Friday, November 1, 2013

Braggy Blog

So I know I said that posts would be few and far between, but we had some things happen this week and today that I just had to brag about.

Problem Solving Princess:  I have a little girl who is very sweet but kind of spacy.  I mean really out there.  She often refers to herself in the third person, she only draws pictures of princesses and talks about princesses and wants to read books about princesses.  From the beginning she has come up against every struggle (and there have been a lot...we're still working on her name facing the right way) with an attitude of helplessnes: "I just can't do it."  "I just don't know how to do that thing yet."  She has moments of pure candor that make me laugh.  She asked me to tie her shoe while we were walking down the hall, which I do not do because I only tie shoes when we've reached our destination, and my answer to her was, "I'll tie it later."  Her response was, "That sounds like you aren't going to do it."  Needless to say, this is a little girl who is used to every problem being solved by someone else, exactly when she wants it.  This week we've been doing activities with pumpkins (measurement, observing sink or float, etc...) and she easily had the largest pumpkin in the class.  Today I carried it outside for her because I didn't want it to SPLAT in the middle of the hallway, but once we got outside I made her do her own heavy lifting.  She was getting so frustrated with trying to pick it up and it tumbling down.  I saw her look around like she wanted to ask for help, but she was far off in the field, so she bent down and started rolling that pumpkin off to join the rest of the class.  After I died laughing, because the image is really just too cute for words, I was so proud of her.  Even tiny moments of problem solving are a huge milestone for this girl.

Choosing not to get angry (this time):  While painting our stained glass masterpieces in Art yesterday, I looked up and noticed a little girl who had a smudge of paint right under her nose.  It was placed in such as way as to resemble a Charlie Chaplin mustache, which made the art teacher and I snicker.  A few minutes later I look up to see another little girl with so much paint on her lower face and hands she looked like she had a black nosebleed.  She tried to say it was an accident, and the art teacher sent her to clean herself up.  When she got back, I could have been mean and told her that she was in double trouble - for doing that and for lying about it.  Instead, I pulled her over to the side and said, "I don't like what you did with the paint, but I will really be mad if you lie to me - did you do that on purpose?"  She looked sad and said, "I just wanted to make everybody laugh."  I hugged her and told her that is it is great to put a smile on people's face, but we don't have to make a huge mess for someone else to clean up to do it.  I showed her the silliest face I make (the Disgruntled Platypus from Runaway Bride), she giggled, I asked to only make silly faces with her face and not art supplies, and she got back to work.

Authentic, student-directed learning:  We were brainstorming words that begin with "F", and we were about to start brainstorming "G" when a kid (who was looking everywhere except where he was supposed to) noticed our potato plant.  We had suspended it in a jar of water, and it had started to grow roots, stems and leaves.  He was excited, and told everyone, "Hey!  Look at our tomato (yeah we're still mixing that up) plant!  It's got green!"  The teacher stopped and brought the plant over for everyone to see.  Then another little boy piped in and said, "You know what we should do with that?  We should put it in our science journals!"  About a week ago we had put our first structured entry into the journals using our ivy - we drew it and labeled the parts.  I guess it stuck with them because they all thought it was a great idea.  We left the word brainstorming for another day, passed out the science journals, and got to work.  My little boy wrote the words "Potato" and "Roots", and the princess mentioned above got all the labels on her page without me having to prod her and say, "Now write a p, now an o, write a t..."

Starting off November right - I am so thankful for this job and these kids. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Update

So my job has changed slightly to where I'm just taking care of one kid all day, staying with him in his classroom.  However, when we go to "specials" (art, music, PE), one of my other kids comes with us because he doesn't have an aide.  He doesn't do so well in art and music, he doesn't like the sitting down and in music he especially doesn't like all the high-pitched singing.  One of the PE teachers got him interested in a calm-down bottle, a salad bottle filled with glitter and water that keeps him mesmerized.  I think I'm going to make him a bunch of them, filled with different colors and other things that can keep him from flipping out on me.

Thursday was a pretty amazing day - my boy wrote for me!  He wrote an entire sentence, "My name is _____."  It was hard, it was painful for both of us, he got so frustrated he screeched at me a couple of times, but we did it, with a pencil and everything.  But I am struggling because I am not an OT, I have no idea how to help him master his grip, his direction, any of that stuff.  One of the girls I also help with, she is having trouble with those things as well.  Her name is a palindrome, and she is writing the capital, then moving right to left with the lower case letters.  Our OT is a very busy lady, and I haven't got the slightest idea how to give these children the help they need.  Advice is always welcome.

Meanwhile, I survived our first Power PLC week, the Fall Festival, and have a source of income for the week we're off for Thanksgiving - things are going well.  I feel like a part of the campus family, and now that my favorite time of year is upon us, I'm feeling optimistic and grateful instead of where I was 11 months ago.  I still miss my old school - going to their Fall Festival was a bittersweet event, seeing how everyone has moved on and I'm not a part of it anymore, but I do feel at home at my school, and I love it there.

That's what's going on in my life - I go to sleep almost before the sun these days, I spend my weekends squeezing in more sleep and books and food that I don't have to cook, and I have just a whisper of a social life, but the general tone of things is upbeat, expectant, and proud.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Five Senses Friday

Today we talked about the 5 senses, and we read a book, and we brainstormed different things we could sense - seems pretty cut and dry.  But I had a thought that I could create a moment for shared reading, repetition of sight words, and let the kids enjoy seeing themselves on the big screen. 

I took a photo of each kid, and I put it on a page in a Power Point.  I put what they brainstormed on the page ("Fletcher can taste candy."  "Lauren can see a dog.") along with a picture of whatever they mentioned, such as candy or a dog.  I put headers at the beginning of each section tha said, "I can _____" so they knew which of the 5 senses we were talking about.  The kids each got to take a turn holding the pointer while the whole class read each page together.  Our sight words include I, can, and see so they got a lot of each of those.

But did I stop there?  No siree.  It still took a lot of time to create this on the fly, what with the picture taking, emailing the pics to myself, then copying and pasting them onto Power Point slides.  I figured that if I ever wanted to do it again, I could save time by saving a BLANK presentation with only their pictures in it, ready to open for easy editing.  At some point, I can email these presentations to the parents with instructions on printing it out and turning it into a book for the kids to read at home.

Update on the job:  for the time being I am working full time with one little sweetheart who is dramatically low.  I'm hoping that I'll be hired full time to work with him, but everything is still up in the air right now.  The classroom teacher has been out a while because of family illness, so if you've got a moment could you offer up prayers for her and her family?  Meanwhile, I've completed 20 out of 30 days so I should be getting an answer one way or another in the next two weeks.  Parent-teacher conferences are next week, so speaking of prayers, keep us all in yours. 

Hopefully I'll have another update soon!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Announcement

Wow, my followers have hit the double digits.  That feels pretty nice.  Hope you guys don't feel let down, but I must warn you that this post is probably going to have to last you a month.  Why, you ask?  Because I've got a long-term sub job!

Here's the skinny: For 30 days (starting this past Friday), I am going to be a (very busy, tired) aide between two classrooms.  My primary focus will be on 3 boys - 2 in one class, 1 in the other - who need some extra help.  However, I am given to understand that I am to be assisting with both classes as wholes while in the room.  Did I mention these are Kindergarten classes?  Start praying for me now!

