Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Good bye January. Hello 29 days of February!

The last few days of January weren't very fun at all. The President of our executive board, the person without whom we would really have no school, passed away last Friday. He was a good man, a kind man, and one who really wanted to ensure the Greek culture would continue to live on in the lives of the new generation of Greek American kids. Classes were cancelled on Tuesday so we could all attend the funeral. Personally I don't speak Greek. Never has the phrase, "It's Greek to me!" meant more. I wasn't able to go to the wake but I did drive all the way up to the Greek Monastery in Pleasant Prairie, WI for the funeral mass. Unlike Greek Orthodox masses that are three hours long - with no singing (or chanting) - the funeral mass was only an hour. The nuns from the monastery lent their voices in a call-answer kind of way that was very soothing - almost, but didn't, put me to sleep. I'm sure it was beautiful but I truly didn't understand anything they were saying. I found out later that I wasn't the only one and that those who did catch anything said it was a discussion St. Peter was having with the newly deceased at the gates of heaven. We walked to the cemetery and then to the community center where we were treated to a feast of salmon, oregano potatoes, pastichio (made with tuna), beans (huge and delicious), homemade bread and kiropita, let's just say, if you left hungry you were a fool! After lunch people stood up and gave speeches. Again I could only understand half of the speeches, but they were read with emotion and I could tell the ones I didn't understand were very good and important.

The end of January was host to the science fair and a field trip to the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church. My kids, along with the first graders and the upper grades, sang beautifully. I was very proud of them - and their ability to sit still for two hours of service. I treated them to recess outdoors.

So I enter February with a new energy (though I physically don't feel it today) and a renewed drive to make sure to live up to the goal that our former President of the executive board had for our kids. I will do all that I can within my power to ensure that my students live up to the Axios pledge and continue to live up to their heritage.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Substitute Teacher

All year long (since August) I have been trying my best NOT to have to call in a substitute teacher. Why? Well, first of all, despite their insanities and quirks, I do, in fact, love my students. Secondly, while I do love my students I also don't want to have to explain why they behave the way they do...despite what seems to be a million attempts at making sure they stop acting like first graders and start acting like second graders so that I can send them on to third grade in good conscience.

That being said, today, January 23, 2012, I am taking one of five personal days to attend parent teacher conferences for my own kid and leaving my students in the hands of a substitute teacher - and let me tell you, the road to here and now as I sit and type was LONG!

First there's asking permission. This wasn't so bad. The principal had just said that with enough advance notice I would never have to miss anything important with regards to my son. Sure enough, I got a green light.

Then there was the responsibility of finding a sub. The principal of the schools (almost like the superintendent of the district) has a daughter who is a substitute teacher. I asked her if she could sub for me today and she said yes. Great

Now I had to plan out today. The thing is, even though I've only had my own class since the end of August, my plans take no longer than ten minutes to write down. We pretty much do the same thing each week and it is almost like a science. However, the sub doesn't know that and doesn't know our routines so I had to write out notes based on times and scheduling, anticipating what may not get done if my kids behave the way they normally do.

Four pages, and much research on the Chinese New Year, later, I had a cohesive set of lesson plans complete with attendance sheet, worksheets they need to do, a picture book called My First Chinese New Year by Karen Katz and a Bill Nye the Science Guy DVD about Dinosaurs (our next chapter in science), and fun things they can do to fill time if they get done early like reading about their Chinese Zodiac - don't worry, I made it age appropriate!

And then I thought, do I really do all of THIS?!?!? I mean it. Every day. Do I do this every day? Because I'm telling you now, I spent a great portion of my weekend making sure these lesson plans were simple enough for a new teacher to do but filling enough where my kids won't be sitting around going, "what should we do next?"

I typed out the spelling lists for the week. I e-mailed parents with the changes of the week. I edited the homework binder sheets for my first and second graders. I
I sent the lesson plans to the administrative assistant. I dropped off the bag of books, the DVD, and the plans at my friend, the famous Greek teacher's house. I headed off to church with Daniel.

