Friday, July 27, 2012

The ABC's of Me

I think my generation should probably be called "Gen N" for narcissism, or perhaps "Gen M" for ME!  I was that lunatic online who was constantly filling out "About Me" surveys and sending them to other people to fill out as well.  Does anyone remember that website where you could make your own quizzes (ostensibly for a variety of educational activities but mostly used for testing to see how well your friends knew you)?  I was on that a lot as well.  I just like sharing facts about myself in uncomplicated terms and absolute statements like "What's your favorite ice cream topping?"  I'm not completely self-centered, I like to read these facts about other people as well.  To that end, I took this particular survey from A Cupcake For the Teacher and I hope that if I ever get a cadre of followers, you'll do this too, then send me the link so I can get to know you!

A- Age - 26!

B - Bed size - Full.  I swore after I stopped living in the dorms that I would never have a twin bed in my room again.

C - Car - 2007 Kia Spectra

D - Dogs or cats - I like cats, but I'm more of a dog person.  I'm one of those annoying people that love annoying little yappy dogs like my baby, Lola:

E - Essential to start your day - Caffeine.  If I don't have it in the morning, I regret it later.

F - Favorite color - I love combinations - pink and teal/aqua, or lavender and sea foam green

G - Gold or silver - White Gold

H - Height - 5'5.5"

I - Ice cream - I love to try new flavors, but my old standby is Cookie Dough

J - Job title - Currently none.  Hopefully soon it will be "Teacher"
K - Kids - None yet!  But I'd love a little girl or a whole passel (including twins, not that there are any in my family)

L - Live - The Lone Star State

M - Makeup Routine - Base, powder, fill in the eyebrows and chap stick.  Nice occasions merit lip pencil and mascara.  New Year's Eve or someone gets married, I wear eyeliner/shadow.
N - Nickname - Wendell (Family ONLY), Wen, Window
O - Odd Bodily Tricks - I can bend the first joints of my fingers (the ones closest to the fingertip) while keeping my other ones straight.  
P - Pet peeves - So many, as I am a bit controlling.  Borrowing stuff without permission, smacking your food.  Also, the sound of TV static makes me want to shove sharp objects into my ear canal.

Q - Quote from a movie - "My sweater is Ralph Lauren and I have no pants." - Bee Movie
R - Right or lefty - Righty.

S - Siblings - Spent the first ten years as an only child, but I actually have 6 half siblings on either side
T - TV - Sadly addicted.  Cheesy ABC Family Dramas (Bunheads, PLL), sitcoms (Big Bang Theory, HIMYM), and reality TV shows where they give someone a fashion makeover, have a wedding, or HGTV
U - Unknown fact - Other than a hairline fracture in a pinky toe, I've never broken a bone.  never worn a cast, used crutches, or been hospitalized for anything.
V - Vegetables - Raw: Cauliflower; Raw & Cooked: Broccoli, Carrots; Cooked: Green Beans, Peas, Squash

W - What makes me run late - sitting down and getting lost in thought, or trying to pick out an outfit that is professional, comfortable, and won't show my tattoo or cleavage
X - X-rays - My teeth and my foot.

Y - Yummiest food - Tortilla Soup.  Mine, On The Border's, and Uncle Julio's are the top 3. 
Z - Zoo animal - Hippos!  Yes, they are vicious killers but also so cute!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Neither lazy nor hazy, Crazy days of Summer

It's a common theme for summers to be even more hectic than the school days, since the hours are less structured and every day is something different.  I started this blog during a lovely 3 week window where I didn't have the kids I've been babysitting, and that's why I was able to post so frequently.  The kids came back and I've been driving around, trying to fill the days with interesting activities, and coming home at night suffering from too much time in the sun.  This is my last week with them, and I'm going to miss them a lot because they're moving to Palm Beach, FL.  I'm also in the process of moving to a new place, and it's slow going on these lovely Texas days where it's hot enough to bake cookies in your car.  In the meantime, I've heard back from the VP at the school I want to work at, and they're not currently hiring, but perhaps that will change after registration.  Here are some more interview questions.