What will happen when the 30 days is up?  I'm not sure.  It could be that these kids will require an aide all year.  It could be that they want that aide to be moi.  I'm trying really hard to approach this with a "one-day-at-a-time" mentality, which has NEVER been a strong suit of mine.  I. plan. everything.

What I am sure of is that this is a very strong foot in the door at a school that I love, in my first choice district.  For that, I am thankful.  Meanwhile, I've got to get on to the library webpage and cancel some book requests, because I'm thinking I'm not going to have time to read until October.

Sorry for such a short post, but know that once I've hit my stride or found my groove or any other cliche phrase that mean I am now used to my new schedule, I will post more about how it has been going.  Meanwhile, if you know of any great websites or blogs that can give me tips, activities, or a helpful perspective on SpEd at such a young age, I would be so very thankful!  Leave 'em in the
comments and I'll check them out ASAP.

Welcome back to school, everyone!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Promoting Others

I've never been afraid to toot my own horn about my TeachersPayTeachers products, because I'm proud of what I make.  But I want to use this post to talk about some amazing looking products NOT done by me.  These are the top 10 things (in no particular order) on my TPT wishlist.

(A note:  I don't have my own classroom, which means I haven't narrowed down to grade-specific items.  These are going to be all over the map and will also include clip art.)

1. Emily's Runaway Imagination by Beverly Cleary Novel Study
Everyone knows the incredibly prolific Beverly Cleary - Ramona, Henry Huggins, Dear Mr. Hensha, Ralph S. Mouse.  This book is often overlooked, but the heroine is spunky, the setting is historical, and the adventures are amusing.  Much like The Phantom Tollbooth, this book will be a read-a-loud for me no matter what grade I teach.

2. Genre-of-the-Month Reading Log.
This is one of those ideas that is so simple but so brilliant, I'm a little mad at myself for not thinking of it!  Yes, it's important that kids read every day and read books they're interested in - but they need to try new types too or they'll get stuck in a rut.  The grade level would determine how many books from each genre I want them to read every month, but I will be using this in some way in any grade.

3. Cupcake Fonts
I have made no secret of my love for A Cupcake for the Teacher, and I love love LOVE her adorable collections of fonts she created. 

4. Monster Adjective Glyphs
I've talked about how I'd like to do a monster theme with my kiddos, and I think glyphs are so much fun for younger kids.  It's a more fun way to display and compare data, which is great for those primary grades.

5. Behavior Calendars
I credit this product (and A Cupcake for the Teacher) for introducing me to TPT and getting me started on this blogging/creating ride I've been on for the past year.  These calendars are an adorable way to track specific behavior - okay, so Harry had a bad day, but WHY did he have a bad day? - and you can edit them to your own specific classroom behavior codes.

6. Writing Center Starter Kit
 *Stefon voice* This kit has everything...writing samples, labels, templates.  You can make a whole bulletin board out of it, or, if you have a writing center for your Daily 5/Cafe time, you can put it on a poster board for use over there.

7. Monster Clip Art
The monsters I draw are pretty scary looking, and not in a good way.  If my classroom theme were limited to what I can draw, it'd either be cupcakes or whales.  Thankfully, there are more talented people out their willing to share their monster-drawing gifts with the world.

8. Parent Handbook Flipbook
Parents will need and want some information at their fingertips.  This editable flipbook allows you to put in things such as contact info, grading policy, instructions for sending money to school, daily schedule, etc...

9. The Phantom Tollbooth Challenges
GREAT ideas for a project-based-learning unit on The Phantom Tollbooth.  11 Challenges mean there's something for everyone.

10. Teacher Binder - Quatrefoil theme
I'm about to admit something that is going to make kind of unpopular - I am sick of Chevron!  It is everywhere, and I get tired of seeing it on EVERYTHING.  I'm a big fan of the quatrefoil (and argyle of course!), so when I saw this Teacher Binder kit done with a quatrefoil theme, I flipped!  Turquoise and lavender (two colors I adore) and and cute mix of regular and scripty fonts make this just the bee's knees!

So that's my wishlist for the TPT BTS sale - what's on yours?  Comment below!


Building Character and the BTS Sale

I'm not sure if I've ever expressed this opinion in this setting, but I worry a lot about what we're teaching our children outside of math and reading.  Starting with my generation, there was a lot of "participation trophies" and "you can do anything as long as you try" sort of self-esteem building.  Don't get me wrong, kids and adults alike both need healthy self-esteem.  The problem becomes when we give them too much they haven't earned, like this sketch from Saturday Night Live.  I worry we're raising kids who believe that wanting something is enough to get it, and not focusing on teaching them about how to work for it.  Sure, many schools are cracking down on teaching how kids should treat each other, I see great emotional education at several schools.  But I'm talking about the kind of character that Paul Tough wrote about in the book I reviewed in the last post.  That book really hit some chords for me, because I see a lot of students who have either forgotten or never knew that hard work is what makes things happen.  When I read that book, I was inspired by those character traits he found in his research, and I decided to make some posters for the classroom.

Sure, there are tons of "motivation" posters out there ready for classroom use.  But I find a lot of them cheesy, or the sayings a bit cliche, and I've never seen a poster advertising "Grit" or "Self-Control".  Self control is an especially big thing with me, I've been trying to inculcate that in my students for years now.  So, I give you my latest creation:


The colors aren't cohesive - I opted instead to give them all a diagonally striped border and tie the colors in each individual poster.  I wanted them to stand out from regular classroom decor for me.  However, should someone ask if I can recreate them in their chosen color scheme (I'd probably use different backgrounds, like strips and polka dots & plaid), I'd be more than willing to do that.  I also made them in landscape orientation, in case someone prefers that or only has room for that.

Don't forget, there's a sale going on this weekend for back-to-school.  I believe it's the standard "up to 20% off" with the extra 10% site-wide using the code BTS13.  I didn't put ALL my products on sale, but the ones I did, I put them 20% off.  Combined with the site code, that's a total of 28% off! 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Book Review

               I’ve long been a voracious reader when it comes to fiction.  I inhale novels in a single day, and when I don’t have a book to read I feel adrift.  It’s an effort, however, to read non-fiction, and I’ve come to a conclusion as to why.  With fiction, I can immerse myself completely in that world, not coming up for the air of reality until I finish the book.  Nonfiction, on the other hand, is educating me, teaching me something that will have real-world application.  As I read, I am taking in the knowledge and applying it to my present or my future, and it takes a lot longer to get through a book that is much shorter than a Harry Potter installment.  Reading fiction is like a vacation, reading non-fiction is taking a class.  As an educator, however, I feel it is important for my own sake, not just for professional development, that I read non-fiction books that will help me help my students.
                A principal I greatly admire is constantly reading articles and books and sharing them not only with her teachers but on the school’s website.  She posted an article written by Paul Tough, which was actually a chapter from one of his books, and after reading the article, I knew the book was something I needed to check out.  It’s called How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character.  The book focuses on non-cognitive skills, things that children do not learn from a math, science, language arts curriculum.  These traits, however, are just as, if not more important in setting a child up for a successful life.
                Tough talked to psychologists, educators, students, and parents to discover why it is that students who seem great on paper fail once they reach college.  He also looked at students whose school records would have you believe they are destined to become derelicts, and how they are succeeding in college where their higher-income peers are floundering.  Key characteristics were found, not unlike the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, that can predict a student’s success far better than a standardized test score.
                Character education has been around since I was in school under the umbrellas of “No Bullying” and “Just Say No”.  It was generally the focus of once-weekly visits from the school counselor, or videos featuring a number of well-known animated characters.  Educators looking to prepare their students beyond mastery of content are now looking at inculcating character education into the daily culture of the school in a completely different way.  Students at the KIPP school are engaging in cognitive behavioral therapy – when they get in trouble, they are encouraged to dialogue about why they behaved that way, what would have been a better alternative, and how they can fix it in the future.  They receive behavior report cards, and the students are using the language in their daily lives.  They are developing traits like grit, and they know what it means and how they build it. 
                Tough doesn’t focus on and outline each of the seven traits that schools like KIPP are focusing on, but his profiles of students who are successful despite their circumstances are illustrators of how these traits come in to play.  Whether you teach at a Title 1 school or an ivy-covered East Coast institution, whether you teach kindergarten or high school, this book is applicable to you, and to every teacher and every student.  I cannot recommend it enough.