While at church I was talking to my co-singers in the choir about how I was feeling very anxious about tomorrow (today). They said to relax and leave it to God's hands. Okay, I thought, I could try that...have you MET ME!?!? I was panicked. And then after mass I saw an e-mail saying my sub had to cancel!!!!! AUGH!!!!

I've been e-mailing with the administrative assistant all morning. She said the sub is in my room. That she made the copies, and to have a great day.

I'm taking Daniel downtown to the Adler to explore. I don't remember every going and if I did it was ages ago. We're having "Mommy School" today after parent teacher conferences.

I can feel my heart beating but I'm just going to have to let it go. From what I hear, and hope, my kids will love me more when I return...Let's see if THAT comes true!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Happy New Year!

I can't believe it's been a month since my last post!

Here's a re-cap of what happened at the end of December - Post Nutcracker...

We were one of those "fortunate" schools that got to stay on until the 22nd of December entitling us to one heck of a long winter break - we didn't have to go back until the 9th of January!!! In that last week of school I had been warned not to schedule anything as the week would be taken over with rehearsals. As if by sheer coincidence (not) my plan book was virtually empty for that last week of school. Don't get me wrong, I had a million things I wanted my kids to do, I just didn't have anything written in concrete (pen) or even in sand (pencil) since, let's face it, I have had enough of the arrows pointing to all different places of the plan book because things don't always go as planned at my school!

The music teacher informed me that she was really happy I knew how to sing and could read music (to conduct) because she was blessed with the daunting task of making sure 150 students could sing Greek Christmas GREEK! Mornings were filled with rehearsals for the Greek songs followed by a ten minute (or less) time slot for my kids to walk up, get on stage, sing their tunes (a Capella) and get off stage. The first day I may not have planned anything in the morning but my afternoon was very full with math tests and science tests - both which I allotted time to review as a class - only to be asked (read - TOLD) to lead my class to the auditorium for more Greek song practice. 'But my kids NEED this review!' I thought. But remember dear fans, I am but a novice teacher. Of course I brought my kids to the auditorium for practice. And they were actually very good about getting on and off stage - despite complaints of having to stand all read right, they complained about having to stand on their feet!

Tuesday's rehearsals went better (and were shorter) so I filled the time making the parent gifts (will talk about this in next blog) and cards which were sabotaged by aftercare (accidentally)when someone spilled their water on the cards. All the hard work, down the drain...

Wednesday was THE day...My kids got to finally hear a live piano and flute for their song, "Somewhere in my Memory" - yes, the one from Home Alone 2. They were a bit taken aback because it really did sound lovely. I forgot to bring my cello the day before (I didn't know where I was going to store it safely since I was spending the night in the city) so I was relieved when the music teacher said she would play her flute so I could conduct my kids. Rehearsals in the morning finally allowed the kids to watch each other perform. This was both a good and bad idea. Good because, let's face it, they weren't going to get to watch the show anyway; and bad because, let's face it, my kids can't just be a willing audience - except, apparently, at the Nutcracker. The thought the first graders were cute with their "two front teeth" song and they were mesmerized by the fourth graders who danced (I can't believe their teacher had the energy to choreograph a number!) to Madonna's Holiday. Of course, it was the dancing that got my kids riled up and I had to whisk them back to our classroom.

Horrible teacher that I am I made my kids take their science test on Wednesday (to calm their nerves) - I knew they studied for it so I wasn't worried. We practiced our songs one more time before I sent them home for two hours only to come back and be ready to wait until it was our turn to walk to the hallway leading to the doors to the stage.

Daniel came by after school thanks to my mom. He got to hang out with the kids who couldn't be dragged out of school because they all adore him. He was bombarded with questions upon his arrival - Did you know about the new planets they think they discovered? Do you remember when we drew tornadoes on the board? How many planets are there again? What are you reading about now? He took it all in stride though and answered the questions patiently while trying to draw on the board.

