Friday, April 30, 2010

Pool Party!

My students have the fortune of getting to go to the middle school for two weeks every year for swimming lessons. The program is really great and, while it takes up a LOT of instructional time (I know, I'm a nerd), it gives the students a valuable life skill and an extra outlet for their energy. It also teaches some of my less sports-inclined students that there are other options for physical activity and motivates them to get moving.

Here's the catch: Swimming time forces you to practice what you preach. That is, if you feel like it's important to do so.

On Fridays the students are granted Free Swim. It is on these two days that the teacher is invited to come swim with the students. Last week I was not feeling well for a variety of reasons that impeded my ability to swim comfortably so I opted out. Today, however, it was put up or shut up time. My students were practically begging me to join them, so of course I used it to my benefit and offered it up as incentive but the real reason I jumped in that pool today?...

Swimming is scary for 5th graders, especially 5th grade girls. You have to take off all of your clothes in a locker room with a group of people who are invariably judging you in order to feel better about themselves or judging themselves against you. Then, you have walk out of the locker rooms wearing barely anything only to meet your classmates of the opposite sex and become painfully aware that you have very different parts and that nobody has any interest in demonstrating that so obviously.

Well heck, I'm 26 years old and I have no interest in displaying my body. Not only do I not want to do this in front of people my own age, but I definitely don't want to do it in front of a group of students who certainly might have something unflattering to say about it. But there are two things that I have tried to make apparent to my students over the course of our time together. 1) I feel like it is really important to be healthy. (We have had many conversations about this, including when we had our picnic lunch and I brought fruit and vegetables and they brought giant bags of chips and didn't understand when I did not partake.) and 2) I LOVE to swim! Based on those two very fundamental concepts, there is no reason in the world that I shouldn't have been in that pool having fun with some of my favorite people.

You see, I was a little bit nervous to be so far out of my comfort zone. But if I don't push myself and act darn confident about it, I'm teaching my students that there's something to be ashamed of and that confidence is not warranted in this situation. Most importantly, I don't want my students to ever look around and realize that they are holding themselves back from life because they are afraid or uncomfortable. I have a feeling that they would miss out on a lot of great opportunities if I taught them that it is ok to let something/someone get in the way.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

4 Simple Strategies

I realized that, for a while now, I've shared some anecdotes and I've demonstrated my passion for education and my students, but I haven't really offered up anything of substance. One of my personal goals for writing is to grow professionally and help others grow if it is at all possible to learn from me and my experiences. I haven't done that for a while, so here goes...

4 Simple Strategies that work for ALL learners:

I've found that often times we go to workshops and find exceptional strategies that we just couldn't possibly implement without moving heaven and earth, changing our systems completely, and putting in a ton of work in advance of said implementation. These are STILL great strategies, and important to consider during breaks or while planning for next year. But sometimes there are small things that we are missing, things that would give us a spruce and a little bit of an edge when trying to conquer some of the concepts that we are teaching right now.

1. Use Color
No matter what grade you teach and what subject matter you're introducing, students respond well to color as a distinguishing feature in separating ideas and chunking information. A poignant example of this would be the map in the back of my room that has the United States broken down into regions by color. When we were studying Westward Expansion, one of my students raised his hand and explained that the people in the yellow states were beginning to explore a way to get to the purple states. In any case, he got the concept. Color can be used in math as well, especially when organizing complex problems into steps. I also have my students take notes in color as a study strategy. Each color represents something different (such as: important people, key events, vocabulary to know, etc). Integrating color can be fairly simple and it plays an important role in giving students immediate feedback about the role of a piece of information and its function.

