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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Take A Number and Get in the Crazy Line

Sunday morning.  10:05 am.
Mom and three handsome, smiling boys sitting nicely in the church pew, filled with the love of God and basking in the presence of the Holy Spirit.
"The Lord be with you."
"And also with you."

Rewind 10 minutes.

Sunday morning.  9:55 am.  
Mom and three disagreeable boys driving to church.
(Dad is conveniently home sick:)

Stop touching your brother!
No you may not take your iPod to church.
Joe!  That is not a church word!
Did you even brush your hair?
I said no name calling! God does not appreciate you calling your brother a butt face on the way to church!
Leave him alone!
Oh. My. God!  Stop that crap!  We are about to enter the House of the LORD!!

It's like driving around a circus full of monkeys.

But we leave the crazy in the car and when we get to that church door - we take a deep breath, put on a smile, and enter ready for what we came here for in the first place.  And at the end of the service, we are renewed and ready for the next battle.

Which will probably happen in the car on the way home.

I know you've been there.  It may not have been church - it may have been a trip to Grandma's or to the supermarket or cub scouts or whatever.  Inside the car, all the crazy in the universe descends upon your family and you start to wonder if the jail time would be worth duct taping them to the hood.

Then, you arrive, shout out the last threat of violence or loss of the xBox, leave the crazy in  the car and everyone pulls it together.
Ready to go.

As I reflected on all of this today, I realized two things.

1.  I do this everyday on the way to work.
I let go of my crazy.  (At least I try.)
My son's last minute 7a.m. panic "I have to print my homework right now and the printer won't work!"
Did I put a fruit in Joe's lunch?
I hope that insane administrator leaves me alone today.
I swear if I have to fill out one more data sheet, I'm going to...

I need to leave it in the car, take a deep breath, put a smile on my face, and enter that classroom ready.
My crazy will still be sitting there in the car waiting for me when I leave school.

2.  My students can't always do this.

Emotion rides in with my students every day - fear, worry, anger, hunger, aggravation, anxiety, excitement, silliness, confusion...
Only they don't leave it in the car.  They bring it in with them.
In all it's glory and splendor.

I feel pressured by the pace of the day, the pace of the curriculum, the drive to meet assessment scores, the urgency to move on.  
Pressured to ignore all that emotion spilling out all over the place and get ready for that danged test!

I need to stop.

Stop. Take a deep breath.

Take the time to acknowledge the feelings, to help them work through it, to be ready.


And all you legislators and administrators and educational  "experts" need to take a number and get in the crazy line.
Your cut scores and NCLB and rigor will have to wait until I sweep these emotions up off the floor and help some kids deal with some stuff.
My kids can't learn until they're ready.

And I am going to help them get ready.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

First Year Flashback

I am linking up with my friend Laurah from The ESOL Odyssey to take a look back at my very first year of teaching 20 years ago, and possibly pass along a few words of wisdom.

What age group and subject were you teaching?
I was teaching third grade at an inner city school right in the middle of the public housing projects. The kids were street wise, living in poverty, and immersed in a very violent and scary world. Driving to work, I would watch numerous drug deals in the neighborhood as the children walked to school. Shootings were so frequent, many children slept on the floor for safety, and I would have to put duct tape over the holes in the Plexiglas windows on some mornings. If we heard gunfire during the day, we would step away from the windows and keep on teaching. There were drugs, knives, used condoms, and all sorts of other fun things found on the playground. Parents sometimes would have physical fights in the school or on the sidewalk outside of school. The swat team was in my school on more than one occasion. When I started, I was the only white person in the entire building including students and staff. I was in absolute culture shock. But the community came to trust me and accept me (every single parent came to parent conferences that year!) and those teachers were wonderful to me – the young, fresh out of college, blonde haired white girl who had no business there. They took me under their wings and taught me to be the tough old bird I am today.

I am forever grateful for the five years of invaluable experience I received in that place and I carry those children in my prayers to this day.

What was your first classroom like?
My first classroom was not very big since the school was built in the 60’s – your basic cinderblock rectangle. The real story was under the classroom. The school was built on an old landfill so there was an issue with methane gas being released. There were vents outside the building but we also had methane detectors all over the building. We also had high levels of carbon dioxide. The school system’s grand solution to this problem? Open the windows.