Q: If a student came to you and said, "None of the other students like me," what would you tell him/her?
A: I'd tell them they aren't alone in this feeling - everyone feels like people don't like them at one point or another.  The great thing is that this feeling doesn't last for very long.  As you move up in school and you get to know more people, you find a group of friends you can feel at home in.  Perhaps I'd let them know that I often felt this way, because I went to 6 different schools between kindergarten and 6th grade.  I'd tell them not to be afraid to try to talk to new people, and step outside of what they know to find new friends.  Maybe at recess, this student chooses to play on the playground - perhaps there are friends waiting in soccer fields, or over on the bars, or in the basketball loop.  They should remember that they have the chance to talk to a different person every single day, and at least one of those people could be a friend.  If, in the mean time, my student wanted to someone to pay attention to him or her, I could try to be there for them by having lunch with them, asking them to help me with projects, or just setting aside some time where we could talk.

Q: Are you an empathetic person? Give an example.
A: It used to be that I didn't think of myself as empathetic.  I thought that I was good at making people feel better when they felt bad, but I couldn't actually put myself in their place and feel what they felt.  However, when I was student teaching, and I was in a 5th grade class, I met a boy named Kyle.  Kyle was on the Autism Spectrum, and was having trouble fitting in as kids around him got more and more social.  One day at lunch, I saw Kyle sitting by himself.  He looked upset, and there were tears running down his face.  It turns out that he had sat down next to a boy from his class, and the boy got up and moved to another table.  I felt so terrible for Kyle, it was like someone had hurt me the way they had hurt him.  I brought it to the attention of my mentor teacher and she talked to the other boy and he went back and sit by Kyle, but I have never forgotten that intense feeling of wanting to right a wrong because I could feel how much that hurt.

Q: How can you tell that a person is a good listener?
A: They say it's important to make eye contact with the person who's talking to you, but I don't think that's necessary.  A good listener can hear what you're saying, process it, and respond without having to stare you down.  A good listener is someone who can dissect what you're saying, and break it down into words, phrasing, tone, and context.  They then respond in a way that shows they have taken all of these factors into account.  They know when you're asking, "What time is it?" because you really want to know, and when you're asking, "What time is it?" because they're running late and you don't want to be rude.  You can't know if someone's a good listener until you come to them with something important and they show you what they can do.

Q: Are you an objective person? Give an example.
A: I am more objective when it comes to other people than I am when it comes to myself.  I'm also more objective when something is between two people I care about than if it is between someone I care about and an outside factor.  When I had 3 of my third graders fighting with each other over who got to play with a ball that one of them won from the Boosterthon fundraiser, I was able to sit them all down and talk rationally without taking sides, because these were all my kids.  I tend to be a bit harsh on the kids outside of my class if they get into an argument with one of my kids.  I try to consider things from all sides, but sometimes one side is more personal to me than the others and I let passion overrule rationality.      

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Update & More Interview Questions

The thing I love about the school I want to work at is that it's situated in the middle of a big, family friendly neighborhood.  It's one of those "planned communities" with a golf course and walking trails, and it has 5 community pools, one of which is just around the corner from the school.  I've been a nanny for kids in the neighborhood, and we have never gone to the pool and not seen kids that I've had in the after school program, kids that from the classes I student taught in, and kids from the classes I've subbed in.  This past week, we did run into kids, but I also ran into some adults - two moms that were regular substitutes and members of the PTA.  They had some interesting information to share with me - at least 5 of the teachers are not returning for different reasons.  They know that 1 lady who was a teacher's aide last year has gotten hired to fill one of those positions, but there are at least 4 still open, and one of them is in 4th grade (the grade I would love to have more than anything).  I also talked to my old boss from the after school program, and she said that principals would all be back in their offices by Thursday, so I should try emailing the principal again, and also emailing the former principal to see if she would mention me to the new one. 

I feel like I'm getting closer - with principals back in their office, it's time to start interviewing.  Here are a few more practice interview questions.

Q: Have you ever considered publishing a book?
A: I feel like I am called to teach young children and to gain a better education so that I may better teach young children.  I don't have my sights set on becoming any sort of person who trains other elementary teachers - I simply want to do what I do and do it well.  However, I can't discount the idea that when I'm pursuing an advanced degree or other professional development, that I will be collecting data and analyzing it for trends - or lack there of.  In my continuing education, should I come across ideas or action research that I feel could benefit other teachers, I think I could publish a paper or a small book.  From a young child perspective, I have always wanted to write my own children's book.