2. Implement Routines:
Now ideally these would be established at the beginning of the year, but as this is a list about what you can do right now, do not despair; it is not too late! Start small. Pick something like spelling for example. Day 1: Pretest. Day 2: Pronunciation and Definitions. Days 3: Pictures to represent the meaning of each word. Day 4: flashcards and study with a friend. Day 5 : Spelling Test. Students will get into a pattern where they are comfortable with what is about to take place and can spend more time focusing on the meaning of the new content than on what's going to happen next. This is not to stifle creativity or ask that you never change things up. It is to give students some stability and responsibility for their own learning. Not only will this help with classroom management (my students walk in every day after lunch, get out their word dictionaries, and get to work) but this also allows students to forget about the "how" of things and focus much more importantly on the "what."

3. Have Students Show What They Know
I work with bilingual students, so sometimes (especially for my newcomers) language output can be a barrier. But I have found a quick way of getting information from students that allows me to assess for comprehension. Basically, before a unit to demonstrate background knowledge, during to check on what students have understood so far, or at the end to assess overall grasp of the material presented, I have my students create a web. This can be done in a number of different ways but the most important thing to do is allow for creativity (some of our learners are very linear sequential, but not all of them!). I give them a blank piece of paper and a topic, and students are allowed to organize information in any way that makes sense to them. The best part is, they get to DRAW the information (but writing can always be added if you feel that it is pertinent to the task at hand). Yesterday I had students web everything that they have learned about mummies in our Read 180 unit. Some of the students started at the beginning of the mummification process and drew each step sequentially until it was complete. Some of my students simply drew a mummy in the middle and connected lines around it of facts that they had learned. Either way, students were able to show me what they had learned and I was able to assess the areas that we clearly had not covered well enough.

4. Have Students Present What They Know
This is the brother of number 3. Once a student creates something like a web of information, the most efficient way of cementing the knowledge in their brains is to be able to present or teach it to someone else. I go about this a number of different ways. If I feel that it is important for my students to work on presentation skills, I have them present to the whole class. Sometimes I just have them share with a partner or get into a small group. No matter how it's done, it gives students an opportunity to learn from each other and gain pieces of information that they may have been missing in their own work.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Boosting Confidence

Today in our C.A.R.E. meeting I chose the topic, "How do I know if I'm being a bully?" This has, of course, spiraled off of my own students' actions lately and my belief in the need for them to take responsibility for themselves and the changes that need to be made. Instead of just starting in with all the doom and gloom and making my students feel bad about themselves (though I always stand up and admit the bullying tendencies that I too have exhibited in life when applicable so they're not totally out there alone) I decided to start positive and asked my students to take a minute and think about one thing that they REALLY LIKE about themselves.

Now, I walk around my classroom with an insanely over exaggerated sense of swagger now and again. My students would probably have to dig deep to find insecurities that I think are as glaringly obvious as the sun. Regardless, I'm often full of flash, show, and more than a little hot air. It helps me compete with the best of them frankly. I've got one little boy who doesn't know when NOT to talk about himself and his belief that his looks are God's gift to women. It fact, when I was teaching angles in math a couple months back I couldn't say the word "acute" without him loudly and proudly pronouncing, "Like me!"

But for all that bluster, as I went around the room today asking students what they most liked about themselves, most of them shut down. They couldn't think of a single think of worth or value. I had to have other students come up with a litany of reasons for many of my normally bold and outrageous students. After hearing them all, they were hesitant to pick one that they actually identified with.

So I guess we all like to put up a front now and then to hide any failings we might feel burdened to carry. Now I'm wondering if my next meeting should be about finding value in ourselves...because it doesn't really matter how many nice things we have to say about each other at the end of the day if, in our hearts of hearts, we don't really believe it.

Monday, April 26, 2010

I Celebrate You!

I absolutely love when teachers celebrate each other. Sometimes I feel that we are so mired in what we've done wrong or what is going wrong (in the classroom, at home, and in life) that we don't stop to appreciate the amount of awesome that we work hard to put out and that we're lucky enough to be surrounded with. One of my favorite bloggers overs at Confessions of an Untenured Teacher decided to celebrate me in a much appreciated community gold-star-giving activity and I would be delighted to pass on the tribute!

