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.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

I have to do WHAT?!?!?

I know this next post is supposed to be about the glorious field trip we took to the MSI a few weeks ago but this has got to be said...

I already know that I have to figure something out for my kids to perform during the Christmas Pageant. I already have one song and I am trying to work on another one that is whimsical, fun, and EASY! I actually rather enjoy working at a school that unabashedly celebrates Christmas...but then I get an e-mail that just floored me...

Teachers, the tree trimming party is on November 30. Please make sure to have your kids make their ornaments for the tree...WHAT!?!?!?!?!?

I think I almost passed out right there and then. I'm wondering when there will be enough time in the day, let alone the month to figure something out. And now that I know I have to do this my mind has already kicked into gear about what kind of ornament I will have the kids make...I would like to do something that doesn't duplicate something the kids have done in the last three years of being at our school...and something where I don't have to spend too much money...I have pipe cleaners, origami paper, Popsicle sticks and construction paper...I think I might even have a glue gun and I definitely have a ton of googly eyes...I have websites, craft books, and a few I just need to find the time to make a demo ornament and make sure I have enough supplies for 18 kids to make said ornaments!

You may resume your normally scheduled lives...I think I need to take my blood pressure pill.

Novice Teacher

Monday, November 7, 2011

Four day week

Most teachers would be thrilled at a four day week.

I know what you're thinking, wait a second, isn't this newest blog supposed to be about the field trip? I'll get to that sometime this week, I promise.

Anyhow, back to this four day work week...While I am thrilled and delighted I get a Friday off to do with whatever I please I am NOT so happy about the fact that my already limited (by half an hour) teaching time in language arts is going away for one day. I'm supposed to cram five days worth of instruction (at two hours each day) into four days worth and one and a half hours each day! GAH!

On top of all this I want to get guided reading groups done; read stories aloud (I'm sure I haven't mentioned my shock and dismay at learning that my kids haven't heard of the modern classic tales of "Where the Wild Things Are", "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" - the book version, NOT the movie, "Officer Buckle and Gloria", among many others, I know, I could seriously bring in Daniel's whole home library and only a few will have read any of them before I read it to them! - I digress); and I expect my kids to take their accelerated reader (AR) tests because, let's face it, some of them have intentionally been skipping taking them because they think I'm not paying attention, but I am!

I would like to get another chapter in math knocked out too, on addition strategies, so that I can move onto subtraction strategies...and I'm having a hard time with this whole math series because I can see that a lot of my kids have these tips and tricks up their sleeves already while some definitely need the help...and by some I mean four kids...

I'm starting a new topic in science after a successful showing of my kids (10 got As, two of whom got perfect scores, 3 got Bs, 1 got a C - and not even the kid you think!!!).

AND this week kicks off my second and third graders campaign to help some needy families in Northfield by hosting a food drive. Speaking of which, I should probably put my donation in already...

So, four day school week? Any other time of year I would welcome you with open arms and my body would thank you...but this week you are just a pain!

Until next time - Novice Teacher

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

My first field trip...

Tomorrow I go where most novice teachers shouldn't boldly go on their first field trip. I heard through the grape vine that the upper grade students were heading to the Museum of Science and Industry to partake in some lectures. I was looking for something to take my students on this fall and looked forward in my book to find that space and technology were two topics that wouldn't come into our plans until the end of the year (if we were lucky). I couldn't do that to my kids! I even heard from my three third graders that they didn't even get to study space last year as second graders! How sad! Since Daniel is in such a space kick I figured I should probably take advantage of the vast amount of knowledge I have gained in the last few months (since the end of July) about our solar system and space in general, ask permission (from the teacher who coordinated the trip as well as my principal), skip ten chapters and then go back after I'm done.

