Tag Archives: teaching

One of the good ones

26 Sep

Today, we begin the 4th week of school. That means my students and I have been together 19 school days. It seems like more. I mean that in a good way, that it seems as though we’ve known each other more than 19 days. The first day of school feels a long time ago. And yet, the last day is so far in the future it is unimaginable.

In John David Anderson’s Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, a trio of sixth grade boys skip school to spend one last day with their teacher who has been hospitalized with cancer.


Publisher’s Summary: Everyone knows there are different kinds of teachers. The boring ones, the mean ones, the ones who try too hard, the ones who stopped trying long ago. The ones you’ll never remember, and the ones you want to forget. Ms. Bixby is none of these. She’s the sort of teacher who makes you feel like school is somehow worthwhile. Who recognizes something in you that sometimes you don’t even see in yourself. Who you never want to disappoint. What Ms. Bixby is, is one of a kind.

Topher, Brand, and Steve know this better than anyone. And so when Ms. Bixby unexpectedly announces that she won’t be able to finish the school year, they come up with a risky plan—more of a quest, really—to give Ms. Bixby the last day she deserves. Through the three very different stories they tell, we begin to understand what Ms. Bixby means to each of them—and what the three of them mean to each other.

Ms Bixby is, what the boys call, “one of the good ones”. She makes a difference in a way I think we all wanted to when we decided to join the profession. She inspires and brings things out in these boys that feel real. I am not ashamed to admit that I simultaneously laughed and cried as Steve, begins to sing

And as we wind on down the road
Our shadows taller than our soul.
There walks a lady we all know
Who shines white light and wants to show
How everything still turns to gold.

I’m thinking that this one might be a read aloud. It will certainly be the subject of a book talk soon.


I survived BTSN

25 Sep


Back to school night is over! It was a full house and reactions were positive, even though I’m sure I looked a fool talking super fast and sweating like a roasting pig. Parents were nodding while I was talking and laughing at the appropriate place.  Many came up to me afterwards to tell me how much their child loved me already.

I don’t say that to toot my own horn. I have been teaching my heart out these last few weeks and then I send them of to another class. It is tougher to build rapport with students in middle school because we see them for such a short time. I guess that is one of many wonderful perks of being the writing teacher: I can get to know my kids through their writing even if we don’t get to spend a lot of time together.

I had a moment yesterday during class that almost brought me to tears. I shared this with some parents who  lingered after my presentation to talk. I told them that their son almost made me cry yesterday. They looked shocked and I chuckled. I told them that the kids were working hard, trying to write 4 different leads to the “seed idea” they’d chosen to take to publication. I looked up for a moment and saw their son, standing at the poster we’d made during our mini-lesson, really analyzing what it said. Then he turned, went back to his seat, and continued writing. I almost wept. It was a small moment, but it let me know that the kids were hearing what I was saying and our posters weren’t just decorative.

It was a good way to end a long night.


Setting up the new classroom – A Slice of Life Story

1 Sep


I went back to work officially yesterday, but I’ve been at work for the last two weeks.

last weeks I started the great unpacking of the 19 boxes that my school district moved for me. This was the first time I had ever let someone else move my school stuff. When I entered my room last week to start the unpacking process, my boxes were neatly stacked in the corner. I let out a huge sigh of relief.

The first step was arranging the tables and chairs in groups and deciding where my classroom meeting area should be. Once those were established I could decide where my desk would go. As I was setting up my desk area, the science teacher on my team came in and laughed, “Now we have 4 fridges and 5 microwaves on the team, but no one ever wants to use my fridge.”

Unpacking the boxes is still a work in progress. Last year, because I changed jobs so late, most of my books stayed in boxes. This year, I wanted to be better organized and I’ve been sorting through my books, grouping them and putting them in tubs. I can’t access a printer yet, so the labels for the tubs have yet to come.

When I started this process,  all six tables were covered. I have reduced the chaos to one table and there are still 4 work days before school starts.

I had a fitful sleep last night, school thoughts whirling in my head. I have a lot yet to learn about the things I will be teaching, but I am confident that my room will be ready on Tuesday when the kids show up.

Summer Vacation,Day1: The Recovery Phase

16 Jun


The kids finished Friday. We sent them off in a flurry of bubbles as the buses pulled away.We teachers were excited and happy, but new our vacation didn’t start yet. We had to come back on Monday to clean up and check-out.

Saturday all I wanted to do was sleep.  My eyes felt heavy all day. I took two 20 minute naps and went to bed early that evening. When  awoke Sunday morning, I felt much more alert.

Yesterday, we revived a tradition from many years ago and met for breakfast at Elmer’s before beginning our summer cleaning. The breakfast was huge and made it possible to work through lunch because i was not hungry. I packed and labeled 19 boxes to ship to my new school, collected 2 boxes to donate to new teachers and brought 4 boxes home. I took down the last bulletin board and removed all the staples. I filled two garbage bags and both recycling boxes.