I was so happy and honored to read that my little re-up blog was awarded so soon after I came back to it! And, in keeping with the stipulations of the originator of this online accolade, I must share some random get-to-know-you information about myself to keep you all engaged and coming back for more. Here goes:

1. I can be found playing (and looking forward to) an online baseball simulation every Monday night with some of my favorite people in the world that I've never met before.
2. I traveled to Spain for 3 weeks last summer (my first overseas trip) and spent almost the entire time in my various hotel rooms with a debilitating ear infection.
3. I found out last year that I am actually allergic to the sun (after having spent my entire youth being the lucky one who always tanned easily) and get ugly itchy red splotched when outside for too long.
4. I have always secretly wanted a tattoo (probably because it is completely out of character for me to want or have one).
5. I spent my entire childhood watching the WB (now the CW) and now secretly still watch One Tree Hill because, back when it started I was at a socially acceptable age to watch it.
6. I want to write a book (and have one started) but I fear I might never have the time or motivation to finish it.
7. My boyfriend is stationed in Italy for three years with the US Navy.
8. My heart is in Mexico and someday I want to have the confidence to live and work there.
9. I speak French and Spanish and every day I hone my Spanish skills as a bilingual teacher I worry about how much French I'm losing (even though I never have cause to use it).
10. When I'm upset, sometimes the only thing that calms me down is putting on some of my favorite music and singing/screaming along as loudly, ridiculously, and irrationally as possible.

Moving on to the important part of this award ceremony... I'm happy to direct you to some of the most dedicated, clever, and fantastic professionals out there. Enjoy!

Look At My Happy Rainbow : This is a new add to my list but I love everything that Mr. Halpern puts outs there and I'm always so surprised about how much correlation there is between lessons learned in kindergarten and my own lessons learned with fifth graders.

The Cornerstone : If you haven't been reading this blog all along (and I can't imagine why you wouldn't have been) then you'll learn that Angela Watson is now out of the classroom and doing awesome work to help teachers in professional development. Her candor is always genuine and it is exciting to get a new perspective at her journey out of the classroom continues.

I'm a Dreamer
: This blog, written by an 8th grade English teacher, is also one of my favorite must-reads. It is obvious that this blog is written by someone who is incredibly passionate about reaching the students that she worked with and dedicated to things so far beyond "job requirements." Make sure to check it out!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

It's Real...and it ain't always pretty

This is the kind of post that I thought should be shared because it means something. It is also the kind of post that gets me in trouble. For this I must write the disclaimer that my school is where I have my experiences, but in these circumstances, it could easily be any school that I'm referring to.

So I recently referred in another post to my students who have become more and more derisive and catty as Springtime swings into full bloom. I imagine it's something like waking a hibernating bear after a long winter only to find that he's hungry and grumpy about the disturbance to his previously scheduled program.

In any case, I find that it has become increasingly important to model positive development for my girls especially. I even talk to their parents at conferences about how I want to see (and have been encouraging) my girls make good choices with regards to their friendships. The simple reasoning behind this being that the drama of girls only gets worse as girls get older. There is some poisonous little seed in the back of our brains which can be wired in such a way that we are cruel and manipulative if not guided (and intrinsically motivated) to be otherwise.

This is the mental place where I found some of my girls two days ago when this fateful discussion occurred once again in our class. And it occurred to me that no matter how young and hip I am (haha), there are times when students don't really believe that I can connect to them on their level. So I tried a new approach.

