was so excited to begin a fresh new year, where no one viewed one of us as the "real" teacher.

We met our students and their parents one morning last week, and it didn't take long for me to realize:

They knew.

Somehow, despite our careful portrayal of equality, they knew I was not the "homeroom" teacher. I have to say, I was a little crushed at first. Crushed to be asked "who I was with last year" and "what my role in the class" was.

And then I thought about it.

I was hurt because I wanted to be recognized as important, but they were asking questions because they were legitimately confused. I may be knowledgeable about inclusion, but for them it's brand new. So, I need to drop the ego and figure out how to best explain it, rather than sitting around with hurt feelings.

I haven't figured it out yet though, so this is an unresolved blog post.

Monday, June 3, 2013

School's Out and I Survived

May 23rd was the last day of school for students here, and teachers were finished on the 28th. At this point, I've been up north with my family for a few days and still can't believe that my first year is over. It's an incredibly weird feeling.

The last couple of weeks of school were a strange whirlwind. Fifth graders at the end of the school year are basically wild animals, and we had a LOT going on in those last few weeks- visiting the middle school, practicing locks, end of the year party, etc. I found myself in the strange position of REALLY wanting the end to come so that these crazy kids and I could have a break, yet being very sad that the little buggers would be moving on to the middle school, where I realistically probably won't see them again.

When the last day of school came, I did cry a couple of times. The first was because of a card one of my little darlings gave me. Now, this kid is my buddy. The birthday card he made me was featured in a previous post. He is by no means a writer, but he filled both sides of a card thanking me for helping him when he was confused, taking him outside to eat lunch, "bealing" (b-d reversal) with him when he got wound up, etc. The last line was "You are the best teacher I have had and will have. Thank you." You have to understand- I'm not trying to brag, or saying that I think I was truly the best teacher this kid has had- I am saying it because it totally humbled me. I worked really hard this year to keep up. I cried in the bathroom plenty of times and spent long hours writing lesson plans and progress reports. I was observed CONSTANTLY by both the school administration and people from the county. I struggled to keep up with co-teaching, small groups, preparing kids for standardized tests, data collection, Common Core, rigor, classroom management, etc etc etc. I dropped the ball plenty of times.

None of those things are what really mattered to this student. What mattered to him was that I helped him when he was lost, listened when he needed to talk, and read to him when he was bouncing off the walls. I reassured him that it's impossible to be literally scared to death and put band-aids on a lot of cuts. I loved this kid (and his 30 lovely classmates, too). That is what made the difference in his life this year. I know that I need all of those other things- the standards, the management, the lesson, the data- to be an effective teacher, and I am working on them. I was humbled to remember, though, that I entered this field not just to educate, but also to nurture and encourage. And that is one thing that I don't need any extra training or practice to do well.

Saturday, May 18, 2013


My first year of teaching is winding its way to an end, and as I look back, I'm proud of a lot of it.

I'm proud that my students have made academic growth. I'm proud that one has significantly decreased his "blurt to hand raise" ratio. I'm proud of the relationships that we've built, the lessons we've learned together, and, after this crazy week, pretty proud that I survived the year.

I'm not proud of everything, though, not by a long shot, and about a week and a half ago I got a reminder that no matter how well things are going, we all do things we aren't proud of.

Let me set the scene for you: Fifth grade. End of the school year. My math class, which has never been known for its excellent behavior. A first year teacher who has never been known for her discipline. And not to make excuses, but I was feeling super crappy that day.

These kids would. not. stop. talking. I tried complimenting the well-behaved kids, tried raising my voice, tried "I can't do this for you and you need to take responsibility for your own learning" guilt. Every time I tried to teach, they were back to talking. And I yelled. I didn't just raise my voice. I yelled the way you yell when you are angry at someone. After that, I left the room and I cried.

Somewhere in the minute or so that I was out of the room, I remembered that they're 10 and I'm 23. And I went back in and taught math. They made me a card from construction paper that said "Sorry we were so loud" on the outside and "You are the best" on the inside. They all signed it.