Were you given supplies or materials?
I remember having most of what we needed. We had a computer lab which was a pretty big deal back then.  In the classroom, I had an overhead projector, a dot matrix printer and an Apple IIc that had a big 'ol floppy disc drive.  There were some textbooks and I made lots of games.  I think I was in complete survival mode and managed with what we had. The children brought nothing and every student in the school received free lunch.

What was the hardest part of your first year of teaching?
The children. Their lives were absolutely dreadful. They knew about things they shouldn’t know about. They lived in fear and hunger and want. I remember buying dozens of mittens and hats when it got cold and even a few pairs of shoes for some kids. It was heartbreaking.

What was the best part of your first year of teaching?
Survival. For some reason, probably ignorant youth, I had no fear. I was determined to make it work in that place and that is what I did.

What do you know now that you wish you knew that first year?
I am glad I did not know then what I know now. At this stage in the game, I have come to know the ugly truth behind the power and politics of education. Even though I have the ever-present optimism of a teacher, I also have a twinge of cynicism that comes with age and experience.
My teaching may not have been top of the line, but my younger self had only optimism and fearlessness. Hope and possibility. Not such a bad way to start out in this profession.

I just realized that I really have no magical words of wisdom to share with a new teacher. There is no right answer. Be grateful for the journey and lift up the children who are along for the ride.

If you would like to link up and share your first year memories, please click here!!

Monday, July 28, 2014

7 Ways Teens and Toddlers Are Exactly Alike

My thoughts today do not come from the teacher in me, they are mommy thoughts.   Although, I'm sure many teachers will be able to relate.

My youngest son is almost 5, so I was growing a bit nostalgic about the toddler years.  Those cute baby faces with big, rosy, squeezable cheeks,  the emerging independence, earth shattering excitement about a butterfly or a worm, and the sweet kisses freely given.  Ahhh, the good 'ol days...

Yes, I also remember the terribleness of those toddler years, the tantrums and "No!" and the exasperating dawdling.  But it was only a part of growing up.  That part is over now.

Then, my oldest boy turned 13.  

I know those of you who have teens, have raised teens, have taught teens, or even just seen teens in a mall are shaking your heads right now saying, "Bless your heart."  

The moment my sweet, intelligent, thoughtful, helpful, respectful, responsible 12 year old boy turned 13, all his brains drained right out of his ears.  Gone.  They were replaced by hormones, clinical level distractability, questionable sanity, and something that smells funny.   

Wait!  What!?  Where is my boy?  

Oh, look.  He's in there.  He's just been possessed by a toddler. 

Now, if your kids have not yet reached the teen years, I am sorry to have to tell you this, but toddlers and teenagers are exactly alike.  

Yes, that's right.  

You're going to go through the "Terrible Twos" all over again.  You have about a decade to get ready.

And if you're a middle school teacher, well... Bless Your Heart.

So since becoming a mother of a teenage boy, I have discovered several ways that teens and toddlers are alike:

  1. Temper tantrums:  “But I want to wear the blue shirt!”  A toddler might lay in the floor and kick, while the teenager slams a door, but essentially it’s the same thing.  Copious amounts of pouting, screaming and crying all around.
  2. Sleep:  They both sleep about 14 hours a day and get really cranky when they don’t get enough sleep.  At least teenagers don’t wake up at the butt crack of dawn.
  3. Talking:  Most of what they say makes absolutely no sense 80% of the time.  The other 20% of the time, they’re whining.
  4. Demanding:  They both demand we meet their needs immediately, and if we don’t – well - see #1 above.
  5. Listening to Reason:  "Don't do that - you will get hurt!"  falls on deaf ears for toddlers and teens.  And teens even have the nerve to say, "Nuh uh.  I know what I'm doing."  
  6. Decision Making:  No need for explanation here.  Actually, I would bet that toddler decision making trumps teenage decision making.
  7. The Mess:  Seriously.  The Mess.  And neither is very good at cleaning up.

I have two more boys who will serve their 'possessed by a toddler' teen years soon.  But I'm ready this time.
No, I don't have to get out baby gates and the time out chair.  This time around I'll need wifi passwords and phone privileges.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Embracing My Social Media Dorkiness

My latest journey into new ( to me ) social media has revealed two things:

1.  I am still a bit flummoxed by Twitter.
2.  I LOVE Instagram

Even though my 13 year old, steeped in social media, too cool for mom, son will not accept my request to follow him and will not follow me.
Me:  Why can't I follow you?
Son:  You just can't.
Me:  Are you posting stuff you don't want me to see?
Son:  Yes.  I mean, no.  Nothing inappropriate.  It's just...  Really, Mom.  It's just not ok for your mom to follow you.
Me:  Okay, I get that.  Why won't you follow me?
Son:  I don't know.  I guess I could.  I just...
Me:  You just don't want to see my teacher crap while you're looking at all the cool stuff your friends post.
Son:  Yes.  No.  I mean...   You know, kids don't really say 'cool' anymore, Mom.
Me:  What do they say?
Son:  I don't know.  Are we done?