I hunkered down with my class and I whispered real conspiratorial-like, "I'm going to tell you guys a secret. I'm new this year. Do you think every single teacher in this building was nice to me when I walked in the door?" To which they responded with things like "Sure. " and "Probably!" I looked at them and rolled my eyes at their naivete (for grand effect, you see) and proceeded on, "Absolutely not. Some people have been together for a long time and they are comfortable with each other. It is more work than they think it is worth to let someone new into the group so they ignore you. And it has happened to me this very year is this very school!" The students of course gasped in shock at the fallibility of TEACHERS. "What you are doing in this classroom is showing me the kinds of people that you are choosing to be in this life. You are all old enough to make decisions for yourself and you are all strong enough to go out of your way to show respect and human kindness to another person. It is up to you what kind of person you want to be and prove to yourselves that your future it not going to be filled with meanness and the willingness to exclude others."

Maybe I stepped over a line. Maybe that was too much reality and they're going to go forth distrustful of the people I'd love for them to admire and respect. But I don't think so. I think they think pretty highly of me and were genuinely confused that anyone wouldn't befriend their dear teacher. I think it shows them that they're not wrong and the human nature and the love of being comfortable is a pretty strong motivator. I hope it showed them the value of putting in the work to being kind to someone who might ultimately become pretty important to them.

Friday, April 23, 2010

We shouldn't work...but we do!

"People say that it can't work...; well here we make it work, everyday." -Remember the Titans

I was watching that movie on TV last weekend and I couldn't help but think of my little group of 4th and 5th graders forced to comingle and work together to create some semblance of a whole. The developmental differences between the two age groups are glaringly obvious. The rift that having more students of one grade level (the older students!) than the other should divide us to a point that we can not recover. But it doesn't. My class shouldn't work together as a cohesive unit. But it does.

In the past week, especially with my girls, I have noticed the type of catty behavior that begins to divide people (not students, PEOPLE) into an us vs. them mentality. It disturbs me a great deal to see groups of people tearing down what we have worked so hard to built. Instead of letting that happen, of course, I had to step in yesterday and remind my students of where we once were and how far we've come. I think that self-sabotage can sometimes be our greatest enemy, but they have already gotten a taste of what would happen should we let our hard work crumble.

"If we don't come together right now, we too will be destroyed. I don't care if you like each other or not, but you will respect each other."

The screen writer might as well have written my speech yesterday. If nothing else, the words are powerful...and hopefully, just maybe they'll ring serious enough to make a change. We shouldn't work, but when I look around at my students working in cooperative learning groups and sharing ideas, and when they come back from recess beaming and boasting that they all played a game together that day (boys AND girls), I know that we can...and that we do.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


The thing that I am possibly most proud of this year is my involvement in our Bilingual Parent Advisory Committee. I have been granted the unique opportunity to learn from and provide perspective to a group of parents whose commitment to their children is unwavering. At the same time, I feel that I am representing my dedication to their students and the idea that education is truly a team effort.

Yesterday we held our last organized event, a workshop featuring the fantastic and powerful Ferney Ramirez, a psychologist and inspirational speaker. His books, videos, and tapes are geared towards providing a model of parenting that gives parents back the power to create guidelines and be the life model that they hope their children will emulate when asked to make decisions for themselves later in life. While I am constantly in conflict about my own place in a teaching world without having personal parenting experience, I can not begin to express the amount of good that I get out of knowing and learning what I hope to implement in my future.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Our First Picnic

My students and I hit a rough patch after Spring Break. They had decided that the year was over. Common knowledge and the ability to read a calendar states very clearly that it is not. So, we were at an impass. Yesterday, however, they managed to squirm their way back into my heart (ok, they never really left there) and my good graces and it was all due to the magic of the FIELD TRIP.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, I love pretty much any opportunity to get our students out of the classroom and into the real world to learn and experience things in context. I was, of course, nervous about this particular field trip because we were going to a place that I myself would not particularly classify as a good time. But I came armed with an engaging activity, a positive attitude, and the most amazing weather you could ask for. The scene was set for a good day.