Friday, August 2, 2013

August Currently




Time for a Currently from Farley at Oh Boy 4th Grade!

Listening:  I've started a new Bible Study with all this free time I've had (no, that's not sarcasm, I really have very little to do each day).  It's supposed to make reading and reflecting a habit.  I stayed consistent for a whole week but I missed yesterday, so I'm trying to forgive myself and move on.

Loving: If you haven't heard of this book, it's about a couple who being volunteering at a homeless shelter/soup kitchen and meet a homeless man who completely changes their lives.  So touching - I cried big fat baby tears.  It gets me thinking about how I can incorporate service learning into my classroom.  These people gave money, but what really changed their lives was giving of their time and energy.

Thinking:  I watched The Ron Clark Story last night.  He's got these 55 rules for his classes that are great, but at the elementary level that is a LOT to take in and can make the kids feel like the classroom is oppressive.  I kind of like starting out with basic rules and asking the kids to think about what that means.  For example, I can tell kids to respect the teacher, but they will have to write/tell me/show me HOW that gets accomplished with everyday actions.

Wanting: Remember how I said I had a lot of free time?  Well I've started watching Jeopardy, and my mind that is full of useless trivia knows plenty of the answers on the show.  I even looked at sample questions and I'd say I got about 80-85% right.  I have always thought I'd be good on a game show, so the next time Jeopardy has an online test for adults, I'm gonna give it a shot.

Needing:  It's pretty self-explanatory.  I'm getting desperate, people.  In 10 days, the new hires for the district I want are supposed to start their training.  In 21 days, it's Meet the Teacher night.  The first day of school is 25 days away.  Now my district of choice is notorious for last-minute hires, but I'm really starting to lose faith.  None of the other districts I've applied to have even asked me for an interview.  If it doesn't pan out, I'll go back to subbing, but I don't think I've wanted anything as much as I want my own classroom and my own kids.

B2s Must-Haves:
  1. Parent communication is key.  I love love LOVE this foldable for parent information from Just Reed.  It's customizable, so you can put all the information your parents need to know (phone, email, classroom procedures, grading policy, etc...) in one place for them to keep handy. 
  2. When I say pencils, I mean lots of supplies.  I have a ton of school supplies ready to move into my classroom at a moment's notice, but they need to be marked as mine.  They will be the "oops" supplies for students who don't have what they need for the day, and they go back into the correct place (i.e. NOT the student's supply box) when they're done.  I also have a bunch that I will simply add to the student supply area - things that will run out like pencils and glue sticks.  Part of my classroom community is going to be respect for materials and supplies.  They are the tools you need to learn, so treat them kindly.
  3. Blank wall space.  I'm not saying I want my classroom to be completely devoid of decoration but I want to set aside a place for my students work where THEY choose what goes up there.  I've seen lots of ideas - bulletin boards, individual clip boards or clothespins for each student, etc.  I want to show them when they walk in that this classroom is not just mine, it's theirs, and the things they do deserve to be seen and admired.
So that's my August for you.  I'm afraid in the next 3 weeks I will have bitten off all my nails, gained a million pounds stress eating, and had some sort of nervous breakdown waiting for that phone to ring.  Wish me luck!

EDIT:  While commenting on other blogs in the linky, I stumbled across this blog which helps you link up via the state you teach in!  She's even made buttons for everyone!  Find your state, link up, and find other blogs for you!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Science & Social Studies Ten Pin Linky



Being kept awake by heartburn has its upsides, like when you're able to get your latest 10 Pin Linky up on time.  This time we're looking at Science & Social Studies combined.

1. A paper bag version of a body system.  Instead of buying a t-shirt and having to have artistic abilities, you can use household items to show how a system of the body works.

2. Wildlife Webcams - shows kids the habits of animals when they're nesting and in a more natural habitat.

3. A health lesson about germs spreading and how they can make things nasty FAST.

4. A see-through birds nest for the window of the classroom - put up high enough so the kids can't bang on the glass, but still so they can see.

5. What's in a drop of blood?  Because I don't have a magic school bus to take us inside Ralphie.  Speaking of MSB, the entire series is available on Netflix instant watch, if you ever need a quick science video activity.

6. Worksheets on all the fifty states.  I think learning about the different states and their "state things" is neat.

7. A class timeline!

8. I have always wanted to do a unit on names, and Chrysanthemum is a great opening activity.

9. A winter holidays unit  - nearly every major religion celebrates some sort of holiday in the winter, and I did a text set unit on them in college.

10.  When I student taught in 1st grade, we did a rotations day to teach about Texas.  Each 1st grade teacher prepared a lesson, and then the classes all rotated around and each class got to see each teacher's presentation.  It was a really fun day!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Finally On Time

 



Ah, hubris.  Icarus flew too close to the sun.  I tried so hard to be on time this week, I even wrote (and titled) this post ahead of time, but it was not so.  Maybe next week?  In any case, I won't be so hasty to say I'm going to get it in on the right day.

1.  One of those "If I had a million classroom dollars this is what I'd buy" ideas - iPod shuffles with audiobooks loaded to circumvent the issues that arise with books on tape/CD.  They're color matched to the book buckets so you know what goes with where.

2. My Favorite Book wall - artwork and a summary with your picture to look like you're reading.

3. You will Love this Book for class reviews

4. Word of the Day.

5. Book Report Pumpkins

6. Environmental Print

7. Synonym Buns (you know how much I love anything from The Phantom Tollbooth)

8. Reading with Expression - try out different voices

9. Battle of the Kids Books - maybe with March Madness?

10. Let's Play Library - works on alphabetizing and helps my students keep classroom books neat and tidy.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Tardy for the (Linky) Party



Sorry guys, it's been a rough week and I'm only just now getting around the Just Reed's Ten Pin Linky for Math Pins.  Better late than never, right?  Plus, I'll be getting a head start on next week so I can just hit "Publish" on Wednesday.

1. Me as a Fraction - Such a cute personalized artwork to teach parts of a whole!


2. Crossing Thinking Maps with Number Sense



3. Area and Perimeter with CheezIts


4. Number of the Day


5. Calendar Time


6. Area and Perimeter with Spelling Words


7. Area Math Dice Game


8. "The Answer Is" problem writing


9. Number Anchor Charts


10. Shameless Self Promotion - a pack of graphing activities I made to go monthly through the school year

Friday, June 28, 2013

Bloglovin'

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

I don't use Google Plus but I use Gmail, iGoogle, and Google Reader.  One of those is now extinct, and another one will be following soon, which stinks.  So, I've switched all the blogs I follow to Bloglovin', and if you're a Google Reader fan I encourage you to do the same!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

10 Pin Linky - Classroom Management



Whoops -  I missed last Wednesday's 10 Pin Linky on Classroom Managment, so here it is.  Tomorrow is a new one, with math ideas.