But, I digress into the mysterious and inexplicable world of a teenager.  Back to Instagram.

I love Instagram.  It's like Facebook without the drama.  Pictures everywhere to feed my short, summer attention span.  Little peeks into other people's lives which either make me feel either incredibly inferior or greatly relieved when I look back into my own life.  Another time sucking internet hole.  I love instagram!

So I thought I would do a photo-a-day challenge to sort of jump into Instagram and get my feet wet.
But my 'cool' media specialist son says it's dumb and annoying I am a complete dork for doing it.

Well, I don't care!  I will revel in my dorkiness!  And I will take pictures of odd, random stuff for a month!  I will post it and hashtag it!  And I will join in solidarity with all the other moms of teens in the time honored tradition of embarrassing our children by doing 'mom stuff!"

#dorkymomoftheyearaward  #sillystuffteachersdoinsummer  #Iloveinstagram

I join Kacie from Managing and Motivating Math Minds in her Teachers of Summer Instagram Challenge
You can find Kacie here:  @mmmmkacietravis

Check out my summer teachery photo stuff and join in!
And leave your instagram link in the comments so I can follow you!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Farewell, First Grade...

Fourth Grade.

I am not a 4th grade teacher.  I am a first grade teacher.

I have been a first grade teacher for 16 years.  It is in my blood and my brain and my bones.  I can spout off first grade standards after a full moon-holiday-Friday-before a break-pajama day-some kid didn't have his meds-day. While I clean up spilled milk, tie a shoe, and write a clinic pass. I've got the developmental intricacies of the six year old child down pat. Dear sweet mother of short vowel sounds, if I were a tattooed person, I'd probably have First grade tattooed on my first grade teachin' behind.

I am a first grade teacher, dang it!

Except that now I am not.  Now I am a first grade teacher who has been asked  told to teach fourth grade.

Fourth freaking grade, people!

I know many of you teach 4th grade, love 4th grade, and can't get enough of the fabulousness that is 4th grade.  I have the utmost respect and admiration for each of you (especially the ones who taught my boys:)
But I am not a fourth grade teacher.   (Remember all that first grade-got it all down-tattooed butt stuff? First grade teacher right here, folks.)

Now, I know what you're thinking.
Stop whining, you big, first grade baby.  At least you've got a job and you're certified for fourth grade so just suck it up, buttercup.

And you are right.

But, you see, I have only progressed to the second Stage of Grief.  Anger.  
(I quickly moved through stage one (denial) when I had to pack up sixteen years worth of first grade crap and drag it all home in cardboard liquor store boxes.)

Stage two is much more fun than stage one.  I have pretty much wallowed in stage two and it's working for me right now.

The third Stage of Grief is bargaining.  Well, I can just skip right over that useless mess because there's no one with whom to bargain.  The principal has spoken and that is that, apparently. 
I suppose I could bargain with God, but I kinda used up my three wishes on that full moon-holiday-Friday-before a break-pajama day-some kid didn't have his meds-day.  And it's pretty darn clear that my Guardian Angel has also been reassigned.  She's probably watching over some poor middle school teacher.

So anger it is for now.

Although, I did get  glimpse of Stage Four today.  Depression.

When I was moving some of my stuff into the fourth grade classroom, I happened across a math book.  A fourth grade math book.  It had decimals it, people.  DECIMALS!  And multiplication.  And long division.  Good lord, I can barely type that without breaking into hives.

Clearly depression is on the horizon for me if I can ever break free of stage two.

Now, I have heard all the lovely, supportive, uplifting, motivating bunch of crap (there's stage two rearing it's ugly head, again) encouragement that has been sent my way lately.

  • You might grow to love it:)
  • Your principal sees something in you that can't see.
  • Everything happens for a reason - it will all work out.
  • If you're a great teacher, it doesn't matter what grade you teach - you'll be great!