During the trip, students were appropriately excited and enthralled by the artifacts they were exposed to and the freedom of simply walking around in the fresh air. As in so many of my experiences on field trips, my students seemed to delight in the most simple pleasures. I couldn't help but feel their carefree energy in my own heart. This was never more poignant for me than when we sat down to have lunch. The students had to eat outside and I worried that I would get an attitude from them about bugs and dirt. Instead, we sat down, started to unpack our lunches and one fifth grade boy plopped down, wiggled his feet back and forth a few time to test the freedom of it, and grinning through his sandwich, pronounced that it was the first time that he had ever had a picnic outside before.

Other students joined him with a chorus of "Yeah, this is nice." and "I like it out here!" The lunch continued with the passing and sharing of food (it's a cultural thing) and amicable conversation. I was accepted and joined in freely as they covered a number of topics candidly (my favorite of which may quit possibly be the serious debate about when both boys and girls would grow hair under their arms and if it would be socially acceptable for the boys to shave it should they find it unappealing.)

In short, my students maximized their experience in all of the little ways that, of course, I have often taken for granted. It changed my entire outlook as well. In fact, it wasn't until I got home many hours later that I realized I had a sunburn and the shoes that I wore rubbed a layer off the bottom of my feet. You tend not to notice things like that when you're in the moment and I love my students for reminding me of that and being the ones responsible for putting me in the moment. Some of the best lessons I've ever learned I learned from students.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Good Offense

Sometimes it's tough to be the new kid. When I joined the fifth grade team in my new school, I found a group of well seasoned teachers with clearly established routines and and a previously formulated plan of attack. While they appreciate my youthful willingness to contribute to pesky administrator-directed activities, they don't really ask for suggestions when it comes to "the plan" (and being a new kid, I'm not terribly quick to offer anyway). I believe that this may account for the impending doom which lurks on Tuesday as my 5th graders and I venture forth to a... *ominous music plays*...

"Historical Museum Village"

It's not even as exciting as you'd think based on the above description if you can believe it! As I take a virtual tour through their website, I'm greeted with phrases such as "Heritage Gallery" and "Archival collections." Now, I like history as much as the next guy, but reading through this stuff in order to prep my kids for the big day is making me want to poke my eyes out with sharp sticks. And trust me when I tell you that bilingual students have NO idea what heritage or archives even are, would find no relevance in either one to their current situation, and definitely couldn't pronounce the words if you asked them.

But, my friends, it is my job and solemn duty to make learning occur in every situation. AND I hate the idea of wasting a field trip which is our students' opportunity to experience learning in a very real environment. It is with that understanding that I have spent my Sunday afternoon scouring the website in order to gather enough evidence to create a pretty awesome activity/competition that will *crosses fingers* keep my students engaged through the entire day and have them coming back to school bragging to the 4th graders about their "best field trip ever."

OK, maybe my goals are a little lofty, but either way I'm coming at this with a preemptive strike. And, as in so many teaching moments, sometimes you can get by on sheer on-the-fly cunning, but sometimes the best defense is a strong offense...and that is the strategy I plan to employ on this such occasion.

The good news?

Next year, the teacher who has always been in charge of this field trip is retiring. I have already researched other options and at this point next year, we will hopefully be on our way towards an interactive awe-inspiring and engaging out-of-the-classroom learning experience. One can always dream. ;)

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Job Search

At this point last year I was looking for a job. I was scrambling to fill out resumes, iron my professional cloths, and put on my game face every day for as long as it was going to take. And I'm not sure how many sentences you've heard beginning with the next few words, but I'll be less than original in 3...2...1...In today's economy the job search is so much more than fear of rejection, it is fear for survival.

I walked through my school office while a girl was sitting waiting to interview. She was smiley and pleasant and I returned her greeting with enthusiasm so as to put her at ease. Then I glanced at the window to the principal's office and noticed the young man answering questions there and I couldn't help but remember the education adage that I heard about a million times during my interview process (both times around). "If you walk into an interview in the elementary schools as a man is walking out, you might as well just turn around and follow him because the job has already been filled." I don't know what to believe (and I have definite theories about the students needing strong male role models) but all of a sudden I just felt bad for the girl sitting there expectant and full of hope/nerves.