Plus, I've learned how to add the pins directly!

1) A brilliant first-day lesson about self-control for little ones.

2) Visual directions and materials cards so the students know what to do and what to use

3) A classroom economy, with jobs and paydays, bonuses and fines

4) Mystery Walker/Mystery Student.   Choose a student but don't say who it is until the end of the day, watch that student for correct behavior in the hallways or in class, and reward them.

5) Clip Charts.  I wouldn't use one all year, but I think it's an easy visual and tactile method for correcting behavior at the beginning of the year.

6) How are we learning?  I just pinned this the other day - if you expect your students to interact in different kind of groups, you must discuss what learning and behaving looks like in those groups.  A reward system for most kinds of groups is also key - a classroom chain for whole class compliments, table points for group behavior, etc...

7) Parent communication.  However you do it, communicating behavior to parents, both good and bad, is very important.  It's not the most fun thing about being a teacher, heck, it's not the 10th most fun thing about being a teacher, but it is absolutely necessary

8) An organized classroom.  I believe that organization is key to behavior management - clutter = chaos.  Plus, if you don't take care of your classroom, why should your kids be expected to?

9) Respect.  Your kids should respect you, but you also need to respect them.  

10) Rewards that don't cost an arm and a leg.  Your class store doesn't have to be all stickers and pencils.  It can be free treats, like letting your kids take off their shoes for a day.

Made It Monday

 



So this particular Made-It-Monday is not really school-related, but in the grand scheme of things, aren't creativity and problem solving ALWAYS related to teaching?  Let's go with that...

So I tried to streamline my stuff, because I feel like I'm always carrying bags this summer.  Gym bag, pool bag, bag of books from the library.  Frankly, my purse was just weighing me down, especially given my proclivity to stuff it completely full.  So I went with the popular wristlet trend - I found a nice one at Sam Moon that's vinyl-ized (to avoid stains from spills) and large enough to fit my bigger-than-an-iPhone phone.  It was perfect - room for the the phone, cards, cash, and not much else.  I don't miss my purse at all, except for one thing - Blistex.  I missed having my minty lip balm handy.

My first thought was to go to Bath & Body Works and get this bad boy (On sale right now!)


I bought this exact holder, and this exact gloss because I figured it would be slicker than the others (and it didn't have glitter or a color tint).  But no, the problem with the Liplicious and the Mentha Lip stuff is that it's a gloss, not a balm.  It doesn't really soften, and the formula is kind of thick and sticky.

Plan B involved a Google search that turned up some inappropriately shaped Chapstick-holder keychains (really, they're a crime against crocheting).

Plan C - Etsy.  I really should figure that if there's a problem that can be solved with cute fabric, then I will find it on Etsy.  Should have been my first choice.  I am currently in love with this one in particular, made from grosgrain ribbon.

But, am currently fund-less, even for a $5 (plus S/H) keychain, so in the meantime I crafted one myself out of that toolbox staple - Duct Tape.  Really, I'm impressed with my engineering skills most of all - creating a fob with a non-sticky pocket to hold my beloved lip balm.  It'll do nicely, until that ribbon one can be mine.

So there you have my Made-It Monday.  How are you keeping the creative juices flowing during summer break?

Saturday, June 15, 2013

10 Pin Linkies


How cute is that?  10 Pins, like in bowling, but pins from Pinterest.  This is a fantastic idea that will help me to blog during the summer, when not a lot is going on, classroom-wise.   This week, it's classroom decor, something that has been on my mind A LOT lately.

I always figured I'd have a cupcake theme.  I mean, c'mon, look at the title of this blog.  But it's hard to do too much with cupcakes and not alienate the male portion of a class.  When everything is pink and polka-dotted, it might be hard for my boys to take ownership of the classroom and respect it, which is something I'm big on.  I did a lot of substituting at a school where each class made a class T-shirt called themselves something.  I was thinking about what my class would be, and since my last name starts with an "M", I think we'd be the "M----'s Monsters".  There is a lot of cute monster stuff out there - not scary grotesque monsters but more in the way of cute and furry, like Monster's, Inc. and Sesame Street.  It's well known that I'm a Grover fan, particularly in this video:



So I think I'll keep the cupcake, polka-dot theme in the area around my desk, but do monsters with the student stuff whenever possible.  For example, I got cute monster duct tape to mark my "Ooops" supplies (things like pencils and scissors, when kids don't have the supplies they need.)

Back on topic, in no particular order, here are my 10 favorite Classroom Decor pins:
Be Kind to Books Club
1.  A poster advertising the "Be Kind to Books Club".  If my students leave my classroom with one of my character traits, I hope it will be a love of reading.  Along with that goes respect, for the art of the written word and for the physical form of books.  This is a must for the Classroom Library.
2.   A much more personal birthday wall.  I love this idea, taking pictures with the kids.  I bought month-themed cupcake cut-outs, and you know the kids will be holding them in the picture.
http://media-cache-ec4.pinimg.com/originals/a3/00/23/a300235228e6f2673c8924c64a3723a7.jpg
3. Two ugly filing cabinets pushed together and covered with fabric.  It's so simple, but think of the extra magnetic space you have - it makes a perfect center with letter magnets, or if you have your word wall on magnets on your whiteboard, this gives you extra room!
4. I have seen so many great holiday, book, math, and other themed doors, but this one really stands out to me.  Gets kids thinking about who else they know who went to college, and how college can be a reality for all of them.
5.  Bookshelves are great all on their own.  But by painting the inside of the shelves to match whatever sort of leveling system you have with your books, you create a great way to stay organized, help kids pick out Just Right books, and add a little pop of color to ordinary black or brown furniture.
6. We've all seen the great idea of putting bookshelves at each table group to hold the group supplies - book boxes, dictionaries, supply buckets, etc.  But bookshelves can get expensive, they take up a lot of room, and if you want to rearrange things, you'd better life with your legs.  Zip-tying crates together serves the same purpose, and is a lot more manageable.
7. I have been coveting this cart since it came out.  I mean look at it - it's industrial/vintage chic, it's teal, and it has wheels.  I'm thinking guided reading books on the top shelf, guided reading books to be put back on the middle shelf, and dry erase boards and markers on the bottom.
8. A loft would be neat.  This is quite obviously the "BMW of lofts", but you get the picture.
 
9.   What has 2 thumbs and did not have an easy time learning to tell time?  This gal. I want to start early and teach often telling time on an analog clock if I get a younger grade.
10.  There *will* be a Boggle board in my classroom.  If I have kindergarten, it may just be a 3X3 board, but it will be there.  This is definitely the cutest one I've seen.


So there you have it, my classroom decor top 10.  I can't wait to see what next week's 10 Pin is going to be!


UPDATE:  Tonight at Wal-Mart, I happened to find six ADORABLE monster cups for $0.87!  Now that I've hit on this theme, it's going to be so hard not to buy everything in sight, especially with all the Monster's U stuff out right now.
 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Teacher Crafting Volume II





First thing I did was paint.  The most economical use of your time would be to decide what color everything is going to be and paint them in groups by color.  I didn't do that - I jumped right in and started painting.  This meant that sometimes I would have to go back and do colors over again even though I'd washed the brushes, but that's okay.