I sent Daniel off with a mom who was going to watch the show - after I changed him into nicer clothes - let's just say he matched my kids, and could very well have gone up there to sing the Christmas Alphabet because he's as tall as some of them! Meanwhile I fed my kids doughnut holes and gave them bottles of water to keep them hydrated while waiting our turn. I played games with them while we were in line to keep them silent - which failed. I don't understand how "Silence in the Court or the monkey will talk" works so well with my nephews and nieces - no one wants to actually be the monkey - but how it didn't work. At. ALL! with my students because each one thought it was COOL to be the monkey!

The show went off without a hitch! Woo hoo! Novice teacher scored again! The parents had never heard the "Christmas Alphabet" until their kids began to take the music home to practice - thankfully it's like catching an ear worm and the kids were singing it endlessly. They were impressed by how well "Somewhere in my Memory" went - it's a pretty complex song if you do the parts, which we didn't - and more importantly, how beautiful and melodic it sounded coming from their little angels.

It seemed anti-climactic but the kids had to come to school the next day. I was down 2 kids whose parents thought it was ridiculous - and exhausting - to come to school for a few hours. We had a long-ish church service and a low key "party" where we colored pictures of trees and Santa, played Christmas hang man, and listened to the Nutcracker songs as well as whatever Christmas tunes the kids liked while I played DJ and the kids noshed on treats and hot chocolate. We took the stockings down one by one and the kids got to go home to enjoy their Christmas break. I on the other hand stayed to clean my room because there was actually NIGHT school!

I'm exhausted just reading this! Tune in next time for first day back antics!
The Novice Teacher

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Nutcracker Ballet

Twenty four years ago, as a second grader, I didn't get to see the Joffrey Ballet's production of the Nutcracker because of the blizzard that hit Chicago on my sister's birthday. So, of course, when I got this job I thought, well, why NOT take my second grade kids to see the Nutcracker? I mean, I get to go, they get the great experience and all will be right with the world. Except that in 1987 at Lincoln School there were four groups of 2nd graders...I only have 13 (now that one of my kids has moved away). So I asked the first grade teacher if she would be interested (she has 19 kids) and the kindergarten teacher (who has 20 students) and I thought, well, I could add my thirds (I only have four) and the fourth grade teacher has 10 kids...this could be something really great...I just had to be brave enough to ask the principal if she would give us permission to go...

The green light I got was more like a yellow. I was told to find a company closer by to see if we couldn't have a shorter ride for our students than the city. I contacted my friends who all dance and got a few responses. Did you know Illinois has it's own Nutcracker performance website which tells you which companies are producing the Nutcracker this season? But none of the companies had school performances that weren't at 2PM...our school day ends at 3:15. So, back to the drawing board I had to go and sell the Nutcracker downtown to my principal. It was only $10 per ticket. We could have two buses instead of one. I'll make sure that each kid brings a snack. We'll have more teachers as chaperones than parents. It will be great.

When I got the green light I thought, okay, time to e-mail Joffrey, time to get the permission slips out, etc. Except that A) I needed more tickets (the principal wanted to go and so I needed 76, not 75 tickets) - don't worry, I got 80; and B) the money was due on, oh crap! It is due in three days! (November 25th). There was NO TIME to get the permission slips out and back with all the money...and the bus, we have to schedule a bus! I e-mailed my contact at the Joffrey who was kind enough to extend my payment date to the 28th. With the help of the administrative assistant we ordered a bus and got the permission slips out that day (with the principal's approval).

I got an e-mail back from my contact saying that everyone had until December 2, 2011 to pay for the tickets. I even got the extra five seats I needed - the numbers meaning that one parent per grade could accompany our group of 68 children.

So here we are a few days away and I find out that five of the kindergarten kids were NOT coming (not because of financial reasons but because the parents didn't want their kids going downtown (to the big, bad city I presume?) without them)...which means I now had to get people to cover the five tickets...Then the principal came in and said, Bad news, she had a showing and couldn't take the trip I had 6 tickets to get rid of...So I asked the science teacher (since she was kind enough to let me take my kids to MSI...I haven't written about that yet have I?), the Serbian teacher - since her kids were coming on the field trip so she would have no one to teach, and two more parents (of mine who have kids in more than one grade). One of the kinder teachers had twins who she said could come so we were set...