I sooo appreciate all the words of support and encouragement.  I really do. 
I'll come back and read them again when I reach Stage Five - Acceptance.  If I ever get there.  
That'll be the day that I am sprawled out in the tattoo parlor getting Maurice to figure out how to turn First Grade into a dragonfly fluttering across my backside.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

I Kind of Am In It For the Money...

This is a bit of a rant, so be forewarned...

I am growing weary of seeing cutesy teachery sayings all over the internet that try to convince me my low pay is worth it.
You know, because of the kids.

Well, I gotta tell ya - I kinda am in it for the money.

I don't mean rock star money.

I mean a well educated professional with a ridiculous level of responsibility money.
I mean expected to keep children safe and possibly give up my own safety to do so money.

I'm not asking for much.  I have as much education as an attorney and at least as much responsibility.
I'm not even asking for that much money.

I'm just asking to make a living wage so I don't have to rob Peter to pay Paul every month.
Just normal living expenses, nothing extravagant.  You know, just food, shelter, basic clothing, possibly a little ice cream now and again.

And don't make me feel guilty when you do give me a raise and make it look like I'm stealing candy from a baby!
Don't tell me I shouldn't ask for more, because, really, it's for the children.

Why do folks find it so reprehensible to pay teachers an adequate wage?

Is it because there are so many of us?  If so many people are able to do it, it must not be that special?

Is it because everyone has been to school and it looks easy so it must be easy?

Is it because we put up with it and continue to work crazy long hours and do loads of extra work without demanding compensation?

Is it because simply screaming to the rooftops that we value children in our society doesn't really make it true?

Now, don't get me wrong - I do love my kids!  I take them home in my heart and in my head every single night.  They make me laugh and cringe and wonder and weep.  Helping kids learn is tons of fun and I will continue to teach because it is my career, my calling, my niche.
I love my job.
And my second job, which supplements the first job.

So, I won't be pinning the cute little sign that tells the world I don't value my job enough not to expect to be properly compensated for it.
I will not revel in the fact that I can work miracles with inadequate resources.
I will not use making a difference in children's lives as an excuse to accept low wages.

Because it is about the children.  Do we not value them enough to also value those who guide them, teach them, keep them safe?

Screaming to the rooftops that we value children in our society doesn't really make it true.
Sometimes you have to prove it.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Why We Didn't Take Our Math Test Today

There are some days that just defy all good sense, some days that go awry, and some days are like creepy crawly bugs - unpredictable and wiggly and a little funny looking.  

Missing part word problems are kinda hard.  We really have to think hard to figure those things out.  When we get it right and understand that math, our teacher gets pretty excited and sometimes she scoots around in that old, wooden rocking chair.  Sometimes a rung falls out of the bottom and she fixes it.  A lot.
And sometimes, (okay not sometimes - really just this once), the whole chair splits in half, collapses to the floor, and there is the teacher sitting in a pile of chair parts.

Some days you really discover where your brain is.  In a split second, when the adrenaline flows and your heart races and you discover that you are sprawled out in the floor in a pile of spindles and splintered wood, the first thing that comes to mind and flies out of your mouth is incredibly revealing.

 "I have a connection!!  I feel like Goldilocks!"

Thank goodness one of those naughty words didn't fly out.  I'm kind of fond of some of those words:)

No - the first place my teacher brain went was making a connection.  Those comprehension skills are so deeply embedded in my brain that they superceded naughty words!

I am Goldilocks!

 And they got it.  And we laughed.  And we didn't take our math test.
 But we sure know how to make a connection.  :)

Of course, after a wiggly, funny looking bug day happens, you can't just up and take a math test.
We'll save that for a plain ol' nobody laughs hysterically at the teacher for 20 minutes day.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Double Trouble

Have you ever read Two of Everything by Lili Toy Hong?
It is a Chinese folktale about a little old woman and a little old man who find a magic pot that doubles anything you put inside - including the little old man and woman!  

And it is a terrific resource for teaching the doubles strategy in math.  Whatever goes in the pot gets doubled when it comes out!

Today we put a set of cubes into our magic pots 
and we pulled out double!

I found these cute little 'cauldrons' after Halloween last year and snapped up a handful of them - they were perfect for this!
This was a such a quick and easy activity!  No prep, no copies - we just recorded what we did in our math journals.  And you gotta love easy peasy on the first day back after winter break:)

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Re-establishing Routines and Procedures in January

Monday is staring me down.
Back to my classroom full of first graders.  Who have been out of school for 16 straight days.
Over two weeks of no structure, no expectations, no school rules!