So, now I have this yellow card in my bag, and I'm going to go ahead and hold onto it to remind me that I made it through this year- the proud moments and the not-so-proud ones all together.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Robins and Blue Jays

A friend of mine from high school recently "pinned" this picture on her Pinterest:

I found it interesting, because as a special education teacher, my reaction to a "slow" reader asking to read is a little more like this:

I've been giving the Borat thumbs-up quite a bit in the past couple of weeks. I'm a co-teacher, which means I "push-in" (in my case, all day) to a regular education class to serve my special education students. Recently, I started pulling out a small group of kids for about 40 minutes a day to give them some more direct instruction in reading strategies and read a novel together. I thought they might resist a little since it makes them look different from the rest of the class, but I was totally wrong. They ask me allllll morning long when we're going to "that reading thing." They listen while we read, (thank you, Class Dojo) answer comprehension questions, and remember the strategies we talk about. It's a miracle.

Here's the best part, and the part that ties into the memes I opened with. These little darlings actually FIGHT over who gets to read aloud when we work on our novel. Sentences truly overheard in our classroom this week:

"But she got to read TWO pages already! That's so unfair!"

"I didn't get to read yet! I raised my hand quietly!"

"I don't want that page! It's too short!"

And why does whining about wanting to read warm my heart so much? I have the 7 lowest performing readers in the class in this small group. I have a little boy who, at the beginning of the year, told me he hated reading aloud because he sounded like a kindergartener. I have two girls for whom English is a second language. I have 3 boys with learning disabilities and one who won't read in the regular classroom without trying to use a funny accent. They skip lines, they leave out words, they mispronounce words. And then- they correct each other. They show each other the right line. They explain the things their friends don't understand.

Truly, those are the best 40 minutes of my day, and I don't care if they read 5 words a minute. I couldn't be prouder.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Sweet 16

I had a birthday yesterday! I have to admit I'm not a huge birthday person, but do you know who does love a good birthday? Ten- and eleven- year- olds! I started the day with a meeting with parents, admin, and a LOT of other staff members, which was a blast. Following the meeting I went back to my classroom, where my lovely (and VERY rambunctious) math class sang Happy Birthday to me. Following their song, one of them asked me if it was my Sweet 16. Oh Lawd. I had a mature-looking pencil skirt on and everything.

A few of my most dedicated little people made me birthday cards, too. I swear- there is not a single card on the market as funny and sweet as what these children made for me.

 So this child signed the card "From: Zachary," then apparently decided to add "Love: Zachary" at the top, then tried to scribble out the "love" part. But it's too late. Once you admit it, you can't take it back.
 The inside of his card said "You are the 1st or 2nd best teacher I ever had." I will accept either position, but everyone knows that first is the worst and second is the best.

And the back: "Have a good one or not it's up to you." I have never
 been given options regarding how to feel on my birthday. Most people just go around commanding people to have a good birthday. How refreshing.

Now this was another student. She asked me for an envelope at about 9 AM and then gave me the same envelope back with this note at approximately 9:02 AM. "I know it's last minute. I, honestly, didn't know it was your birthday until before math." Who taught that girl how to use a comma??? Oh wait, me.

Overall, it was a great day with some great people- kids and coworkers alike. Now on to state standardized testing- a whole different adventure.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Everyone's A Critic

It's Spring Break, and I must confess that I have been spending a lot of my downtime fraternizing with the enemy.

(The enemy, of course, is Pinterest.)

Let me be clear-  I found a lot of good ideas this week, a few of which I may actually implement when I get back to school, like this website with fun online timers (the expectation in our room is that we get to math stations in 38 seconds) and this list of free apps to support IEP goals. However, I also pinned a lot of things that are just absolutely not of any use to me, like this post about how to effectively organize a 31 bag of teaching supplies. Seriously? I am a bright girl. What makes me think I need someone to tell me how to organize my own bag? (My method is this: Dump everything in at random, let students rifle through it as needed to find candy/ band-aids/ pencils, and pray that the aforementioned students don't know what a tampon is.)