Except that I asked another mom to come (because she wasn't going to allow her son to come on the trip without her) and so it was no wonder when, after a smooth bus ride there - very little traffic and my awesome room mom brought class snacks for the 2nd, 3rd and 4th graders; I brought Capri Suns and we had water too; I told the kids where to sit and realized I didn't have a seat for myself...How in the world did that happen? Only now as I type this do I realize what happened...TOTALLY my fault. WHOOPS! Oh well, we got in, the seats were pretty good considering we were on a balcony, and no one at the theater realized there were more of us than there were seats...HA HA HA HA HA (Maniacal laughter).

My kids were mesmerized by the music (canned not live) and the sets. They loved the scene where the mice fought with the toy soldiers. The Snow Queen, Clara, Fritz, and all the other dancers were amazing. But they didn't perform any of the dance sequences from the second half of the show...there was no Sugar Plum Fairy or Russian or Chinese dances...I totally didn't understand what they were thinking putting on the first part of the show - the party scene.

Regardless, the kids loved it and afterward we got to listen to a question answer portion while waiting for our two buses to arrive. They even interviewed the dancers, most of whom were not at all as young as they played in the show; told us about the costumes - you have to be at least 9 years old and between 4 ft and 5 ft if you want to play a child in the ballet because there is only one complete set of costumes for the children and that's it; how long they have been dancing and what happens during rehearsals (absolutely NO talking. Period.); and the most fun part, a mini-lesson on how to move to the music (counting by eights) where the kids got to dance in their seats.

Getting 81 people out of an auditorium is a challenge. We made sure to count the kids at least half a dozen times. I was trying to get my kids to get on the wall so I could count 17 but one, of course, there had to be one, wasn't listening and she just happened to have her mother there so I promptly got yelled at about how her daughter wasn't the only one not on the wall for the count (not true, actually). I counted, we went down the steps and toward the buses and headed back to HAA.

The ride back was shorter than on the way there. We got the kids lunch and they got to unwind. I even had my kids write and draw about their favorite parts while listening to, you guessed it, the Nutcracker. We even had a mini recess (I know, I told the kids the whole day was a recess) where the kids danced around to the music - oddly enough, it was 100 per cent of the boys and only two girls who were dancing.

Despite my need to write to Joffrey about performing the second half of the show instead of the first my kids were extremely well behaved. They weren't hooting and hollering in the theater. They got into lines when I asked them to. They sat on their bottoms when riding the bus. So I'm going to chalk this up as a success! SCORE for Mrs. Bell!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Report Cards and Parent Teacher Conferences

As if the end of November and start of December aren't busy enough, not only did I have report cards due the Monday after Thanksgiving, but I had parent teacher conferences lined up the following Friday!

So here I am thinking, You need to remain calm. You've spoken to most of these parents before. Now you have some grades to back up what you're saying. And they're permanent. CRAP!

I must really take after my Lola Anama. I've heard numerous tales of how tough she was as an educator because she demanded the best from her students. I mean, really, you wouldn't want a C student doctor taking care of you or your loved ones would you? And no, of course these second graders aren't doctors, not yet, but they are being held to high expectations from this novice teacher.

My list of expectations aren't much. Listen while I or the person I have selected to read or speak are talking. Do the work that I have allotted for during in class time - IN CLASS! Read for twenty minutes a night. Keep your hands to yourself. Don't speak out of turn - I am really fair about calling on people to answer or read - honest! Keep your hands to yourself. Learn when it's learning time so we can have fun (a reward). Keep your hands to yourself. Oh, sorry, I've said that already.