One by one, my teammates came in to say they had finished and were checking out until I was alone in Blue Hall.  By the time I was ready to check out at 2:30, I was sweaty and exhausted. My back ached, my muscles hurt and my feet throbbed.

And then I was gone.

I got home and drank about 6 glasses of water and ate a salad for dinner. I had a shower then went to bed early, again.  Stretching out under the covers felt like a little bit of heaven.

I woke up this morning a little sore in places, but not as much as I expected to be.

I guess, I am already in recovery mode.

The Big Shift

2 Jun


On New Year’s Eve day, I decided that my OLW would be SHIFT.  My post included this

I want to shift the way I think about my job. I’ve had 4 jobs in 4 years since the library job was eliminated. This is the year I plan to make my final shift. Either I will get a middle school job, or I will shift my thinking about being an elementary school teacher and stay there.

Well, sometimes, shift happens.

It didn’t look promising. I asked for a transfer, but when transfers were announced in late April, I didn’t get one. Although, alter last year’s unsuccessful attempts, I had vowed never to interview again, I decided to look at  job postings and apply if something looked interesting.

Sure enough, something interesting came up right away. My former teaching partner had an 8th grade Humanities position open on her team. I applied, her principal asked mine some questions. But no interview was forthcoming.

The following week, a middles school I was interested in posted three humanities jobs. Although I had interviewed there unsuccessfully last year, I applied to all three.  The posting closed Monday. I was contacted for an interview on Tuesday. They were interviewing Thursday, Friday, Monday and Tuesday after school.  I chose Friday. I didn’t want to stew about it all weekend.

I did all this without telling my teammates. I had informed them last year and it worried them for nothing. This year, figuring my chances were slim, I decided to tell them only if there was something to tell. So I snuck my interview outfit into my classroom and changed in the adult bathroom in a different part of the school before slipping out, unnoticed, on Friday afternoon.

There were ten people on the interview team. There were no outrageous questions. I told them about myself, my philosophy of teaching reading and writing, how I develop class rapport, what I know about teaching the gifted and how I contribute to a collaborative team. I was in and out in 30 minutes, which I took to be a bad sign.

On the drive home, I was convinced I had bombed. Again. I spoke too fast. My answers were too general and not specific enough. I didn’t say some of the brilliant things I had rehearsed in my head.  I would really never interview again.

Wednesday, my principal informed me she’d had a reference call. Could it be?

Thursday I had a message to call Human Resources. HR does everything by e-mail. The fact that a person wanted to talk to me could only be good. I called. no answer. Called again and left a message detailing when I had lunch and plan time. They called back during lunch and offered me a job teaching 6th grade Humanities in their program for the highly gifted.  I guess my interview went better than I thought.

Telling my team was awkward, but it went better than I thought. Last week, I told my class and the news when out in the school newsletter.

We have nine more days of school.  The goodbyes are a few days from now, but I’m not thinking about that yet. At this point, I am still floating on air.

What a difference a day makes

28 Apr


Last week was tough and I knew the tough week was going to have a really tough ending. Wednesday I taught perhaps the worst Math lesson of my career about placing fractions with unlike denominators on a number line. I took everything back from the kids and told them I would redo the lesson on Monday.Knowing how hard a week it would be, I had arranged for a sub and took a personal day on Thursday. I was in charge of Lit. night Thursday evening and had to present about close reading to the staff on Friday morning.

While I was home, I  got some disappointing news. Not bad news, but something I had hoped for hadn’t worked out. I was far more upset about it than I expected to be and was glad I’d been home to receive it.

Lit night went well,despite the fact that the person in charge of getting the snacks forgot and had to run out between his after school club and the start of the event. I had assigned myself a plum job: sitting at the greeters’ table, making sure families signed in and offering the kids their choice of a non-fiction book to take home and add to their home libraries. It was the perfect job for that night because I didn’t really feel like mingling for fear I might burst into tears at my disappointment.

The next morning, I was the third of four presenters and, fortunately, I ha the funny part, sharing the book Shark Attack 


and talking about  close reading strategies using intentional read alouds and shared reading with non-fiction. I didn’t feel at the top of my game, but, once things got rolling, it went OK.

By 11:30 on Friday, when our presentation ended, I was exhausted.

A quiet weekend helped me get some perspective and ready to face this week, which had a really great start. I redid the fractions lesson and it went well. What a difference a day makes!


7 Apr


Another thing they don;t tell you about in teacher’s college is the meetings. I’m in the thick of it right now. Aside from the regularly scheduled staff, team, learning team and committee meetings, there are the IEP and parent meetings.