So now, here I am, the night before my field trip and I'm a nervous wreck. See, one of the things I brought in with me when I first interviewed at this school was my itinerary from a field trip my mentor teacher had me organize under her supervision...a five class, 125 (roughly) student, two day, three location trip around historical Glen Ellyn. Yeah, I was really proud of that accomplishment...and still am. But I had help. A guide. A previous itinerary upon which to lean on in the event my plans went awry. I mean, really, what if my kids misbehave? What if I lose one? What if we don't make it back to the bus in time? What if I kill my kids? I am hoping they are on their best behavior but this hasn't been an easy bunch so why would they make it easy on me? I mean, I only have four of their parents coming to play referee and to see if I am either A) under paid, I mean, some of the issues I have had so far this year are unbelievable or B) a complete liar, how can I say there have been problems with immaculately behaved cherubs? And so here I am - with 18 students and four parent chaperones thinking - I should be able to do this.

I'm going over pictures of the places within the MSI I have taken Daniel to. I'm mapping out the best places to go and best times (based on the time we get there and the time we have to leave). My head hurts...

If I post again it won't be until Sunday. I will hopefully have recovered by then. Stay tuned...

Saturday, October 8, 2011

My Inheritance

As you may recall, I got this job fairly last minute due to a teacher from last year informing the school she was not coming back this fall. So here I am in her old classroom, making it my own. It feels good, you know, having something that's mine. I've decorated it the way I wanted to, moved the furniture around just so, and inherited a whole lot of stuff from teachers manuals to junk.

Inheritance is a weird thing. Some stuff you get "willed" or left to you is extremely useful. And other stuff you wonder don't wonder necessarily why they left it, just how they could have left it in the state it is in.

My leveled readers for example...I have six boxes of them (I teach both 2nd and 3rd grade language arts after all). Sam was kind enough to put the books together one afternoon so that I have (hopefully) five books per lesson per set. But we didn't organize them further than that. What did I do? Yesterday was catch up day so I had my third graders and one second grader help me organize the book. What I heard from them was, "How could anyone leave such a mess?" and "I will never complain about my teachers having to get ready for our classes!" The good news is we got all that organized. Now I have to deal with my classroom library!

During this three day weekend I took the opportunity to take home a lot of things which need to be cleaned up and that I can do here at home. I brought home transparencies that need to be organized, papers that need to be graded, CDs and DVDs that need to be listened to or viewed in order to see how useful they will be to my future lessons and posters that need to be written.

So what did I do last night while watching a movie with Daniel and Sam? Organized the third grade transparancies in a binder...I'm missing some pages but hopefully they are the ones I found somewhere else and already started using. On to the second grade batch, to grading, and to planning for this week and the next...But first, breakfast with my two loves, a friend's birthday party this afternoon, and dinner with great friends we haven't seen in a while later this evening.

Despite the crazy, I would chalk this up to a win. Life is good my friends...even for the novice teacher.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Fun in Science

Our first chapter in science was called ALL ABOUT PLANTS. It talked about woodlands, prairies, marshes, deserts, what plants lived there, how plants have adapted to their environments and what kind of things plants do to survive. One of the experiments was placing stalks of celery in water to see if it needed roots to absorb water. I had a mason jar, the celery, and as a tip from my MIL I also had food coloring. We chose red.

The kids drew their predictions for what would happen. On the first day I was just putting the celery in the jar without any water. Just as they thought, the celery wilted.

I put water in on day 2 (like the experiment said to do) and added the selected red food coloring. I had them predict what would happen. They were right. The celery turned red (in the leaves and some parts of the ribs).

The kids enjoyed seeing the celery turn red so we kept it going. Then they asked if we could put other food coloring in. I thought, sure. Why not? Well, this is why - after ten days of a successful celery stalk changing color we added blue food coloring to turn the fresh water purple...and over the weekend the celery melted into the water so I had to toss it out.

I can only hope our experiments with space, seasons, gravity and the phases of the moon go better. Much better. At least the kids were able to work on some scientific processes!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Paper Trail...