It was clearly time to step away from the Pinterest teacher boards. In doing so, I found something that I considered far scarier: Pinterest parent boards.

I was totally blown away at how many posts there are detailing how to bond with your children, how to create traditions with your children, hwo to raise grateful children, how to raise modest children, etc etc etc. I know everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, and the internet is a perfect way to disseminate that opinion to a waiting public, but come on.*

I guess everyone has always had their opinions about how things should be done, and the internet just makes it easier to throw it out for others to see. However, seeing all of those posts made me think of my own upbringing. I don't think either one of my parents ever read anything about how to bond with my siblings and me, how to create traditions with us, or how to raise us to be the kind of people they wanted us to be.

Let me tell you though, we have traditions. We have memories. We are bonded very closely not just to one another, but also to our extended family. My sister and I may have made plently of mistakes growing up, and we may have had moments where we were ungrateful or immodest, but we both volunteer, work hard in our jobs and in school, and remember to call and visit our grandparents. We're okay. We're better than okay.

People need to chill out. You can make a full time job out of figuring out the best way to live, or you can just live your life.

Anyway, it's clearly time for my downtime to end and for me to get back to implementing Common Core in my messy, disorganized, sometimes smelly, but much-loved classroom.

*Yes, I know I am also disseminating my opinion to a waiting public, but it's different because it's MY opinion. No, it's different because I'm not telling anyone what to do. Okay, I don't know if it's at all different but whatever.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Pinterest: 100, Kelsey: 1

A strange and wonderful thing happened this weekend. I actually made something that appears on Pinterest.

After viewing little stools made from file crates on the blogs of people who actually have it together (here, here, etc), and, more importantly, seeing these stools in action in the classrooms of two of my awesome coworkers, I decided to try to make them.

Something you should know about me: I am not very good at making things.

Something else you should know: I hate, hate, hate asking people to do things for me, especially things that inconvenience them.

I overcame the not being good at making things part of the equation and bought my crates, fabric, and batting to fill the cushions. The hard part was asking someone at Home Depot to cut pieces of wood to the right size for me, because I have an unfortunate lack of power tools in my apartment. Both coworkers assured me that the people who cut their wood had no problem doing it, and one even had it done for free from scraps. So, I sucked it up and headed in with my crate.

Long story short, it took FOREVER, about 7 prototypes, and a very long line of people behind me before the right size piece of wood was created and duplicated for each of my crates. I felt about an inch high. Everyone was super nice about it, but I can't stand to cause anyone any inconvenience at all, so I hated every second of it. I grew up with my dad and grandpa doing woodworking stuff, so next time I will have to save this kind of project for my dad and I to do.

Anyway, in the long run, they didn't come out bad at all! Feel free to experience my creative process below.

My supplies: Crate, hard-won wood, batting, scissors, remnant fabric, tacks, hammer.

Then you kind of awkwardly tack on the fabric and cram the batting in while you watch White Collar

Should end up sort of like that. 

And then put it on the top of the crate!

I had to make a "boy one," of course (Go Dawgs)

The finished set!

The score is still far in the favor of Pinterest, but I think I'm gaining.

P.S. 5/6 of these broke the first day. PINTEREST WITH THE REBOUND!

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Tao of Bubbles

Some blogs contain adorable printables and activities. Some blogs have great lesson ideas and clever organizational strategies. Some provide inspiration to be a better, more creative, more engaging, more technology-using teacher.

My blog may not have these things, but it does have wisdom. It has hard-earned wisdom that I have paid for with my blood, sweat, and tears this year. (Okay, I haven't bled. I've sweated and cried though.) Allow me to lay down a little of the wisdom I gained last week:

Wisdom #1: Class pets will die. This will probably occur riiiight about when most of the students are in love with aforementioned pet.

Wisdom  #2: Every child in your class will have a theory about how the pet died. "T fed it an eraser." "N squeezed it too hard." "C poked it with a pencil." It's better to just say, "Hamsters just don't live that long. It was her time," and ignore these theories.