Then, today, my dear friend e-mailed me about his own (non-education based) job search. He just completed a very successful interview where he was appropriately confident and they seemed duly impressed. And hopefully he won't hate me for using him as a blog post, but he wrote:

"So now the waiting game begins. This is the part I hate...really wanting something and just having to sit here trying not to think about it...
How the heck did you do it when you went through this last year??? Any tips you have for me, cause I already feel like dying......."

I quickly typed back these few things:

Tip #1: Do not die. It is sooooooo not allowed!!!

Tip #2: Concentrate on the next one. I found that the job application process was so tedious and time-consuming that I barely had time to think about the last interview as I was preparing for what might be the next one.

Tip #3: Have things in the very near future to look forward to. Make weekend plans, buy concert tickets, etc. You will spend more time being excited about what's coming up that nervous about what might not be.

Tip#4: Have healthy outlets for your nerves. I write in order to process feelings and deal with overwhelming emotions. Find an outlet (working out is really good for this) that will actually make you stronger and better as you sit and wait.

I am, of course, by no means an expert. In fact, I consider myself damn lucky to have a job this year (I voluntarily left my old job with no guarantee for the future). If you aren't as lucky, my heart and prayers are with you right now and I wish you nothing but luck (and a strong sense of calm) as you go through the process.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Oh, I get it now...

Everyone has off days...but man I must be off my game today!

The middle school in my current district has a swimming pool. Each of the classes in the district are invited to come 45 minutes a day for two weeks and receive swim lessons.

WHOA do 5th graders not want to swim! You have to wear wayyyy less clothes than normal while doing something you haven't necessarily had a lot of exposure doing, at the very moment that your hormones have started a crazy jig inside your body. I mean, it sounds like my personal hell too and I'm supposedly old and mature...or something.

Anyway, they pretty much HAVE TO swim but they also have to get permission slips signed in order to be allowed to swim. My children are way too old and wise for their own good. They know that nobody is making them dip one toe into that water unless they've got the signature to prove that it's allowed. So, of course, the first thing they told me (en masse) is that they wouldn't be bringing them back.

Well, upon threat of death, I managed to persuade my more pliable students...except for one. One of my most quiet, sweet, shy, and admittedly larger boys has adamantly protested (it's mostly been a silent protest). Today, during my normal death threat monologue he must have formulated a plan.

Periodically throughout the day he started to pull me aside and discuss random ailments with me. I was duly sympathetic and kind, but as they were minor concerns spaced well enough apart, I wasn't in the position to do much about it. It took me until his last and final hint (yeah, I'm really slow today) when he specifically mentioned the trouble he has in regards to water and his nose that I realized he was trying to prepare me for the big let-down. There is no way that this kid plans on bringing that permission slip back to school with him.

So I started a little hinting of my own about the horrible fates one must endure should they elect not to take place in this wonderful activity. He legitimately would prefer any one of them to getting in that water.

Now, I had my fair share (if not more than my fair share) of reasons to be humiliated by a situation like this in my own 5th grade year, but I was not allowed by my parents, friends, and the general world to let that stop me from doing or accomplishing anything. I think it's part of what has made me strong and more confident than I have any right being. At the same time, I don't want to scar the kid for life.

In this case I'm a bit perplexed about how firmly to draw my line.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Something to Look Forward To

Sometimes we get to this point in the year (and many other points too) and we look around and realize that Spring Break is over, and while there are only two months left, there is not a break in sight and we're going to be doing a mad crazy dash til the bitter end. It is at these times where we might to start to lose steam or give up hope. It is at these times especially that we need to find ways to rejuvenate ourselves so that we can make the most of the time we have left with our current group of students.