I'm sure you are wondering why I haven't posted anything lately. The truth of the matter is that I am swamped by a two inch thick pile of papers that are just waiting to be graded! That's what I get for giving my kids brain warm-ups in the morning and in the afternoon! A friend told me that giving them something to do in the morning establishes a routine while getting the kids ready for the day or the afternoon. I can't agree more PLUS it's really awesome when they get something, you know, that proverbial light bulb...but the paperwork...UGH! Even with a quick plus, check or minus, I'm already behind by a week! Don't get me wrong, when Friday rolls around the kids have a heap of stuff to take home in their folders!

Which leads me to wonder when I became the teacher who uses paper (and a LOT of it) to get her kids to do stuff?!?!? I'm not that teacher am I? I'm the fun one. The one who does fun (while still learning) activities. Music plays during group project time so the kids sway to the beat as they put together posters or puzzles. We're out of our seats. We're talking with a partner or two and sharing ideas. We're brainstorming...I mean, the kids have about a zillion things on their "What kids need to know in 2nd grade" lists, it's not like they are coloring all the time, they are, indeed, learning something or twenty...still, the paper trail is driving me nuts!

Speaking of paper trail...Have I mentioned I do after care? Well, three days a week I watch anywhere from 15-30+ children ranging in ages from 2-10 years old...and the first few weeks were chaos. Seriously. I was completely outnumbered - and I still am. And frankly my room is not safe for kids under 6! I have games with a gazillion parts to them! But alas here is where the whole paper thing comes into play. I have found that a successful (read: less messy) Mrs. Bell's room with a five minute clean-up merely requires 100 pieces of paper with photocopies of favorite things...HITS: anything Disney princess or animals; MISSES: Sesame Street characters. Who knew? So I have the coloring station with three buckets of crayons (supplied by me and any kids who decided they didn't care to get their crayons back last year); the play with Legos and Jenga blocks station; room on my carpet for a read-aloud or to play games; an area to do homework (study hall is for an hour and only for 4th grade and up); a snack station; and on Mondays I don't even have to do this in my classroom! I simply have the boys pick a movie one week, the girls another, and life goes on.

So off I go to bed so that I can wake up in the morning and grade papers...because by golly those Friday folders will have mail in them so help me!!!

Friday, September 23, 2011

End of the week

Yesterday I kept hearing the words, "Tomorrow is Friday!" passed on from teacher to teacher. Ordinarily I would brush it off but this week I really am thrilled the Friday is upon us and it's not just because Sam is coming home tonight! (Though that is a plus for sure!)

The commercial, which is 60 seconds long, was supposed to take one day of filming. Now I know that one day meant one whole day. I was prepared to lose one whole day of instruction. But every day this week one, two, or all the kids in my class were pulled out and we lost valuable instruction time!

What!? A teacher wants to teach her kids something? Um, YES! So you can imagine my dismay at having to send an e-mail out to the parents saying, "Um, sorry, but due to the filming of this commercial we may or may not be chosen for, our math test has been postponed...til next WEDNESDAY!" I felt like the biggest flake in America - and there was nothing I could do about it!

Thankfully I was able to get through week 2 of our reading text book - including the vocabulary for the week - for both my second graders and their third grade counter parts. I got some math in when I could but there was no way the kids would be prepared to pass the test today and by Wednesday I started drawing arrows in my lesson plan book so that I could do the science lessons I had planned for Monday and Tuesday down to Wednesday and Thursday...and even today - like that's going to happen - we have an assembly during my science and social studies blocks today! Speaking of which, I didn't even start using the social studies text book and would feel bad about that if we weren't working on our classroom citizenship (or lack there of) on a daily basis!