Q: Some people say you should demand respect. Do you agree or disagree?
A: I would have to disagree.  Respect is earned.  You can demand fear, and it looks a little bit like respect, but it's not the same thing.  I respect someone based on the things that they do and say, and not simply because they frighten me into doing so.  That being said, I think that when a teacher comes into the classroom for the first time, they have to be a little more strict than they normally are, simply to send the message that "I am the teacher, you are my students."  You don't want them to look at you like the substitute from "Ms. Nelson is Missing", but you want to make it very clear that you are an authority figure first, and then an educator, a buddy, and an advocate.  My old boss from the after school program summed it up very well.  She would say, "You can always get nicer."  She meant that you could be strict at first and loosen up down the line, but if you start off by being too permissive, the kids won't respond as well if you try to get more strict.   

Q:  Tell me about yourself.
A: I am at heart, a planner and a little bit of a control freak.  I don't need to control everyone around me, I just need control in my own life.  I need to know what's going on beforehand, I need to make plans so that it goes smoothly, and I need to know that I can control the outcome as much as possible.  I learn everything I can about the people I work with and the processes that I do so that I can reduce the amount of variables in the equation.  I like to make lists, and set goals.  I am always thinking about the future, and how my actions right now can influence the future.  I also look to the past to avoid having history repeat itself.  I'm an autodidact, a self-learner.  I can read a great book where a character has a fascinating medical condition I've never heard of, or travels to an exotic location I'm not familiar with and as soon as I finish the book I'm on the internet finding out everything about it that I can.  I only wish I had an eidetic, or photographic memory so that I could remember every thing I read, ever.  I love to work with the same people everyday and build deep relationships with them.  I dislike small talk with strangers, it's awkward and lacks sincerity.  I like to surround myself with things that are pretty, books, and people I can trust and rely on.  I've had some of these kids at this school since they were kindergarteners, and I could not love them more than if they were my nieces and nephews.  I dislike saying goodbye to people, and dramatic changes that influence my plans and my lists can make me very uncomfortable.  I'm pretty creative, and can usually see a use for or a way of doing something that other people miss.  I think all of these traits together make me a great candidate to teach kids, and I only wish I would have realized it sooner.

Q:  How would you rank these in importance and why? Planning, discipline, methods, evaluation.
A: Well, based on my above answer, it's pretty obvious that I would put planning first.  You can't plan everything, there are always variables, but you can reduce that number of variables to something that is easy to handle.  Not to mention, kids who are on a structured, planned routine and always know the procedures in a given situation are less likely to act up.  Evaluation would be next for me, because that is the tool that lets you know if something is working or not.  You can be taught methods from the greatest educators of our time, but if you don't stop and look at whether your methods work for your particular set of students, you're just that teacher from Charlie Brown saying "Wah wah wah" to a group of students who are not at all engaged.  Methods are next, because you need to know how to teach math and why it's different from reading.  You need to know why you do some things in a kindergarten classroom and other things in a fourth grade classroom.  You need to know how children learn, develop, and make connections.  I see these first three as three strands of a braid, and when you weave them together, you have discipline pretty much covered.  Your kids will know how to act because you will have Planned out the way your classroom is run, you will have Evaluated if what you are doing is working, and you will have learned a variety of Methods to keep kids engaged and on-task so that Discipline cases rarely arise.  When a child does act up, you will know how to handle it as an isolated incident, you can deal with it swiftly and without drawing too much attention, and you will move on. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Interview Part Deux

I really don't know how to not do things anymore.  I spent 9 months of my life being crazy busy, and now that that's stopped, I don't enjoy a lot of down time.  3 Days seems to be my maximum of vacation before I need a project to work on or just something to DO.  It also doesn't help that I've run out of books, yet again.  Tomorrow I go back to having kids, for a least a week & at most 2.  Then it will be 3 weeks of break again, unless my coveted job interview comes and I'm hired and scrambling to put a classroom together mere weeks prior to "Meet The Teacher" night.  Don't get me wrong, I am looking forward to that.  I work great under pressure and deadlines, and once I get started on a project I try not to stop until it's finished (like how I painted my entire bedroom, by myself except for the top part where I was too short, in a day).