During my first year teaching, I adopted a little mind trick to help me take long chunks of time with no breaks in stride. The premise is simple: always have something to look forward to. I would say, reward yourself, but immediately people feel that it is cheesy and they won't do it. Also, if you've ever been to a weight watchers meeting you would learn that our society is prone to rewarding itself with food (Happy Graduation! Let's go eat. Happy Birthday! Let's go eat. Awww, you broke up with your significant other? Let's go eat to numb the pain. Etc.) and what I'm suggesting will not have you weighing 800 pounds by the time the year is through.

This might only work for the new teachers out there, or serve as a pick-me-up to the older ones, but it hasn't lost it's luster for me yet. I'll give you an example: Over the weekend I was starting to get disheartened by the long months coming up so I called a couple of friends and scheduled a trip to go see a concert on a Friday night two weeks from now. For me, live music is something that always pumps me up and gives me an energy boost. For you, you'll have to find something that does something similar. Now, instead of worrying about 2 months, I only have to make it a week and a half before my goal is attainable. I do this throughout the year at different times and I find that I am able to immediately redirect my attention to something exciting in the much more immediate future that just Summer or Winter break.

Maybe other people don't need to trick themselves. Maybe other people are so happy with their jobs every day that they just can't relate to this "burn out" that I'm referring to. But more likely, teachers out there are counting the days until Summer Break (while simultaneously being sad to see their kids move on, I'm sure), and all I can do is share what works for me and hope that if you're losing energy, you might give it a try. After all, who doesn't love... a pair of new shoes when you get your next paycheck? Martini night with friends on a Thursday? Sky diving over the weekend?

P.S. On a completely unrelated note that I just don't think I could write a whole post about (well, I probably could, but nobody really needs that), my students were chosen twice this week by both the gym teacher AND the music teacher as the class that they had their principal observations with. I've decided to take this as a good sign. :)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Kind of Like Family

I grew up with 3 siblings, 2 parents, and a wide variety of pets. Home was always a full and busy place. Even still, when any one of my family members was gone for any significant amount of time, nothing really meshed as well as it normally would. It's not like anything bad happened and we all definitely continued to live our lives as per usual, but something was just kind of off. What I started to realize, even then, is that often a cohesive whole is much better than it's separately functioning parts.

It is with this mentality that I have always tried to build up my classroom. From the beginning of the year I assert firmly and passionately the importance of my students looking after each other and working together using the unique talents that they possess. Today, for the first time, I realized how effective that tactic has become.

As I've mentioned, I have a class of 4th and 5th grade bilingual students. I only have 5 fourth graders because they were kind of like the overflow bilingual students given to me so as not to overload the other 4th grade bilingual teacher. When there are 4th grade events (like field trips) they get adopted by that teacher and I stay behind with my 5th graders. Today was one of those days.

I'm not sure if everyone else has noticed, but the last couple of months are definitely upon us. In a transitional grade it is especially obvious because my students are becoming alternately excited and terrified to go to middle school next year. This morning, I used our morning meeting, and the rare opportunity to be one-graded (yeah that's right) to discuss some of these impending issues. The students appreciated the ability to become slightly more prepared and to understand that my contact with them and their future teachers does not end here, so I feel that we used our time wisely.


I could not believe the difference in personality and overall dynamic while our 5 little fourth graders were gone. It was like having an entirely different class! What I learned today is that those five kids create some form of anchor for our class. They counter the naturally more boisterous older students. They also give the 5th graders someone to model behavior and provide guidance for. Without them, I'm pretty sure my students thought it was free-for-all time!

The most amazing part? When my students returned in the early afternoon, we were in the midst of our reading centers. They silently (and I mean SILENTLY) filtered in, grabbed their materials, joined their groups, and started participating as if they'd never left. And the energy in the classroom? It was a complete turnaround to efficient but still fun and engaging. And my face? The most hilarious thing of all was the look on MY face as everything returned to normal. I was sporting the most ridiculous childish grin from ear to ear as I watched the children return and my class settle in.