I hope this post isn't sounding too negative. In fact, I hope that so much that instead of ending with my rant of how much work we didn't get accomplished I will instead end with the good that happened this week:
In the midst of it all we had a (pretty) successful fire drill. No tears from my kids and, I'm pretty sure, no talking either!
We led the school in prayers and the pledge all week without major incident.
Kids are starting to sit quietly while waiting for their friends to finish warm-ups instead of shouting out, "Mrs. Bell! I'm finished! What should I do now?"
We managed to take all the recess I had built into the schedule (and then some)
I finished almost all the grading I had to do this week so my kids' Friday Folders will be full of wonderful things they can share with their parents!

Monday, September 19, 2011

We better win the $25K!!!

Mercedes Benz is offering 5 $25K grants to not for profit organizations who create a 60 second spot and submit it to them by the end of the month. This would be an amazing amount of money to come back to our school and could buy each classroom technology that will bring us to the tail end of last century...

Whose kids did the higher ups choose? My adorable 14...well, if their parents sign release forms, of course. So I had three kids whose folks did not sign release forms because of misunderstandings...and one kid who didn't go with the rest of the ten and then felt all day like he wasn't included (despite dressing for the occasion) because his English abilities weren't on par with the rest (there are no speaking roles).

I ended up teaching the kids I had things that I'll get to this week with their classmates - or not - but still on level with what we're doing in class all week. I even modeled and guided them through their math homework packets for the week in an attempt to make sure that at least they pass the test on Friday!

I planned for the whole week's worth of instruction in all content areas - this week being a key week for math because we have an end of chapter test on Friday...and do I see my kids all day? Oh no...and they will also be gone tomorrow! ARGH! On top of all this I got an e-mail today from my principal saying that I will have the 5th-8th grade kids tomorrow (along with the now two(?) kids whose parents didn't sign release forms AND my own third graders...It will feel like a one room school house!

I know, I'm complaining now...but if we win this I really will just have to grin and say, "I knew my kids could do it!"

Saturday, September 17, 2011


Hola, mi nombre es la Sra. Bell y yo no hablo espaƱol muy bien...

So why the heck did a woman come into my classroom inquiring about what I plan on teaching during the Spanish enrichment class that my principal signed me on to do once a week for an hour?

Oh, I never mentioned that? Don't get me wrong. I took four years of Spanish in high school and was in the Spanish Honor Society for my abilities to speak and write in Spanish. But I don't speak it fluently. AT. ALL! I know the basics: the alphabet, how to count, conjugation, colors, basic verbs and nouns, etc. The lady spoke Spanish to me (fluently) and I could understand her; but could I answer her entirely in Spanish? Absolutely not!

So what am I doing on a Saturday night? I'm looking up songs in Spanish. Reading about how to teach kids from Kindergarten through 3rd grade Spanish in a fun way that isn't just paper and pencil. Researching books I can go and borrow from the library. Figuring out whether or not I should speak Spanish fluently or teach in English in the same way I learned (only with more songs). Because there is one thing that I got out of talking with the lady who knocked on my door and that is that if I don't do what I'm doing right now I am totally screwed!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Curriculum "Night" - the floor show

I don't think it matters if it is your first year or your twentieth - curriculum night is a stressful time in a teachers' school week. You have to make sure to inform the parents about what you'll be teaching during the year...even if you have no idea what order you will be teaching the information, how long each unit or chapter will take and worst of all, what the heck you're teaching the rest of the week!

Thankfully I have my lesson plans this week pretty much figured out. We're working on place value in math (still); we've gotten off to a good start in our reading book; a spelling test is in the future; we started the social studies project; and, oh yes, just as many of my kids predicted the celery stalk we put in a mason jar wilted like crazy!

So I wake up at 3:15AM (having slept at 8:45PM the night before) and finish putting together my slides for my powerpoint presentation I won't actually be showing using powerpoint (I don't have a projector) and I realize, man I have a lot of information to talk about...and I only have 15 minutes in which to talk about everything AND field questions!!! No biggie, I'll paraphrase. Besides, there are notes written for the parents to read and all of them have my e-mail address in case everything is unclear. We leave the house at 6:35AM and I am confident that I can get to school early enough to make 14 copies for my second grade parents (plus a few more just in case) and 8 copies for my four third graders (you know, in case Mom and Dad each want a copy).