I have all these plans, and yes, it sucks not knowing what is going to happen in 3 weeks or a month, but I just keep reminding myself that just because *I* don't know, doesn't mean God doesn't.  He's always known where I'll be at the end of August.  So until then, I'll just keep plugging away at my interview questions, picking up odds and ends for my classroom.  Today I got 3 foam clocks, similar to this bad boy.

They were $2 each and were buy 2 get 1 free.  They're currently primary colored, but I think I'm going to "Wendy" them up a bit in my chosen color scheme (brown, blue and pink).  Why 3 you ask?  Well, because under our classroom clock, I'd like to display 3 little clocks that show the most pertinent times to my kiddos - the times they get to leave the class hehe...  One clock will be marked "Specials", one "Lunch" and one "Dismissal".  If they know that Specials are at 10:05 every day, and they get used to seeing what 10:05 looks like, they'll start to recognize it and other times that are __:05.  This brilliant idea brought to you by someone, and made famous on Pinterest.  I'm serious on telling time in my classroom, because I didn't fully master it until I was an adult.  Even now, when I have to look at my analog watch, it takes me a minute to "translate".  Other skills I didn't master early on - left vs. right.  Another fantastic Pinterest idea is to always put Smellies on the right hand, that way the difference becomes automatic.  For those of you unaware, a Smellie is the application of fun-flavored Lip Smackers and other stick lip balm to the back of the hand to create a spot that smells good.  BIG hit with the under 9 set.  Of course, this idea relies on the adult giving the Smelly to either know their R/L very well or to concentrate.

Now, since I have no concept of a smooth segue, ON TO THE QUESTIONS!

Q: Are you a positive and energetic person? (Give an example to back up your answer.)
A: While growing up, I wouldn't have labeled myself that way, I think I've found my positivity in teaching.  I like to volunteer, I like to lead the cheers, and I love to make a fool of myself if it interests and engages the kids.  Kids might be quick to judge something as "lame", but if they see other people participating in it and enjoying themselves, they start to wonder if they're missing out.  I am a fan of the goofy group dances, the kind the DJ always plays at weddings.  I was in the gym with my after-school kids, and everyone was kind of dragging that day, so I thought we needed dance time.  I told them it was purely optional, but I was going to put on "The Chicken Dance" and go out there and dance, even if it was by myself.  By the end of the song I had a good 15 to 20 kids out there with me.  Need volunteers for a silly ice-breaker game at the staff meeting?  I'll do it!  Need someone to get on the announcements and talk up the school fundraiser?  I'll show you a variety of funny voices that will get the kids to look up, even if it's just for a moment.  I think that if you love what you do, it's hard not to be positive and energetic about it.

Q: If a student said she thought you were the worst teacher she ever had, how would you react and what would you say?
A: This would depend on tone and context.  If a student came to me out of the blue and bluntly said this, with no discernible pretext, I would ask if they would tell me why, and what they thought I could do to improve.  Kids want to be taken seriously, and sometimes they resort to absolute statements like "The worst ever".  Perhaps I'd ask if they felt comfortable talking to me with the counselor around.  If, on the other hand, we're talking about someone in the middle of throwing a temper fit and lashing out verbally and/or physically at everyone around them, I'd probably use a Love and Logic response.  Something along the lines of, "I'm sorry you feel that way, I hope your teacher next year is better," because I want to discourage the throwing of tantrums and I want to the let that student know that things don't change because they have a fit.

Q: If I were your principal and we were setting goals for next year, what would they be?
A: (This is in parentheses becasue I don't have a cogent answer for this question.  The interview coach recommended we look at the CIP, campus improvement plan, for the school at which we were interviewing.  I've glanced over it once, and I didn't really understand all the data it was trying to share with me, so I need to go over it again and maybe ask for help.  Also, this is hard, because our campus is already so highly regarded, both in the district and out of it.)