For one frame, I had a theme to work off of - a frog pond.  For the other one, I just asked the teacher her favorite colors and put together a "color story" that I liked.

Some of the wooden things took paint very well, and only required one coat.  The frames themselves actually got about 3 coats, and other things got 2.

As things dried, I started hot-gluing.  I've been using a hot glue gun since I was 7, I'm kind of surprised I even have fingerprints anymore.  With hot glue, you have to go slowly and deliberately, otherwise you end up with the dreaded strings.

To get the circles in the right place, I put the velcro pairs on the corner, with one side stuck to the frame and one side sticky-side-out, and then pressed the circle down on top of it.  I wanted to make sure that the circle didn't cover up part of the word "Day"

To make the numbers "1" and "100", I simply printed on scrapbook paper and cut them out.  Then I modge-podged the whole circle to give it a uniform sheen.

In the end, I'm so glad I did this.  I think they look great!


Teacher Crafting Vol. I

I've been trying to find a way to thank these two teachers in my life.  They are ladies that I student taught with who have been of huge help me to me.  They asked me to sub for them multiple times in their classes.  From there, I got more jobs, and found that I had room in my heart to love another school and another group of kids.

So, to say thank you, I'm going to make them large frames for their kids to take pictures with.  Inspired by this AH-MAZING frame over at First Grade School Box (thank you, Pinterest), I'm creating a frame that can serve 3 purposes.  See how she has that star that says "First"?  Well, it's on the frame with velcro, so she can change it out for 100th day and the last day of school.  Is that not genius?  After I read her blog post about it, I knew I had found the perfect craft to satisfy my love of paint and glue, and say thanks to two wonderful people.

Here's the first shot of my raw materials:

Lemme break it down, a la Young House Love:

Frame: $10.49 from Hobby Lobby (regularly 17.99 USE A COUPON)
Letters S, C, H, O, and L: $1.99 each from JoAnn's
Letters D, A, and Y (They come 2 to a Pack): $1.47 from HL
Letters o and f: $.79 from HL
Package of all letters: $3.99 from HL
Circles and Apple: $.79 ea. from HL

Now, places like JoAnn's, Hobby Lobby, and Michaels are always having sales, so all these supplies (except the frame) were cheaper than their tag says - I just put the tag price.

Total Cost (for 1 frame):  About $30

"Wendy, why didn't you just get everything in one place?"  Well, our JoAnn's is closing and moving, so I was there looking at all the stuff that's being liquidated when I decided to start buying supplies.  It's why I couldn't get an Os for "School".  I got what I could from JoAnn's, then moved on to Hobby Lobby (where I forgot to get Os for School, but I'll get them later this week).

"Wendy, this seems like kind of an expensive craft."  Well, because several of the letters come in sets of more than 1, it would cut down on total cost per frame after I make 3.  Also, you could save money in different places - I could have just bought the set of small letters that's in the box, but I bought those second and I can't return anything I bought at JoAnn's (liquidation sale and all that).  Also, if you have an old frame around the house that you can simply take the glass out of and spray-paint (or if you have a willing assistant that can MAKE you a simple frame), that cuts $10 off the cost right there.  Finally, this is something that my fellow teachers and I can use 3X in one school year, multiplied by however many years we teach at the elementary level.  It's not just some throw-away craft, it will be used over and over again.

Now, when it comes to painting and embellishments, I can't help you out because I already have a TON of paint, glitter, scrapbook paper, stickers, whoosits and whatsits galore...So if you don't own any of that stuff already, you're gonna have to lay down some more moolah.  I would also include some velcro and a glue gun if you don't own those things.

Next time, I'll post pictures of things painted and assembled!  

Sunday, May 5, 2013

A quick update and a TPT sale!

My apologies, dear readers, for I have neglected you.  Trouble is, it's hard to write when nothing noteworthy seems to be going on.  I've been to 2 job fairs, filled out several applications (2 regional apps that go to lots of districts, plus 4-5 individual district apps).  I've talked to 2 principals here in the district I want about open positions, and heard back from one (the position was filled with a transfer, but they'll keep me in mind if something else opens up).  It feels like things are happening reeeeeeallllllly slooooooooowllyyyy, but when you think about it, in 3 months or less I could be here telling you about my new job at a school, what grade I'll be teaching, what products from Teachers Pay Teachers I've been buying, and taking you on a photographic journey through my very first classroom.

I've been thinking about first day bulletin boards and my students names - I love the idea of posting their name, what the name means, and a word that can be made using all or some of the letters of their name.  There are, of course, problems with this - names with religious meanings could step on toes, names could be made-up and therefore have no established meaning.  Names could be tiny and unable to be made into an anagram, like Ian or Beth.  But somehow, someway, I want to incorporate names into my beginning of the year activities.

Anywho, the real reason for this update is for me to promote the last TpT sale of the school year.  Like their previous sales, you get a ten percent discount off all products.  If a seller reduces their prices to the maximum percent off of 20, then you're getting a total of 28% savings on a product.  For every dollar a product is normally priced, you're only paying $.72!  So head on over and check out some of my items.  The sale is on May 7 and 8th!

-I made Zoo Passports for the Ft. Worth Zoo after being inspired by another blog and a trip to that zoo with all the kindergarten classes I've been subbing for so much this semester.  The passports come in lower and upper grade varieties, to engage kids and get them excited about seeing lots of different animals.

-While thinking about vowel sounds and vowel or consonant digraphs, I made some "Write The Room" worksheets that focus on these.  I think they'd be great in a Daily 5 center.

-I fixed my classroom coupons product - trouble was that if you printed it off as a Power Point, you had the option of making it with multiple slides on a page, but you can't do that with a PDF.  So, I shrunk everything down to 4 coupons on one page, made THAT the PDF, and now they are more "coupon" and less "certificate" sized.

So go, buy those end of the year products, or get a head start on next year, and then come back and tell me what you bought - I'm always looking for suggestions for quality products!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

An Update + Working Out

I've gotten a lot of subbing under my belt since I last posted.  I've fallen "in like" with a new school, but I still miss my old school terribly.  This month is going to be crazy - I have not 1 but 2 district job fairs, plus the job fair at my university (which I didn't go to last year).  I've updated my resume, written a generic, me-based cover letter that I think sums me up pretty well, and I bought the fancy paper to print out copies on.  I've impressed and gotten the notice of the principal this new school.  I've also been hard at work creating a few new products for my TPT store.

Let me tell you, I am doing a lot of "on the job learning" with creating this stuff.  My first couple of products, I just made things and put them up.  Now I'm working with new fonts, borders, and clip art, and having to keep track of the ToU for these, because I want to make sure that the awesome people (who are so much more talented at graphic design than I am) get the credit for the work they did.  I can have great ideas for days, but these people help me make my ideas look pretty and stand out.  I'm not trying to be a Deanna Jump or an Amy Lemons, where my sales function as nearly a 2nd income, but I have always been a person that likes to create, and if even one other person likes what I created, then I feel happy.  Here's a link to my store if you'd like see what I've been making.

On a non-education related front, I joined a gym.  I've never been happy with the way I look, and my health is, of course, important, but the tipping point for me was noticing how little energy I've had.  I honestly think it started setting in when I stopped working at the after-school program.  I was getting energy from those kids every day, and using it to play with them and watch over them.  Now that my kid-time is limited to a classroom, I've been downright sluggish.  I got a great deal (ALWAYS mention you're a teacher), and paid for 3 months with the 4th one being free.  I used my own money, which so far has served as a great motivation to go.  I figure after 4 months, I'll see where I'm at, if I'm happy in this gym or if I need something bigger.