At only 8:30AM - the official start of the school day - the kids are going CRAZY! They know that after lunch they will be heading to the cafeteria while their parents show up to meet with their teacher. In addition to curriculum day there is a special prayer service that lasted just over an hour and required the kids to be quiet (hey, we were in church after all!). I realized that a lot of my kids were clutching their stomachs. Knowing they all didn't eat at the same place for breakfast I sat wondering what was up only to learn that each of the kids ate a fragment of what they normally would because they wanted to take communion...except they really couldn't because they were supposed to fast for the last three days (really? at 7?) and eating even a crumb ruined the fast! My kids were, surprisingly, good during service. It was a struggle at some points but I could hardly blame them. I couldn't understand over half of what was being said! The whole time the kids were praying about whatever kids pray about these days I was praying that they would behave since the principal and the former principal were both in attendance!

We got back to the classroom and I had my mini-group - my 4 third grade students. We worked on writing, some reading and glyphs to hang on my ceiling. They went to lunch and that was my day with the kids...except it was raining outside so there was no outdoor recess. I did what any teacher would do, I took my kids into my classroom and had them play Jenga and Twister or, as some opted to do, they worked on decorating their book bins. I got a knock at the door saying to take my kids to the "cafeternasium" at 12:25 with work in hand and so I challenged my kids to be good and show me that all the lessons we have been working on to be good citizens have been paying off. I walked my kids to their next activity and found myself with some time...the time I was anxious about since the day I found out I had my own classroom. Don't get me wrong, I've met these parents before, they're all actually very nice and caring...but it's my FIRST year! Will I be saying the right things? Will they think I'm making the kids work too hard? Not hard enough? I felt like screaming!

The clock starts ticking closer to my "on-stage" time of 2:30. I have the handouts ready and waiting on each student's desk. I have a pile of materials ready to show the parents so they can see what I've been writing about in e-mails and newsletters. At 2:31 I still have no parents. I can't be talking to NOBODY! I see two parents sitting outside my classroom and wave them over as the school secretary, bless her, asks if there are any parents that need to meet with the second grade teacher.

Now I have two parents...and halfway through my schpeel my colleagues who teach the third graders science, social studies and math apologetically walk in and hear my presentation. They too watch as the clock ticks closer to our combined meeting time of 2:45 when the second grade parents are supposed to leave and the third grade parents are to walk comes and goes and nobody walks in. I continue talking for a few more minutes as two more second grade parents walk in - one of whom is a parent of a third grader - and I have to cut my speech short because my colleagues have to go and present to the 4th through 8th grade parents at 3PM sharp. And, oh yes, did I tell you that a petite woman knocked on my classroom door speaking perfectly fluent Spanish inquiring whether or not I'm the Senora Bell who will be teaching Spanish enrichment and would I have a minute to speak with her? I usher my second grade parents out, telling the super late comers I will speak with them after I speak with the third grade parents, if at all possible, I let my co-teachers speak first because, let's face it, aside from the killer writing third grade gets to do, it's pretty much an upgrade of second grade in the language arts department.

6 parents total...out of 18. I should consider myself lucky. I managed to catch five parents via e-mail or in passing as they picked their kids up - making it 11 out of 18.

Tomorrow is another day...and I didn't even talk about how I had to run to IKEA to buy more book bins because several of mine were accidentally damaged and, oh yeah, I have 21 students whom I teach language arts to now, NOT 18!