Q:  What is the last book you read?
A: The real answer is that I'm currently in the middle of re-reading a Young Adult Fiction novel I picked up at Barnes & Noble.  It came recommended on Amazon, and I like to read things that I think my kids might be reading.  I want to be able to make book choices to them that are on their level, and I just plain enjoy YA fiction because its so "mild" compared to standard fiction.  The academic answer is that I read Donnalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer and Alice Ozma's The Reading Promise because, being a voracious reader myself, I want nothing more than to impart that quality in all of my students.
(I'm couching this answer by saying that I am always reading.  Always.  There is usually a book in my car and/or in my purse/work bag and several piled on some flat surface in my bedroom.  The answer to this question will be different tomorrow, which will be different again over the weekend and so on and so forth.)  

About that

This blog WILL be: about my adventures as a first year teacher (names changed to protect the innocent), my ideas on teaching, lessons I do or see other people do that I want to try, and my thoughts on the climate of education today.

This blog WILL NOT be: my classroom blog where I invite parents (and web-savvy students) to read and comment and guest post.  That will be something totally separate from this blog or the other one.  It will also not be my online journal where I lament or celebrate daily life and post a lot of youtube videos.
Next, an explanation of the name.  Cupcakes are sort of my signature thing.  I have rain boots with cupcakes on them.  I draw cupcakes on everything.  My classroom theme is going to be cupcakes and I even have fake classroom currency called "Cupcake Cash".  "A Cupcake for the Teacher" would have been a perfect name, but, alas, it was taken by someone who is obviously clever and awesome.

To me, Argyle screams academia.  It's also one of my favorite things to wear.  I've never met an argyle sweater I didn't like, and very seldom have I met one that didn't come home with me.  I thought of "Cupcakes & Cardigans", for the alliteration and because those are a staple of my "serious teacher" wardrobe, but the name was also taken.

The other name in the running was "A Tollbooth Teacher" because it is my favorite book and a large part of why I want to teach.  I was searching the web to see if that sort of name had already been done, and I found this fantastic list.  I'm going to post it here, with a picture, simply so I can pin it to Pinterest

Author: Mindi Sinha

Subject: Teaching ideas for Phantom Tollbooth
As I browsed the net it was great to find so many people who remember this book so fondly. It was read to me by my grade 5/6 teacher way back in the late 60s and I had my own copy for many years until it fell apart. It has been out of print in Australia for a long time now but I was thrilled to see that it had finally been reprinted again by Collins in 1999. My colleagues and I were choosing novels to present and work with in our grade 5/6 level and I recalled just how much I had enjoyed this book at the same age. The library copy had long since "walked" and I was wondering how I could find another one which was when I discovered the reprint in the local bookshop! Oh Joy! At first I wondered if the modern child might find it too didactic and miss too many of the jokes but so far my grade seems to be enthralled with it and they are enjoying the challenges it presents. One bright child sits and listens with a dictionary on his lap to look up the more complex words!(***) I have attached a copy of the activity page I wrote for class follow up. It's nothing much but I thought you might like to add it to your collection of ideas for the book.
Mindi Sinha
  1. Build a model of the Tollbooth based on the description in chapter 1. It may be a single model or part of a diorama.
  2. Draw a map showing Milo's journey and the different places he visited. Label it clearly. Places to include: Expectations; The Doldrums; Dictionopolis; Old City of Wisdom; Forest of Sight; Valley of Sound; Conclusions; Digitopolis; Sea of Knowledge; Castle in the Air; Mountains of Ignorance.
  3. Script an argument between King Azaz the Unabridged and The Mathemagician debating whether words or numbers are more important. Choose a partner and present your script to the class.
  4. Characters in Dictionopolis are very fond of sayings and similes. Compile a booklet of sayings, proverbs and similes and illustrate each one. (Teachers, parents, other adults, internet and books can help you find examples.)
  5. At the banquet in Dictionopolis the guests had to make a speech and "eat their own words". Use Publisher to present a "tasty speech". Decorate with border, graphics and interesting fonts.
  6. Construct a model of a Dodecahedron using the template provided. Draw a different expression on each face. Conduct some Chance experiments to see which face lands uppermost the most frequently when you roll it 12, 24 and 36 times. Tabulate and graph your results.
  7. Use the Portrait gallery worksheets to create a gallery of "Goodies", "Baddies" and "Main characters" from the novel.
  8. The Terrible Trivium gives Milo, Tock and Humbug several pointless tasks to complete.  Make an illustrated booklet of ten other unimportant and time wasting tasks he could give his victims.
  9. The Threadbare Excuse spends his time making up excuses for not doing things or doing the wrong thing.  Make a humorous illustrated booklet full of excuses for not doing your homework.
  10. The monsters who live in the Mountains of Ignorance are all creatures who demonstrate some form of ignorant and unpleasant behaviour and their names help describe them. Invent 5 more monsters of Ignorance, name them and describe their bad habits. Draw a picture of each one.
  11. Use Powerpoint to design a presentation based on an incident, chapter or the whole novel.
  12. Write a script a scene or chapter from the novel and get a small group of friends to help perform for the class. 
***I would love to use this book for a read-a-loud in my class, probably 3rd grade and up.  Every time I read, I could pick 2 or 3 students to have dictionaries. Each time a child doesn't understand a word, they put their hand up.  I pause, write the word on the board, and the kids look it up and say the definition.  Then I could go back and read the sentence again.