Y'all, this gym is tiny.  Like, 4 treadmills tiny.  It's 24 hour access, and there aren't a lot of members so I don't have to wait to use machines, but there is a lot it doesn't have.  What it does have is one of every weight machine that I know how to use, 3 choices for cardio (treadmill, elliptical, bike), and a clientele that keeps to themselves.  You don't come to this gym to socialize, you come to work.

I'm in my 4th month of being a member, and I've stuck to my goal of working out 3 days a week, except for the week of spring break when I wasn't in town.  Really, I don't have any goals other than that.  Get there - do something, that's where I'm at right now.  I didn't even take any beginning measurements or weight, because the only result I'm looking for now is more energy.  When I notice that, I'll start working on my physique.

I bought a journal to keep track of what workouts I do, because I'm worried that if I lock myself into a rigid schedule (Day one is upper body, day 2 is lower body, etc...) then I'll burn out faster.  I want as much freedom as possible, but I also want to know where I'm having success and where I need to work more.

 So, that's an update on my life right now - any advice for a new gym go-er?  Experiences you've had at job fairs?  Talk to me, people!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Feedback needed

After spending a wonderful week in Kindergarten and seeing what some of my fellow teachers had to offer, I was struck by the idea of using graphs.  I remember very clearly that reading and understanding a graph is one of the first grade math assessments, because I administered that assessment to the first grade class I was student teaching in.  The TEKS is:

§111.3. Grade 1
(b)  Knowledge and skills
(8)  Data analysis. The student applies mathematical process standards to organize data to make it useful for interpreting information and solving problems. The student is expected to:
(A)  collect, sort, and organize data in up to three categories using models/representations such as tally marks or T-charts;
(B)  use data to create picture and bar-type graphs; and
(C)  draw conclusions and generate and answer questions using information from picture and bar-type graphs.

On a vertical alignment, TEKS 8 is the same for Kindergarten, but with pictographs only:

(8)  Data analysis. The student applies mathematical process standards to collect and organize data to make it useful for interpreting information. The student is expected to:
(A)  collect, sort, and organize data into two or three categories;
(B)  use data to create real-object and picture graphs; and
(C)  draw conclusions from real-object and picture graphs.

So I thought I'd create a Graph Pack with a graph for every month of the year.  Some are specifically themed for that month, some are not.  The problem is that a class in TX can be as large as 22 students.  Now in Kindergarten, the largest I've seen is about 19.  In first grade, I've seen up to 21.  If I make a graph that says "How many friends are here today" and the class tracks it over every school day for the week, that's a graph with 23 rows (22 plus day of the week) and 5 columns, making it hard to fit on a single sheet of paper with the title included.  However, it's more convenient to print off and display a single piece of paper.

To that end, I've put a free sample on TpT.  It features the "How many friends are here today graph" in both 1 page and 2 page formats, where the graph is on one page and the title is on another, with a unifying design.  Please download this product and let me know what you think.  Not EVERY graph in my graph pack needs to be on two pages (because how often are your 22 kindergarteners going to vote on the same thing?) but at least 2 of them might.

Here's the link to the product:

Friday, February 22, 2013

Writing Goals

Writing Workshop Student Goals!
I saw the neatest class today.  The kids had sat down and had conference with a teacher to work on their writing goals.  When I asked some of them what their goals were, they gave me clear, specific things they were working on.  Some said, "Write 8 sentences or more."  Some said transition words, some said using spaces.  The goals were specific and measurable.  The kids were aware of them, and using them in their writing.  I didn't see a way the teacher kept track of it, like the poster above, but maybe she has a clipboard or something.  The point was that the teachers and the kids communicate so well that a substitute who spends only half a day with the class can see it.  The kids also had goals for "read to self" time, but those are harder to measure unless you sit with a child and listen to them read (and from personal experience, I can say that you're lucky to have time to do that with even 3 kids a day.)  

The school I've been subbing at this week is so impressive.  I've always felt that walking through the hallways and looking at the walls is a great indicator of what kind of school you're in, and the walls at this school are covered in student work that asks deep questions and invites multiple answers.  The students are introduced to famous artists and musicians, which is something I've always wanted to make a priority in my classroom.  So many of the students are very self-motivated, and they stay on task with a stamina that belies their elementary age.  I miss my old school and my kids so much, but after being at this school for and a half days, and another school where two of my student-teaching buddies work, I'm finding myself slightly more comfortable at a school besides mine.  I think about my former kiddos everyday, but it's not every moment.  I'm seeing great ideas from new teachers and new perspectives - yesterday I was in a class who had a sub binder that not only included a class list and attendance slips, but the log on for the computer, student behavior dos and don'ts.  I also put my 3 days of bilingual kindergarten experience to work as I navigated that classroom for half a day.  Talk Translate, you are a God-send.

I've filled out applications for two of the Education Consortium regions here in NTX, and I've written a generic cover letter to go with my resume at job fairs.  I know the next step is to research my top 6 districts, write cover letters to the principals at those specific schools, and get emailing.  As you can see, I have my own writing goals.  

It's a huge hurdle, where I feel like I've been taking baby steps.  It's like when Ross is trying to get Chandler to the wedding, and they tackle all of these little jobs - take a shower, put on a tuxedo, drive to the church.  Then they finish those and the next step is to get married - it's a BIG. DEAL.  From there, it'll be more big steps, like INTERVIEWS.  Then (hopefully) A. JOB.  Oy, this growing up business is scary.  

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

February Currently

I just love Currentlys - they're like Twitter, condensing my current world into the most basic information.

Listening - I've started walking, in an attempt to one day start running.  My only goal right now is 3 days a week, minimum.  Nothing about increasing speed or endurance, just getting outside and moving.  My workout playlist has become cluttered recently, I've just been putting any old fast-paced song instead of songs that actually make me feel like moving.  Some of my favorites are "New Classic" by Drew Seeley f. Selena Gomez, "You Should Be Dancing" by the Glee Cast, and "Misery" by Maroon 5.

Loving - Valentine's Day approaches.  I've never been a huge fan of the holiday.  I mean, sure, I like pink, but romance does not abound around here.  The one time I did enjoy it was when I got to celebrate with my 3rd graders during student teaching.  The kids' excitement is contagious - decorating the mailboxes, slipping goodies in while they're not looking, and any excuse for a class party, duh!

Thinking - I have to get a job.  I no longer get to be picky, I have to have a job.  To that end I actually crashed (with permission) a seminar that this year's group of student teaching interns hosted about resumes, cover letters, and job hunting.  My intern year did not have any seminars to help with this stuff, and as the only one from my group that wants to teach but doesn't have a job, I figured this information would be invaluable.  For example, my current resume is based off of pretty standard business model.  It came from my mom, who works as an administrative assistant.  However, the model of a resume in education has some differences that shouldn't be overlooked.

Wanting - I stink at interviews.  I haven't had enough practice, I know, but I freeze up.  I can recite song lyrics and movie quotes verbatim, but ask me my own thoughts in an interview and I ramble.  We've discussed this ad nauseum, it's the reason for all my posts where I answer interview questions.  I'm just not sure that it's helping me.  My roommate suggested I put answers to the most likely questions on flashcards and study them like French verbs.  That might be my next course of action, unless of course someone wants to offer me a job with no interview necessary (HA!)