Take a bow. Stage lights off. Curtain closed. I'm exhausted!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Overplanned vs Underplanned

People call me a "planner" and I think I'm perfectly okay with this name. I like to have a game plan and a back-up plan...and sometimes a third plan just in case things in plans 1 and 2 go awry. For instance, yesterday I panicked because I felt that I had nothing planned. Yet I was able to get through literacy - teaching both 2nd and 3rd grades the start of the reading lesson, sharing a story (with 2nd), writing in the writer's notebook (with 3rd) and giving the very first spelling pre-test of the school year...

Math was fun in the afternoon, I truly feel my second graders are beginning to have a concrete understanding of place value...except that it went WAY over the 45 minutes I have ear marked for math. I chalk it up as a "win" because they were having fun, learning and getting along - three things I have been working on for these first 10 days of school!

In science we actually got to read our text books and work on the vocabulary that perplexed us on day 1 of science. I sang the silly song that goes with the unit and the kids did too...much to half of their dismay!

So we didn't get to social studies - in the book anyway - I had no arguments, no meanness, and the kids were helping each other...shouldn't that count as social studies working the way it should?

So today I have planned both 2nd and 3rd grade literacy blocks. We'll finish our stories, read aloud new ones, work on graphic organizers about character and setting, write in our writer's notebooks and work on some spelling practice. In math we'll continue place value with greater than (>), less than (<) and equal to (=). In science we'll begin our observations about what happens to a celery stalk in water (thank goodness I already have celery in my fridge!!!). And in social studies the kids will use their cutting and gluing skills to make my friend Lynna's Me on the Map!

And if I don't get to it all? There's always tomorrow!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Teachers' hours

On Saturday Sam and I took Daniel and his best friend Emily to the fire station open house in Inverness. We did some crafts (wholly unrelated to fires) and saw the different "booths" that had information ranging from fire safety to insurance to train safety and saying no to cigarettes and tobacco. The kids understood most of the booths and some they completely bypassed. What was I doing? Filling up the tote bag that Nicor was handing out with resources for my students about bullying and fire safety.

People always say it must be nice to be a only work as long as the school day and you get summers and weekends off. As a student teacher, and even before that, I knew all those "hours off" people were talking about were truly unrealistic. Lesson plans, grading, assessments, just to name a few, are just a few of the reasons why teaching is a difficult job. I would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to spend every second not in school with my son and husband but I can't.

Yesterday I tried to balance getting household chores done - laundry, dishes, cleaning - while trying to get my assessments scored (not an easy task). I hadn't even touched what I'm going to be doing with my kids today! I know that we'll be working on spelling, reading and what order I'm not sure. I'm just glad I have a brain warm-up to start. And math homework packets. UGH! Why did I promise those?! Because, I reason, some kids really need the extra practice and some kids wanted homework. Wait a second, who ever really WANTS homework? I digress.

Let's put it this way, there are no teachers who get paid overtime for working their weekends away so that their students can benefit from a schedule where they are fully immersed in the learning process. I'm working toward being able to hang out with my family in the next few months; but let's face it, we have mid trimester coming up, curriculum night is this Wednesday, and I have three more students coming into my classroom during literacy because they are too bright (read: would get bored) for the first grade reading curriculum!! This first year of teaching may not allow me to see my family longer than dinner on weeknights and meals on weekends but I sure will try!
Happy Monday!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