So I'm going in like it's Day 1.  We're going to go over routines and procedures just like we did in September.  I  may take up a bit of time that first week back, but it will pay off in the long run:)

Here's how I teach procedures:
Never assume they know anything.  Model exactly the behavior you want.
Observe and Share
I ask the kids the watch what I do and be ready to share what they noticed.   I model the procedure exactly how I want the kids to do it and let the kids tell what they saw.  They will tell all (or most) of the important components of the procedure.  It is so much more meaningful when they discover it for themselves instead of listening to the teacher tell them how.
I model it again and name each step while I do it. 
Now I ask a couple of volunteers to show the class the procedure.  Again, I ask the kids to watch and notice.  The kids will share what they saw. 
This time I ask a group of kids to model the procedure.  Repeat the noticings and sharings.  I do this until everyone has had a chance to model and share.
Now the whole class will practice the procedure and debrief with what they did correctly and where there were shortcomings.

I am also going to use some journal prompts and a mini book I made to help kids write and draw about our classroom procedures.  I have posted it to TpT as a paid product, but I am offering it for free through Sunday so we can all go back stress free on Monday:)

I hope you can use it!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Even Middle School Boys Notice!

I know there have been some vocal attacks on 'cute' in the online education community lately.  I think some of the opponents of 'cute' assume that cute and quality cannot coexist - that if teachers spend time and money creating a "cute" classroom- decorating, arranging, and organizing, then they must not spend any time or effort on creating quality planning and instruction.

Well, of course, this isn't true, and there are thousands of classrooms all over the world that prove quality instruction can take place in a beautiful space. And I truly feel that my students are better behaved and more relaxed when my classroom space is organized and attractive.  I am a firm believer that a tidy, organized space with a unified theme or color scheme has a wonderfully positive effect on classroom management and student behavior.

I have also heard some folks say that the kids don't notice anyway, they don't care, so why bother?  Well, if the kids don't care - I do:)  I have to spend most of our day in our classroom and I want it to be comfortable!

But, I decided to do a little informal survey anyway and I figured I couldn't find more apathetic test subjects than middle school boys, so I asked my two older boys (6th and 7th grade) what they thought.

They both said they appreciated it when their teachers took time to decorate their classrooms.  My 7th grader said a clean, put together classroom made him feel like the teacher wasn't going to waste any time looking for stuff and it showed that the teacher cared about her things.  The 6th grader said he felt calmer and happier in a space that was decorated nicely and wasn't too busy with lots of different colors and patterns and posters, etc.  They both said it helped them get to know their teacher better because they could usually get a feel for her style right away.

Wow.  I must say I was a bit shocked.  I thought they didn't care.
On the other hand, they have helped me clean and prepare my classroom every summer since they were young so they're not objective observers, I suppose.

And speaking of middle school...
I attended my sons' Back to School night last week and was pleasantly surprised when I walked into the 6th grade English class!  Just look at her lovely space-

The IB Learner Profile board

Waiting for fabulous student work...

Love the curtain to hide the clutter and wires:) 

The theme for the year - Change.
Isn't it beautiful?
And, yes, my son did notice and he did appreciate it:)
Not that he loves or appreciates the effort of his other teachers any less!

At any rate, I know it isn't for everyone, but I enjoy organizing and decorating my classroom space:)
I STILL don't have photos for my room tour yet, but here are a few photos I managed to snap...

Wish Garden
This is my "Wish Garden" that I put out during orientation, Back to School Night, and Parent/Teacher Conference night.  The cards are attached to pencils and stuck into a container full of rice.  The family just "picks" a flower with an item they want to donate and the child gets to keep the pencil:)

Click the pictures if you would like the template for the Wish Garden:)

Take A Break Station
This area continues to evolve and this is what I've come up with this year.


Monday, September 2, 2013

Walking Laps and Silent Lunch

My classroom is my home away from home.  I spend all day there with a whole bunch of kids and I would like it be pleasantJ  So, I try very hard to create an atmosphere that is free of chaos, stress, and discord.

One of the ways I try to do that is to make sure I am not constantly disciplining, intervening, or being interrupted.  I use a combination of explicit instruction and practice of routines and procedures, developing relationships with children, and keeping an organized space where the students can help manage materials and themselves.

I have written previous posts on routines and procedures and developing relationships so on to fairness and trust!

Fairness and trust are paramount to developing relationships with children in the classroom.  Children must be able to completely trust me and know that I absolutely believe in them.
If they are to trust me then I must be fair and honest with them.