Wisdom #3: Children expect a respectful burial and funeral for the class pet. Under no circumstances should you suggest that you might throw the dead pet over the fence behind the school before it starts to smell. Never say that.

Wisdom #4: If, for some reason, you DO happen to throw the dead pet over the fence, lie about it to the kids. If you don't, children that you have never spoken to, never even seen, will approach you on your morning duty, at recess, and in the hallway to ask if you REALLY threw the pet over the fence. SAY NO.

Check back with me in ten years or so to see if I am creating instructional resources. Until then, feel free to learn from my mistakes.

Also, please enjoy this video one of my students made of me petting a a turtle and uploaded on MY youtube account, which I apparently left logged in- oops. I guess this means we'll be trying videos for our next project!

Saturday, February 23, 2013


I think I mentioned in my first-ever blog post that Pinterest gives me a serious inferiority complex. However, my 5th grade team decided to have a poetry rotation for Valentine's Day, which consisted of each teacher teaching one mini-lesson on a poetic element. The kids rotated through all of the teachers. In anticipation of seeing all 155 or so 5th graders in one day, I found myself hunting Pinterest for a worthy lesson on hyperbole. I didn't find anything I liked, so I made my own lesson, actually used the die-cut machine for the first time this year, and went to it.

The truth is, I often use and learn from things other teachers post on the internet, so I hope maybe this time I can give a resource to someone else who is desperately googling "hyperbole" and "hyperbole lesson" and "hyperbole activity."

I started with a Powerpoint that gave the definition of hyperbole and a few examples (boring part.) Then we "spiced up" a few simple sentences by adding hyperbole to them. For example, "I'm really tired," became, "I'm so tired I could sleep for years!" (Pro tip- don't use the sentence, "My sister is pretty." Many 5th graders find their siblings rather stinky.)

Next I played song clips that contained hyperbole and showed the students the lyrics, and they identified the hyperbole. (Pro-tip 2- Don't use YouTube unless your school system's internet has greater buffering power than mine does.)

Finally, since it was Valentine's Day, the kids all used hyperbole to write a sentence or two about something or someone they really loved (giving the directive to NOT talk about boys/ girls at school. No love allowed in 5th grade). Once I checked it over, they wrote it on a die-cut heart and we glued them all to a banner to hang in the hall. Out of the whole day, I only had to veto 2 kids for writing something about a girl in the class, which isn't too bad.

Here is the final banner. "5th Grade Loves Hyperbole (a Million Times More Than Anything!)"

A couple of favorite hearts: 


"If swim wasn't invented, then I would die of boredom."

"I love wings so much I could eat them 24/7." (I hear ya, kid. I hear ya.)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Pics or it didn't happen.

Well, it's Friday*, and I am feeling appropriately "fri"ed. GET IT? GET IT?
*(Or it was when I started writing this post, which would not publish due to my terrible internet, hereafter known as ButtNet)

Okay, so, I am in the middle of the imaginary process of changing my name and not telling my students. That's how many times they've called me recently. Now, I am the kind of person that likes to be needed. I love for the kids to want me to help them or be a part of what they're doing. Sometimes, though, it gets exhausting.

Kids give a lot back, too. I'm lucky enough to get a lot of love, jokes, stories, art projects, and today, jabs in the face with a pencil.

Then there are these sorts of gifts: 

1. Messages stapled into notecards.

2. Tiny weapons made from classroom supplies. While this image depicts what appears to be a thumbtack-pencil mace, paperclip-rubber band bows with paper arrows are more common.

3. Math problems made of science . Amphibians: 1 life in water + 1 life on land = 2 lifes. Actually.. that was totally right.

4. Paperclip animals.

 5. Clever methods of avoiding silent reading. (In case you can't tell, this darling is reading a totally blank notebook. I can't, of course, post a picture of his face, but I can assure you that he was faking total engrossment.)

6. And of course, apparatuses for hanging teeny weeny clothes.

Happy Friday*.