So I have report cards done. I have handouts ready. I just am nervous. The first time I did parent teacher conferences was under the supervision of my mentor teacher, Lynna. I didn't do anything - except for speak broken Spanish to the parents of our only Spanish speaking student while waiting for the interpreter to show up. I sat there. I nodded. Occasionally I spoke about the Writer's Notebook, the gem in my arsenal of teaching. Lynna showed me how to start of with a positive, go to what needs to be worked on, and end with a positive. So I knew that would be what needed to be said.

On top of all this, I had a flight to catch. I asked if I could schedule my conferences on a different day - my parents are ALL flexible - to no avail. I could schedule them earlier - and for one hour longer - so that I could leave by four to catch my 7 o'clock flight. I e-mailed the parents. I sent out a pre-conference survey - just so I had background with what parents wanted to discuss (BTW only six parents responded) and I ended up with a two hour free period between the early parents and the ones who wanted to show up within the original time parameters.

Conference times run ten minutes. If you had more to discuss sign up for two spots. My first conference was with two parents whom I adore. It lasted an hour...over that actually. My second didn't show. So my new second was a colleague whose son is a student. That was tough. The kid is great but this was my FIRST CONFERENCE as a solo teacher...ugh. It went well though. She seemed happy. Life moved on. The third conference was another parent I enjoy working with. This was going to be a good day.

Then I hit my last conferences. I was nervous but they turned out good too...and so here I am a bit ahead - two parents skipping, the earlier one who skipped in the morning having shown up later, and I have one more parent left...where IS he?!?!?!? Should I get ready? The admin assistant said, YES! Go get ready so you can leave AT FOUR! So I go, pack up, use the washroom, and sure enough, as I am ready to close my door, I see the dad coming up...with son in tow...CRAP!

So I stay, I stay and talk...and twenty minutes later, I get ushered out the door by the admin assistant and get into my hour and a half later I'm at the airport ready to go see my good friends get married in Nebraska. I am READY for the weekend!

Thanks for listening...I hope my post-observation meeting goes as well as parent teacher conferences! A novice teacher could dream.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

We made it to December!

Today is going to be an interesting day. One of my kids is celebrating his 8th birthday. It is the last day of this school week (parent teacher conferences are tomorrow). One of my students is leaving the school.

I've been preparing for this last thing for months. Not that I want the student to leave. Not at all. I have just known for the last few months that things had changed in the family and they are all leaving for Texas because of a job. I begrudge them nothing and wish them all the best. Saying goodbye is never easy. My kids may not all get along at the same time (rare is the occasion - believe me) but to lose a classmate to a move before the half-year point throws things off a little bit.

I woke up this morning with so much to say and yet, this ordinarily outspoken novice teacher finds herself speechless. I'll keep you posted on how the day goes. This can't possibly be how a novice teacher should start their first full year of teaching...

Friday, November 25, 2011

Report Card Season

So here I am at end of term. Report cards are due on Monday because parent teacher conferences (my first solo ones) are happening on Friday, Dec. 2.

What am I doing on this four day weekend? Resting? Oh gosh no! I'm grading papers that will essentially make me have legitimate grades for report cards. Could I go off the cuff? According to some friends and colleagues, absolutely. I know how the kids are doing, after all. But ethically I can't. Because I know that I would feel horrible if I didn't have the proof that parents need to see and know that their kids are really doing (or not doing) the things they need to succeed in second grade. I'm tired. I am frazzled. I am going crazy. To top it all off I'm wondering about why I had to do progress reports a few weeks back and then now I have to do report cards. AGH!

And I just remembered that I have to have something in the kids' folders to show that I am not just making things up...but I'm going through this work and I'm honestly not sure what should stay and what should go. I am putting their start of the year assessments (DIBELS and Storytown Benchmarks that I haven't graded); some math assessments, their science tests. I suppose I should put some writing samples. Second grade writing is not that great. Please, I have seen college writing samples that aren't so great!

So please, pray for me as I go into this non-stop grading mode so that I can put the grades in correctly and promptly by Sunday (my personal deadline) - and know that I did get to enjoy Thanksgiving with my family and a bit of shopping with Daniel and Sam today.