My goals for this school year

1. Learn a little conversational Greek – I have two students in class who speak little or no English and it would be nice to be able to say a few conversational words to make them feel at home
2. Finish the text books from start to finish – I have heard that some teachers have done it and others have not. I would like to aim to finish all the books but will accept hitting all the objectives listed on the 2nd and 3rd grade sheets in the HAA handbook
3. Stay on top of paperwork – In the past I have felt entirely overwhelmed with the amount of paperwork I had from my students. While I would like to keep a few pieces here and there (with permission of course!) the work is done by the students and therefore they should be able to keep the work to enjoy and share with their families
4. Contacting parents – I would like to maintain an open line of communication with the parents of my students. While they will obviously get a call if there is something amiss with their child I would also like to make sure they receive positive calls or emails about their child – behavior wise or grade wise on a weekly basis
5. Remain positive but realistic – As a first year teacher I already feel overwhelmed by the pressures to show you, my boss, that I am worthy of being part of the HAA family of teachers. I worry that the students won’t understand what I am teaching or that the parents won’t like me. I worry that I won’t get my lesson plans done exactly how I want them to be done, or worse, that I will plan but that my plans will get changed so much that I won’t have planned enough for my students to do. It is therefore a goal of mine to remain positive but realistic. I will reflect on what is going well and if things didn’t go according to plan making a suggestive note for what it is I can change when I do the activity again in the future. I will have to remind myself that things happen – good or bad – and it is my job to make sure to move forward in a positive light
6. Remember that my colleagues are there for me – in case I feel like I’m drowning with all that I have to do in the school year I will try to remember that I have a caring set of colleagues who can guide me in times of anxiety or worry and celebrate the successes of my students and myself

Sunday, September 4, 2011

I've got a job!

On Sunday, August 21, I told my friend Liz, an educator, that I was practically unemployable. I have the same qualifications as every other Joe who has a teaching degree, despite my 31 years of existing, and apparently, no qualities that bring me over the rest of them!

Suffice it to say when I took my son Daniel to the pool on Monday it was with a resigned notion that I will spend my time taking night classes to complete my ELL certification and spending as much time with my son and husband, and, what the heck, trying for Bell number 2.

Then I got a call. My name and resume had come across the desk of the new principal at the Socrates Day School in Deerfield.
Would I be free to interview on Tuesday morning? Are you kidding? Of COURSE I would be free...except for that darn doctor's appointment...
Would 12:30 be better?
Um, yes, absolutely yes!
Bring whatever you can show us from your teaching experience and we'll see you tomorrow.

NEXT DAY - Tuesday
Running late from my doctor's appointment I am moderately freaking out but figure I would call to let her know that I am still interested and on my way. The principal said it was no problem and to drive carefully. I'm so nervous and my husband is in Mexico so I call my best friend Greg who doesn't answer his I call my friend Sebastian. He always has something cheeky to say and can take my mind off of the nerves while still being able to focus on driving. Thirty minutes later I arrive a bit weary from the insane traffic but more calm than I was when I first got in the car thanks to Sebastian.

The interview went well. They asked about differentiated instruction, working with ELL students, what kind of lessons I did with my students. I showed my Writer's Notebook, the unit binder I created on Place Value, complete with the TWS that NIU made us do our senior year showing results before and after the unit was implemented and the steps I took to differentiate instruction, I even shared my itinerary for the field trip I put together with some help during my semester of student teaching.It lasted longer than the last interview earlier in the summer. I couldn't understand who the other lady was sitting in on the interview or why she was there but she was also keen on seeing what I had to bring and in what I was saying. I get told how much a teacher would make to start and am asked if I would mind working after school for two hours on M-W-F to watch kids of parents who can't make it to school at pick-up. I say, "Sure!"

The second woman then asks if I would like to see the school and ended up giving me a tour of the WHOLE SCHOOL!!! Do they give school tours if they aren't interested in hiring you?...and do they introduce you to people like the school board president or the guy without whom the school would not run smoothly? There are so many names I think my head is going to explode. The people I meet are all intrigued by me and ask if I'm the new second grade teacher. The lady responds, "She is a strong candidate whom we are considering." Do I get the job?
I say goodbye and shake hands. They tell me that they will let me know either way (I've heard this before) and that I might get a call later today (that has to be good right?!?!?)

I call my mom - who is at the pool with Daniel and does not answer. I call Anna - one of my best girl friends and biggest supporter on the job hunt - and we talk about the interview and what I said, what they said, etc. My mom calls back and I switch over for a second...apparently my new boss called while I was on the line with both because there was a message when I got off the phone with Mom and Anna...I listen to the message...
We'd like to offer you the position of second grade teacher.