To misquote T. S. Eliot, “April is the cruelest month” breeding meetings out of a wet land. In March and April all the end of the year IEP meetings occur.I have 4 students on IEPs and a student in a self-contained class that pushes into my class for more than 50% of her day. Three of my students have three-year reviews this year. That means that there is a meeting before the re-evaluation and another after. Six meetings. The student who pushes in is doing so well that she will be fully integrated into the regular class next year. I attended the meeting where we shared that good news with Dad. Seven.

A few months ago, the 4th grade did the COGAT screener. The parents got the results last week. One of my really bright students is a poor tester and we are meeting next week to talk about how we can help her perform better. Eight.

Another of my students has anxiety issues. He seemed fine when we started the SBAC last week, but mom got in touch with me and she says he’s really stressed at home, so I touched base with colleagues after school. We have a plan for the performance and Math tests and today I need to call mom to see what she thinks about it. Nine.

I’m sure this sounds like a complaint, and it isn’t meant to be. It is just the way things work. I bet you could ask any teacher and they will tell a similar story. We are all just doing what we can to be better teachers and to help our kids.

Favorite Names #SOL15

18 Mar


A week or so ago, my brother-in-law reminded me of a student I once taught, named Henry Heppenheimer. The details about him are sketchy in my brain, but his name is not. i have a collection of student names that I like and his is one of my faves.

Another favorite I’ve collected is Oupasong Sisombath, or Oupie, as we called her. How can you not LOVE a kids name Oupie?! She was in grade two and had a brother named Monivong, but that wasn’t as fun to say. They were refugees from Cambodia at the first school I taught at. That’s where I started to learn about refugee kids. Aside from my 3 years in Medellin, Colombia, where I taught the very wealthy, my career has been at mostly  low-income schools, with a lot of immigrant families.

This year, I have three kids in my class from Nepal. And one from Afghanistan.

One of my favorite name stories is from a few years ago. I taught a boy named Nermin. His parents were Bosnian and fled the Balkan war in the 1990’s for Germany, where Nermin was born. When I had him in 4th grade, his mother was pregnant. When he came back to school after his brother was born. Nermin was shaking his head. All he said was, “They named him Ermin!”

There are host of names that teachers collect. Angel, a 4th grader from my first years of teaching, was the first kid to call me the B-word.  There is the “Names I’d Never Name my Kid” list, based on naughty or difficult children we’ve taught. She was the first on that list for me.

I wonder, what names do you remember?

Parent-teacher Conference Conversations

4 Nov


For the last two years, we’ve had conferences  on Hallowe’en, meaning that we avoid all the hullabaloo around that holiday. Some of the lids who came in with their parent(s) looked like they were about to see a ghost. It is often awkward for kids when worlds collide. This was my first set of conferences in 6 years. During the last 2 years, as the ESL teacher, I dropped in on some conferences, but I wasn’t responsible for organizing and running the whole show.

I always tell parents that, by 4th grade, I’m probably not telling them anything they haven’t heard already, and they should;t hear any surprises because if there have been problems, they would have heard from me by now. I got a few surprises, though.

First, there was the boy who came to our school part way through last year, a bit of a wreck.His mom has tattoos  and lots of piercings on her face. I’d seen a picture ahead of time, so I was prepared and we had a good conversation. You should have seen the  priceless look  on the faces of the boy and his family waiting in the hallway for the conference time that followed.

The most bizarre conference was with the mom who came in without her daughter, but with a plastic container. She said she really needed to trade this one for the one her daughter used for her volcano project.

“What volcano project?” I asked. We aren’t studying volcanoes and her daughter certainly hadn’t brought a plastic container with volcano into class. Apparently, though, she had told her mom it was urgent and due last Friday, so Mom emptied the cat food container and let her use it. mom wanted her cat food container back. The girl and I had a little chat yesterday. I hope she and her mother had one when Mom got home.

Although exhausting, it is always interesting, and sometimes exciting, to see families at conferences. Now I have to gear up for my first set of report cards in six years.

Chance Meetings: A Slice of Life Story

16 Sep


Walking back to class from a meeting, I ran into two of my students who were on their way back from the resource room. The girl had done a karate kick just before stepping out. She looked a little embarrassed, but I didn’t say anything. She is not a native English speaker and has a communication disorder, but told me that although she doesn’t take karate lessons, she really likes to do karate kicks. It is probably the longest conversation she and I have ever had and I’ve known her since she arrived about 3 or 4 years ago.

The boy is a more serious fellow. Even in kindergarten, I knew him to be a thinker. We walked on a moment or two more in silence then he said to me “I used to think school was not interesting, but you make learning fun.” Whoa! I thanked him and floated back to class on a cloud.

Just a random little moment in my day, but I probably learned more on that short walk than I did the whole rest of the day.

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