Interview With a Teacher

I was recently given great advice on how to prepare for interview questions, when (not if, when) I get that glorious phone call inviting me to come meet with destiny.  The interview coach said we should look at some sample interview questions and practice answering them, either orally or writing them down.  I've long ago learned that the stuff I write sticks with me so much more, so I'm going to take that advice and tell all (3) of you my ideas on education.

Question: Why did you decide to become a teacher?
Answer: There's no one life-altering moment where I sat down and thought, "I'm meant to teach."  There were several factors involved.  Reading The Phantom Tollbooth.  Picking education as a major - for a fall-back - and then realizing that my teaching classes were engaging, interesting, and incredibly convicting.  Taking jobs where I was in charge of planning even the most basic curriculum such as activities for toddlers relating to shape and color, or organizing the daily schedule in ESD.  Observing in classrooms and seeing those "Aha!" moments where something just clicks and the child understands a concept or a lesson.  Student teaching and watching a kid break down because he can't understand why another kid doesn't want to sit with him.  I don't want to be a taskmaster standing at a whiteboard drilling facts into my kids heads - I want to plan fun and creative lessons so that there are more "Aha!" moments.  I want to be an advocate, and someone they can count on.  I want to teach them about reading and math, but also empathy, kindness, compassion.  I want to teach them how to find information on their own, and separate fact from opinion so that they can pursue learning outside the classroom.  I want to teach so that I can make more life-long learners.

Q: Have you ever taken care of someone?  Did you enjoy it?
A: I was named for a character who stepped in to be a surrogate mother to a bunch of children, and I think I've lived up to that. I've been caring for children since I was 10, when I would help out with my younger brother.  I took a ton of babysitting workshops, determined to start my own version of The Babysitter's Club.  My very first job out of high school was at a childcare center, where I was in charge of twelve 4-year-olds.  I've been a daily instructor, a weekend babysitter, a Monday-through-Friday nanny, and even had kids for over a week while their parents went on a trip.  I've had kids as young as 6-weeks-old and as old as 13.  I can't say I've loved every single minute, especially the 13-year-olds given to backtalk or the 2-year-olds who are potty training and have to be taken to the bathroom every hour, but I can't wait for the day when I have a classroom family and eventually a husband and a passel of kids.

Q: Do you consider yourself a risk taker?  (Give an example to back up)
A: I know that with the changing climate of education, more people are looking towards the big risk takers who will shake things up and try new methods.  But we're not just gamblers playing with money, we're dealing with the education and the future of children, and that means that any risk I take has to be calculated.  I'm not the sort of person to jump in head-first.  It took me days to research the kind of vacuum cleaner I wanted to buy.  I have to weigh options, and decide whether I would be taking a risk for the sake of taking a risk, or whether this would actually benefit the kids I'm teaching.  Let's say I went to a professional development seminar or a workshop and was taught a new way to do Guided Reading.  I'd use my judgement and think, "How does this align with what I know about how children learn?  Has this method been tried in a variety of schools with a variety of students to positive results?  Can my students handle trying something new at this stage in the school year, or will it confuse them?"  Then, and only then, would I consider trying it in my class.

More another day

For those interested, the website I'm getting all of these questions from is: Teaching Interview Questions