Developing an environment of fairness and trust is one of those classroom goals that is hard to completely quantify.  It doesn't always follow the flowchart and every individual situation is different, so I have to work crazy hard to make it happen.   Some parts of it are fairly straightforward like being honest with my kids, apologizing when I make a mistake, and preserving the dignity of others.  Other parts like logical consequences and consistency have been more challenging to master.

Logical consequences should be as immediate as possible and the “punishment fits the crime.”  So, I will not tell a kid to walk laps or sit out at recess because he threw food at lunch.  A more logical consequence would be to clean up after lunch and that may mean he misses some of recess while he’s cleaning.  Missing recess because he is cleaning up his mess is much more powerful than just walking laps as punishment.

My oldest son is one of those teacher’s dream students who pays attention, has great behavior, gets good grades, follows directions, etc. etc. you get the picture.  (I don’t know how I got that child, by the way!)
 But towards the end of the year, when his fifth grade teacher was clearly done, I got some interesting news – he had refused to walk punishment laps at recess and the teacher sent him to the office.  Now, what would drive an over achieving, rule following, teacher pleaser to that kind of behavior?

Let’s back up to that morning.   He forgot to get his planner out of his backpack and had to go back to the closet for it.  The teacher gave him 5 laps – her designated punishment for forgetting something in the backpack.  About an hour later, he got 5 more laps because he asked to go to the bathroom during class.  And then, 5 more laps for not having a sharpened pencil.
Recess rolls around and the teacher tells him to walk 15 laps.  He said no.  She said yes.  He said, “You were not fair and I will not do it.  I want you to call my parents.”

I NEVER would have imagined that little scenario, but I gotta admit, I was a little bit proud:)
Not that he was disrespectful, but that he stood up for himself, and rightly so.

Interestingly enough, neither the teacher nor the principal called me.  I found out on the way in to pick him up, from another student!  When I got to his classroom, his teacher said hello like nothing had happened and my son started to pack up to leave.  When I asked her if we had something to discuss today, she looked at me quizzically and said she didn't think so. 

We discussed it.

But that was a couple of years ago and he is still an awesome student. 
He has learned to trust teachers again, but he knows which ones truly care about him and which ones are phoning it in.

So my questions are – In what way were his consequences logical?  How were those consequences going to help change his behavior?  Was the student/teacher relationship strong, respectful, fair, and honest?
Was he going to trust his teacher enough to be able to dare to try and fail?  What would have been better choices for consequences?  Were consequences even necessary?

The only result from her form of discipline was a distrustful, resentful child, a frustrated teacher, a busy principal bothered when she needn't have been, and a highly irritated parent.

Sometimes determining the most logical, dignity-preserving, consistent consequence is tough.  Teachers have to make a gazillion decisions a minute and try to make these choices on the fly sometimes.  It’s not easy, but I believe it’s worth it.   

I think if walking laps at recess or sitting at silent lunch worked, we wouldn't still be doing it in May.  (Oddly enough, the teacher didn't seem to appreciate it when I told her that. J  Yes, I know, I shouldn't have gone there, but Mama Tiger got all caught up with Mama Teacher and it wasn't pretty.)

Any time we are unfair, dishonest, or untrustworthy, we are providing an environment where a child may not try new things if failure is possible because they do not trust that they will be safe when they do so.

Most of the time, I don't give consequences for minor everyday things. If it becomes a habit for one or two kids to always forget to put their folder in the basket, then I will come up with a plan to help them remember, not give them consequences for forgetting. If Sam loses his pencil once or twice - no big deal. If he does it everyday, what can I do to help him learn to remember? Ultimately, I want my kids to learn to do the right thing and be responsible and I don't think punishment is the way to achieve that. I only use consequences when behavior is repeated, negative, and intrusive. And it is easier to determine consequences for those sorts of behaviors. I try to think about how I would like others to deal with me. What would I like my principal to do if I forgot to turn in paperwork one day? What should happen if I don't turn it in every week? What should happen if lots of teachers aren't turning in paperwork? I don't always get it right, but I try to be fair and get it as close to right as I can each day:)

I am going to keep working to be as fair and honest and trustworthy as I can, knowing that I will mess it up sometimes and I will get it right sometimes (hopefully more times than I get it wrong!)  I will make every effort to create a classroom atmosphere that helps kids feel safe enough to fail, strong enough to succeed, and empowered enough to come to me openly and respectfully when they feel wronged.