Pet Peeves - I understand if I need to say it again because the room was loud, or because you were out of the room when I gave instructions.  I understand if I didn't say it clearly and I need to rephrase it so you comprehend.  I don't understand you looking right at me, hearing my instructions, and then just sitting there, not getting to work.  Don't make me repeat myself if I don't have to.  (Side note, I covet those little things where you record the instructions for a center & the the kids can play it back over and over.  I envision those recorders being my new best friends.) 

There you have it - the nutshell and the whole dang pecan!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Anal-Retentive Guide to Library Organization


So now you know my secret - I'm a book hoarder.  But unlike the TV show, where there are piles everywhere and trash mixed in with dead animals, my stash is neatly organized and filed away in plastic tubs.

The way I went about organizing was a little haphazard - I didn't have a plan, I just started taking books out of tubs and making piles.  I spent a moment or two deciding how best to organize, and I decided that since elementary school covers such a wide range of subjects and reading levels, not to mention picture books versus chapter books, the best way to organize my books would be by reading level.  This way, when I get a job, I'll be able to take the tubs that my students at their particular grade level can handle.  Kindergarten kids wouldn't be getting my Lemony Snicket books, and 5th graders wouldn't get Dr. Seuss and Junie B. Jones.  After I decided how to do it, I just jumped in, headfirst.

I would pull out a handful of books, check their reading levels on the Lexile website, and make a pile accordingly.  Books that didn't have levels would get their own pile.  I did this until nearly every book was either in a pile with like levels or a tub with like subjects.  I have some tubs just for certain genres - classic literature, Christmas and winter holidays, poetry, myths and fables, etc...  From these piles I began putting the books back into the tubs, only this time, like went with like.

After all my piles and tubs were settled, I started cataloging.  Let me just tell you that Excel is my best friend.  It is everything my little left-brain head wishes it could be.  So I typed the books into an Excel spreadsheet using the following columns - Title, Author, # of Copies, and Location.  Location refers to which tub they were in, and you better believe that every tub got marked with an "address".  For example, I have a Show-Off (small plastic tubs with a handle on the snap-on lid) that is labeled "Chapter books 900+".  I wager the name is pretty self-explanatory.  Lexile says that 900 is an on-grade-level range starting at the 6th grade, so my collection of those books isn't very large.

Cataloging this way is great because it allows me to arrange the books by title, author, or location.  Eventually I'd like to add extra columns like Lexile level and keywords, to help me search for a book for a particular theme or lesson, but those aren't necessary.

I could have stopped there, but I always seem to take things a bit too far.  Long ago, I had pinned something on Pinterest that I've been dying to try out, a program called the Booksource Classroom Organizer.  You put all your books into a system, and you can use a smartphone to scan the ISBN numbers to "check them out" to students, so you can keep track of who has what book.  Now I know, a teacher doesn't have time to sit there and scan books for 22 kids, that's just insane.  But if I loan out a special book, like one of my books that is signed by the author or one of the books I've had since I was a kid, I'd like to know where it goes.  So I put my whole library into this system, one book at a time.  Ideally, you'd be able to download the app and just scan all the titles into the library.  That didn't work for me because the books were already put away in their specific tubs and there was no way in HECK I was getting them all out again.  I had a few tubs that were already organized - those genre-specific ones I mentioned above, so I tried the app out on those.  My success rate with the scanner was only about 50%, and some older books, or books with library binding didn't have an ISBN bar code on them, so I had to look inside the book and enter it by hand.  Mostly, I just consulted my oh-so-pretty Excel spreadsheet, typed the titles into Amazon and copied/pasted the ISBN numbers.  Again, there are a few books that the company doesn't recognize, so a little less than 10% of my collection isn't in the system at all, but since I'll only be using it for "special" books, I'm okay with that.

You'd think I'd be done, right?  Not quite.  The last part of this equation, the part that won't get done until I have at least 4 extra sets of hands, is to put colored tape on the books to signify their Lexile level.  It helps the kids get closer to picking Just-Right books.  Since I've only had experience at one school, I thought the colors and what levels they correspond to was set in stone.  I've since discovered that you can pretty much assign whatever color to whatever level you want.  Since I haven't decided what colors to use, I'm not going to worry about that part right now.

So there you have it - a crazy person organizes her crazy collection of children's books.  I hope reading about my insanity made you feel a little more sane =). 

My Classroom Library

I've been collecting books for my future classroom library for a while.  It's been going on for at least 4 years.  Most came from used book stores or used book sales.  If you're a new teacher, and you don't feel like getting up at 4 in the morning on a Saturday to rush the Half Price Books free-for-teachers warehouse ("ain't nobody got time for that"), then you need to know when the libraries around you are having their used book sales.  If you're not already acquainted, let me introduce www.booksalefinder.com.  This is a great starting point, especially if you're new to your area.  Libraries run reports of books that are out of date and haven't been checked out in a long time, and they they sell them off to make room on the shelves for new books.  School districts do this in their libraries too.

Another huge part of my collection has come from Scholastic Book Fairs.  Yes, I do buy a few at the actual school book fair, but do you know what happens to the books that don't get sold?  Scholastic holds warehouse sales and you can get the books for up to 50% off the cover price.  Like the Half-Price warehouse, this is for educators only.  If you pre-register for the sale, you get a coupon.

One more major factor is Kohls.  They have a charity called "Kohls Cares for Kids", and they partner up with different authors to sell the author's books and coordinating stuffed animals for $5, and all the money goes to the charity.  Sometimes, when they've moved on to a new author but still have some of the previous author's books/animals left, they will sell them on the Kohls website for $2.50 a piece.  They've had some great author partnerships - Laura Numeroff (If You Give A...), Dr. Seuss, and even the author of the Skippyjon Jones books, Judy Schachner.  When I found out they had Skippyjon books I went a little bit nuts with excitement.  I don't always buy the animals too, but sometimes I do because they make good "Reading Buddies" for use with younger grades.

There is a small slice of the pie that is books that people have given me and books that I bought for full retail price (minus a Barnes & Noble Membership and the accompanying coupons), and even a slice that is books that I bought when certain bookstores were closing down.  Those Borders everything-must-go sales were an adrenaline rush.  I felt like a heel taking pleasure in the downfall of a company, but MAN did I get some great deals.

"So, Wendy, how many books do you have in your library?" (I'm interviewing myself)

Well, that's a great question.  I just finished organizing them, a process which I talk about here, and I can tell you that I have 549 books.

FIVE HUNDRED.  FORTY NINE.  I have a sickness.

That does not include the following:  books on tape, books that come with CDs/tapes, reference materials (dictionaries, thesauri, etc...) OR a large collection of Sesame Street Library books that I've been holding on to since my youth.  This is plain and simple picture and chapter books.

"Do you regret a collection that big?" 

Heck no!  I love to read. As a kid, I would have rather read than gone outside.  I would have rather read than watched TV.  If there is one thing I would love for my students to love, it's reading.  So I'm going do whatever I can to make that happen.

"Well, do you have any favorites?"

I'm glad you asked.  Yes, there are books that I own multiple copies of (in fact it is my goal to have a class set of The Phantom Tollbooth), and books that I love more than others.  Here are a few, in no particular order except the first one:

1. The Phantom Tollbooth
2. Matilda
3. Ella Enchanted
4. Any of the Eloise books
5. Any of the Skippjon Jones books
6. Books by Mo Willems
7. American Girl books
8. A Series of Unfortunate Events (have you read these?  The vocabulary alone is superb!)
9. Roald Dahl
10. Shel Silverstein

Friday, January 11, 2013

It's time to begin, isn't it?

