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.