Here is a post I wrote last fall about a day when I got it right:)

Sunday, August 4, 2013

VA is for Bloggers - Southern Hospitality Freebie Blog Hop

Welcome to Virginia!

button by Karen Stamp

Virginia is for Lovers Bloggers!
A lovely group of Virginia bloggers would like to help usher in the new school year by extending a bit of southern hospitality.  You can follow along the blog hop to visit 20+ Virginia teacher blogs for terrific teaching tips and fun freebies to help get your new school year off to a great start.

You will find the next stop on the hop at the end of this post.  It doesn't matter which blog you start on, just keep clicking through and you will make through to everyone!

I grew up in the beautiful mountains in the western part of the state.  We lived wayyy back in the sticks!  I have very fond memories of playing in the barn, wandering through the woods with my cousins, sitting on the porch swing at my grandparents house, and being sent to the cellar for jars of beans and pickles that had been canned in the summer.  I went to the same school where parents attended and it housed grades 1 through 12!

Now that I'm all grown up, I'm a city girl, living in Richmond at the heart of the state.  We like to take in all the city has to offer from the gazillions of museums, to the James River, to the 150+ acre park a block behind our home.  I teach in a very urban school where many of the kids don't even realize a huge river runs right through the middle of our city!  So, I have my work cut out for me:)

My students LOVE spinner games.  It doesn't matter what skill the game addresses, they love it!
I love spinner games because they are absolutely no muss, no fuss games.  All I do is print, laminate, attach a spinner and GO!

The latest spinner games I've been working on are to help practice using addition and subtraction strategies.  The freebie for today is Counting On and Counting Back for addition or subtraction.  The kids spin a number, then spin a +1, 2, or 3 or a -1, 2, or 3.
They use the strategy to find the answer and mark it on a recording sheet.
This file contains two options for recording - either a traditional 'write the equation' or a 'Bump' style  cover page to use with chips.  You could even use both if you have super organized kids who could keep up with all of that:)
I hope you are able to use the game and if you have any questions about how to use it, please let me know:)
(Free only for the hop:)

The next stop on the hop is... 
Be sure to check out all the blogs on the hop listed below!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

RESPECT isn't just the title of an old song...


If I had to make a web of the word respect, it might look something like this…

And I’m not talking only about kids respecting teachers. Of course we want our students to respect us. But we can’t forget that it’s a two way street. We have to give it to get it.

Just like with love, my respect for my students must be consistent and honest. Respecting students means keeping personal matters such as discipline and academic progress, private.

This is why I do not have a behavior chart, or class dojo, or a bulletin board showing who knows their math facts.

Not to say we don’t celebrate successes and discuss difficulties as a whole group, we do! But keeping private things private helps to maintain a child’s dignity.

 I truly believe that preserving a child’s dignity is essential to developing a caring culture of mutual respect.

A respectful classroom environment does not tally up every right or wrong move a kid makes. I don’t want my principal to do that to me! I want him to come chat with me if I screw up. In private. And come up with a solution for avoiding another screw up.

I want him to compliment me when I have done a good job.  But I do not work hard to be good at my job just so I can collect a bunch of compliments from administration.  I work hard because I  like my job and I want to do well.

While I agree that kids need frequent positive reinforcement, I caution teachers to be careful how it’s given. If it’s clipped or punched or counted, it can become a means to an end as opposed to a way to meaningfully integrate positive behaviors.

I want kids to respect me, their peers, and our school space because they WANT to, not because they are avoiding a color change or attempting to earn a reward.

So to get that from students, I must value their contribution and their opinions.
I must model how to treat others in the way that I treat students and staff.
It means I honor my promises to them.
It means that I leave my snarky sarcasm in the teacher's lounge.
I treat them the way I want teachers to treat my own boys.

Children are perceptive little creatures - they know which teachers truly respect them.
They value that respect, even if they are yet unable to return it.

(Stay tuned next week for Fairness and Trust:)

Friday, August 2, 2013

Unconditional Love in the Classroom

PART 2 of the Classroom Management Series
Developing classroom community and respectful relationships

Developing classroom community is another brick in the foundation of classroom management. 
It’s the old “One for all and all for one” adage at work.  We’re all in this together.  We spend the whole day together and I see those kids more than many of them see their own parents.  We really are a little family for 7 hours every day.

So how do we get the kids to be a positive, contributing member of that family each day?  How do we get them to care enough about us and each other to really want to do what needs to be done to make the day go smoothly?