Ten points to you if you can name the song this title comes from - it has been on repeat both on my iPod and in my head for quite some time now (yes, even with all the Christmas music that I flood my stereo with).

As I take gigantic scissor steps out of my comfort zone and into new schools, I'm also working on my "speechin' skills" for interviews.  It's probably a safe assumption that questions and answers one would find in a corporate interview can be quite different from those in the education field, but there will be some overlap.  I'm using the list I was using before, given to me by a principal in a neighboring district, but I've also been perusing an ebook I found about how to answer the 64 most common interview questions.  This book takes a more corporate standpoint, but I think we can all agree that any job you interview for is going to ask the big 3:

1. Tell me about yourself.
2. What are your strengths.
3. What are your weaknesses.

I've said before that I don't interview well.  I also don't meet people well.  I don't make a great first impression - it's not a train wreck or anything, but I think I am an acquired taste.  I lack a lot in social graces, so I tend to clam up when I meet new people and speak as little as possible.  In interviews, where I am being directly questioned, I tend to go into a fugue state, answer the questions from the seat of my pants, and forget everything that happened as soon as I walk out of the office.  This means that A) my answers are not the most well-thought out or presenting me in the best possible light and 2) I am unable to reflect on my strengths and weaknesses and adjust them later.  I can't guarantee that from now on my interviews won't be like an out-of-body experience, where I hear myself talking but I can't control it, but at least the answers I give will hopefully be more meaningful.  Here are some questions I answered from the ebook (and a little commentary):

1. Tell me about yourself.

I studied education at UNT and did my student teaching in Denton ISd at E.P. Rayzor elementary.  For the last 4 years, I've been employed for Denton ISD as an after-school instructor, a substitute, and a childcare giver for the adult ESL classes.  I've worked with kids in an elementary or preschool capacity for 10 years.


2. What are your greatest strengths?

(The book says that you should have a list of your 10 best qualities memorized so you can recite them cold at 2:30 in the morning, so my list is first, followed by my actual answer)
1. Organized and Efficient
2. Creative
3. Enthusiastic
4. Sense of Humor
5. Intelligent
6. Dedicated
7. Ethical
8. Generous
9. Quick thinking on my feet
10. I Genuinely like kids

I am organized and efficient.  Teachers have limited instructional time, and the more time you have to spend searching for materials, or shuffling things around because your construction paper is under a stack of animal books, the less time you get to spend with the class.  Not to mention, all that shuffling and searching leaves you stressed, which rubs off on your kids.  I'm enthusiastic about education, especially reading.  If I can leave one legacy with the kids that I teach, it would be to turn them into voracious readers.  Finally, I think quickly on my feet.  There is no feeling quite so suffocating as being in front of 22 students and realizing that the lesson you planned is not going to work, but you have nothing else prepared.  While I strive to be organized and have all my materials ready, there may come a day when I forget an important tool, or my students simply are not feeling it, and I have to make a change and quickly.
(I put creativity on the list but I don't mention it because 1) it's subjective, and b) you'd need concrete, tangible examples and I'm not going to come into an interview with samples of artwork or lesson plans.  I mention the 3 out of 10 that I think a principal would most want in a competent teacher.) 


What are your greatest weaknesses?

No one is without things they feel they need to work on, but I feel like I have the qualifications and the enthusiasm to motivate me to do well in this position.  I don't always enjoy dealing with parents, they can sometimes feel entitled or feel like teaching is easy and anyone could do it, but I respect the fact that everyday they give me the most precious thing they have and I strive to right by them.   
(Do you know I have had more current and former teachers tell me they hated dealing with parents than any other aspect of the job?  It used to be that a parent and a teacher were on the same side - now when a kid doesn't perform or gets in trouble, the parents seem to think "What did the teacher do wrong?")

Why did you leave your last position?

Extended school day is a great program.  I recommend it as a part-time job to anyone in college who wants to someday work with kids.  But it is that, a part-time job, and I am ready for a full-time, classroom position.

Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?

I see myself in the classroom, at the same school I was hired at.  I don't mind switching grades if I am needed, but I am a person who puts down roots.  Outside of school, I see myself pursuing either a masters degree in a Language-Arts program or my certification to become a teacher of the Gifted and Talented program.  I say "pursuing" and not "having achieved" because I want to spend at least 2 to 3 years with my classroom being my sole focus.
(Honestly, I spent 9 years in college.  While I want to be the best teacher I can be, even if that means pursuing an advanced degree, it is not going to happen anytime soon because I am so *over* school right now.)

Why do you want to work here?
(I answered this question not with a specific school in mind, but a specific district)

D***** ISD is a wonderful place to work.  According to GreatSchools.net, out of the 21 elementary campuses, none rate below a 5 out of 10 and 15 campuses rate a 7 or higher.  As of 2009, the turnover rate for teachers in this district was less than 11%, compared to the state average of more than 14%   There are so many great supplementary programs, and I feel like education is a real priority.  While the school district has so many schools and 2 early childhood centers, it feels more like a community and less like a large metropolis.  I am excited to see what Dr. W, the new superintendent has in store.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Setbacks

The month of December was not good to me.  Some things happened that made me sad and angry, hurt my feelings, and generally left me wondering if I'd made a mistake and maybe I wasn't even supposed to be teaching.  It's still too painful to talk about, but the effects are far reaching, like ripples on a pond.

I had already planned on leaving the after school program I worked at, but after events transpired I left it early, without getting to say goodbye to my kids.  I won't even be substituting at that school, so basically the last time I got to see my kids was November 30th.  Instead of the semester starting with me being guaranteed a few work days a month and a whole school of people who would call me if they needed as sub, I'll be starting over at new schools where I know maybe one other teacher.  Instead of hugging my kids and asking all about their winter break, and spending time with them, I am cut off from them.

I worked at that school for 4 years.  I was there for some part of 5 different school years.  I started out with kindergartners in the spring of 2009 and now they are in 4th grade.  I love all my kids, whether they were with me for a few months or all 4 years.  I love the kids I did my student teaching with.  I was a regular face there as a substitute, and I had teachers that called me first, before anyone else, when they needed a sub.  It kills me not to get to see these people all the time.  I had dreamed of getting a teaching position there, but that's not likely to happen now.  I had all these connections built up, and now it's all for nothing.

Basically put - it sucks.  I have been angry and hurt for a month now, and while I'm trying to resume life as normal, I just can't let go of the negativity.  I'm a firm believer that there is a reason for everything, that God does not play dice with the universe, but I'm wondering what the reason could be for A) cutting me off from the little people who make me smile, who make a bad day better, B) putting my whole future (career-wise) in jeopardy and C) making me question the one path that I was on that I thought, with absolute certainty, was where God wanted me.

January 8th marks the start of a new semester, and I just know the first time I step foot in a new school my heart is going to break even more.  Last year, when I didn't get placed at "my" school for student teaching, it was so hard to be in these other classrooms, in this other building, with these other people.  The one thing that helped was being over to drive to "my" school and visit my after school kids and get hugs from them and hear about their lives.  Now, I don't even have that.  This is a new chapter in my life and I don't want to turn the page.  I want to rip out all the pages until I get to the answers in the back of the book so someone can tell me why this all happened.