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...