Build relationships. 
Build those relationships with Love, Respect, Fairness, and Trust.

I know you’ve seen this before-

And that is true.  Kids will never make the effort to truly BE a part of the classroom community if they think it doesn’t matter.  They will just be in the classroom each day and not care if they have a negative effect on the space or not.

Ya gotta love ‘em.
And I’m not talking about plain ol’, run of the mill, love.
I’m talking about unconditional love.
That really hard, ‘I absolutely love you no matter what, even when you’re being awful’ love.

I have a 3 year old son and anyone who has had experience with a 3 year old knows they usually tell it like it is!  Here are a couple of interactions we had recently on the topic of love.

We were riding in the car and out of the blue, that sweet little voice from the back seat calls out, “I love you, Mommy!”  Awww!  How sweet is that!?
 “But, sometimes I don’t.”  Ouch.  Thanks for your honesty kiddo.

And like most moms, I recently told him no to something.  (Doesn’t matter for what, I can’t even remember.  Probably no more cookies:)
Here’s how the conversation went.
Joe:  I don’t love you!
Me:  That’s, okay.  I love you.
Joe:  Well, I don’t love you.  You’re naughty.
Me:  I’m sorry you’re upset.  But I still love you.  Even when you’re naughty.
Joe:  I will love you when you’re nice!
(Imagine that cute little grumpy face and those sweet, pudgy little arms crossed!  
So cute, it’s hard not to giggle:)

But, these conversations reveal the key to unconditional love that our kids don’t always understand.
I love you all the time.  Even when you’re naughty.    

My hope is that once kids know that I care about them, they will care about me and hopefully, each other.
My hope is that if I truly and honestly show unconditional love to my students they will learn to show love for each other.

Loving them doesn’t mean giving in to them and letting them run the show.  Ultimately, the show is mine.  I am always the ringmaster.  But in loving them, I stop and listen to what they have to say, ask about things they like and do, provide materials and activities they enjoy, laugh with them, provide a lovely classroom space, hold their hands, hug them, make eye contact, tell them they’re awesome, and show them respect.

Stayed tuned tomorrow for RESPECT!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Math Mat Freebie and Giveaway Winners

I just got back from spending four days at a friend's house on the James River.  Beautiful river, wonderful hostess, fun with the kids, quiet, relaxing evenings sitting on the porch, and the house was just adorable!

But there was no wifi.
Completely disconnected.
For four days!
No blog or FB or e-mail!  The horror!

Somehow, we survived our technological blackout and the giveaway went just fine without me:)
We have our three winners!
Amanda, Cheryl, and Andrea will receive e-mails soon:)

Thanks to all the wonderful TPT teachers who donated products!  
Go visit them and see what they have to offer!

To thank you all for participating and following along, I made a little math mat while I was at the river:)
You only need a handful of counters and a target number!

Click the picture to download:)

Monday, July 8, 2013

Back to School Freebie and Pick Your Prize Giveaway

The week or so before school starts, our school sends a letter home welcoming students back to school, giving room assignments, final supply lists, and a letter from the teacher.  Sadly, many of our parents do not use this information to prepare their kids for the first day.  So, I take this opportunity to include a little something extra - the first day of school name and info tag.

The parents fill out a bit of information on the back and pin it to their child's shirt on the first day of school.  Most of our children arrive on a bus or are dropped off at the front door and have no idea who their teacher is, how they're getting home, or whether they have lunch money.

Since I have been sending these name and info tags home, 99% of my students have come to school with them on!  (Probably because I include the pins!)  When they enter my room, I know how they came to to school, how they're getting home, whether they have lunch money, emergency numbers, etc.  It is so nice to have a little info until I can get accurate paperwork returned!

If you would like an editable copy, click HERE.  I just print them front to back on cardstock, cut them into four cards, punch a hole, and add a safety pin.  If you download a copy, remember that it is editable and the fonts reverted to a common font on Google docs.  Once you download it, give it whatever font you want and add in the info for your school and classroom.

And now for the Giveaway!
I have been so blessed to be able to share with so many of you out there in cyberspace and amazingly 1,000 folks have liked my Facebook page:)  Who woulda thought?

So, I decided to host a little giveaway to help you choose a few new things for the new school year.

You have 3 chances to win and here are the amazing folks who have donated an item from their TPT store!

a Rafflecopter giveaway a Rafflecopter giveaway a Rafflecopter giveaway
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