Like I said, the whole works so much better than it's parts separated out. I think it will always amaze that, with a bit of hard work and a lot of care, you can build a little community (almost like a family) in less than one school year.

Monday, April 12, 2010


A couple months back (almost exactly 2 at this point) I flew to a military base in North Carolina to visit my significant other who is in the Navy before he was schedule to be stationed in Italy for the next several years. I chose President's Day weekend because I'm a teacher and we all know how fun it is to try to take legitimate personal days as a teacher. Unfortunately, President's Day weekend was also Valentine's Day weekend. How I didn't realize the ramifications is beyond me, but I ended up on an entire airplane full of giddy military girlfriends (many of whom were EIGHT years younger than me...when did that happen?!) who it would definitely damage my ego to compare myself with. Now don't get me wrong, they were adorable and sweet, but sitting there on that plane made me feel like a huge ridiculous stereotype. Instead of being proud to be among the people who support men whose job is difficult in a way that I will never truly understand, I was actually embarrassed.

I know you're wondering why you care about this little anecdote...but don't worry I'm getting there.

I have a student who has pretty much average (bordering on sub-par) grades across the board. The one exception? Social Studies. I've never seen anything like it. When we start to talk about historical events he is absolutely full of questions and even went so far as to get into a heated debate with another student about slavery/equal rights a little while back. This student is definitely in the category of popular in his social scene (bordering on ladies lie). For him, I'm pretty sure this entails fitting into certain expected categorical norms, hence some of his grades. While his capability is high when he really works hard, his focus does not lie within the realm of the academic. The other day, as we conferenced about his progress, I questioned him about why he had let everything fall through the cracks except for his social studies. He looked at me beaming and explained a little loudly, "social studies is always SO cool and interesting!" Upon realizing what he'd done, he immediately blushed, looked around to see who had noticed, and then looked down in clear shame for his admission.

The connection? He and I have something in common. We hold ourselves to a certain set of standards and can't possibly imagine being proud of a facet of ourselves that does not fit into this preconceived mold. Does that mean it's ok? Absolutely not! It is as dumb as the middle school cliques from which we have all hoped to evolve from (we haven't, but we hope). What I realize, and have realized time and time again, is that one of my goals (especially as a teacher in such a transitional grade) is to model the social skills and self-image that I wish for my students to carry on into adulthood. In order to do that, I'm going to have to start by sharing and being overtly proud of all of the dynamics of myself that make me me and encourage it doubly as I continue to learn the intricate nature of those that I strive to educate.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Major Comeback

Truth time: I'm disappointed in myself. I let a group of people who ultimately didn't care about me define the kind of person I was going to be. I did the one thing I tell my students not to, which was essentially give up.

In order to understand this post I think it would be most important to have some background knowledge on the situation. I used to write a blog called, "Adventures in Super Teaching" under the moniker "TeachEnEspanol." I think that I will always miss that blog because it was my first experience in sharing my ideas and getting great positive feedback. Unfortunately, one of my ex-coworkers decided that the things that I was writing as I learned about teaching in some way negatively affected them and used their poisonous stance in order to infect the mind of those around them. Instead of seeing my writing as a productive and proactive teaching and learning method, they were threatened by it and brought their complaints to the administrative level. It was at the point the I became so disheartened with the negativity that I not only left my teaching position, but I stopped writing.

Oh sure, there have been times in the past year where I've picked it back up, changing not only the blog title but my identity so that the same painful experience did not befall me again. I have decided, however, to stop running, to own up to who I am and what I'm proud of and to rejoin the fantastic community of people who have helped to make me a better teacher.

I hope that you will choose to rejoin me on my new and FINAL blog because I plan to hold up my end of the bargain and continue on in writing what I know, experience, and love so that I might be edified and that maybe, just maybe, something that I say might benefit others.

Thanks for sticking with me!