The "Reading Lady" Strikes Again

I was asked to be a part of "Civil War Day" today. All second graders and eighth graders (plus a small army of volunteers) drove about thirty minutes to an outdoor camp by a lake to learn about the Civil War. They had a bunch of different stations: a cooking station, a first aid station, a weapons station, etc. Groups of fifteen kids rotated between stations every half an hour. A couple of Civil War Re-enactors feven ired off their muskets in a demonstration at the end!

My station was the "Paint a flag/Storytelling" one. The kids got fifteen minutes to paint a flag, and fifteen minutes to listen to ME tell Civil War stories! I borrowed an outfit from a colleague (all the other volunteers rented costumes) and I had a lot of fun walking around in my swooshy skirt. I used to play dress-up A LOT as a kid. Mom had a big dress-up-box full of dresses, "pearl" necklaces, high heeled shoes, and gaudy clip on jewelry--it was the best. But I digress.

I had some picture books with me, but quickly discovered that the kids were bored stiff if I just read from them. So I jumped around between two books, talking in my Excited Teacher Voice (complete with Excited Facial Expressions and Grandiose Gestures). I enthralled each group with tales of brave drummer boys and courageous nurses.... FOURTEEN TIMES!! I talked for three hours straight! Whew! I think I am now prepared to teach a college class (because that's apparently the only skill they need to have to be hired...)

All in all, despite the bugs and the heat, it was a great time. I felt a little bad about our station... definitely didn't seem as exciting as all the other stations. But when it was all over, a volunteer/mom came up to me and told me that I had done a good job and that her son "liked the 'reading lady' best."

Yay for field trips!

Every Party Has a Pooper

Sniff, Sniff

Sniff, Sniff

That's what I was doing today in my office at around ten thirty. I had my three first graders working with me, and every time I got near the boy (I'll call him N), I got a whiff of .... something.

The something turned out to be poop.

I waited patiently for another thirty minutes until their time was done and I sent the two girls back to class while I had a little chat with N.

Me: "Honey, are you wearing pull-ups?"
N: "Yeah..."
Me: "Did you go to the bathroom in them just now?"
N: [putting his head on the table] "Yeah..."
Me: "Why did mom send you to school in pull-ups?" (come on, he's eight!!)
N: "I don't know"
Me: [gently] "If you had to use the bathroom, why didn't you just ask? I always let you go when you ask..."
N: "I don't know"

This is the second time he's done this in two weeks. He doesn't say anything about it. He never even seems to be uncomfortable.

I had the teacher call mom and it just kills me that mom sees no connection between this sudden behavior and the latest turmoil in the family (new baby in the house from his teenage brother, dad moving away to basic training, you get the picture).

This same student gave me a panic attack not two hours later when he went missing. I've never lost a child in my teaching career and I didn't want today to be my first. At noon, he was sitting in the office, waiting for mom to bring him a change of clothes. At 12:45 I went to go pick him up from his classroom for his second time with me. His teacher just looked at me and said: "You mean he isn't with you? When I didn't see him in the office, I assumed you had him".

When I realized that his backpack was still in the classroom, that is when my heart started fluttering. Four staff members (including myself) armed with walkie-talkies searched high and low throughout the whole school building and grounds. I looked in every bathroom stall.... Finally about twenty scary minutes later someone had the bright idea to check the sign out sheet...

Sure enough, grandma didn't have any spare clothes, so she just took him home.

Note to self: when kids disappear, check the sign-out sheet first!

Unpatriotic Traitor

Yep, that's how I'm feeling today....

Unpatriotic: We didn't go to any picnics or barbecues today for Memorial Day. Instead, we walked all over the historic section of downtown and found a "hole in the wall" Chinese place. Max said: "I'll bet that place is authentic". Sure enough, we were the only white people inside, and English was not the only language spoken. Hamburgers? Forget it! Bring on the Moo Goo Gai Pan!!

Traitor: Despite numerous protests to my colleagues assuring them that I will still be there this fall, I've started looking into other employment opportunities for next school year. They are saying that gas is going to hit five or six dollars a gallon in the fall, and the thought of the thousands of dollars wasted on my 110 mile round-trip daily commute is pretty sickening. And let's face it, this latest stint in my career has been less than satisfying for many different reasons.

I ended up applying for a Title 1 Curriculum Support Teacher at a school that is literally 1.3 miles away from home. ONE POINT THREE! I really hesitated in even searching for other jobs, because we're only planning on being here for one more year (long enough for Max to finish his masters'), but this job will only last one year! (Title 1 funding is special that way).

But, anyhow, I feel like a complete traitor for even thinking about leaving--the special education department has plenty of issues without adding another new staff member next year. So I really don't know how to feel about the whole thing. I am terrified this new school is going to call me for an interview. I am terrified that they won't.

Lots of prayer to follow....

Top Ten Signs of an Oppressive School

10) When gossip and negativity spread like wildfire.

9) When the administration tacks on extra, mandatory professional development days during the summer, and teachers can't do anything in protest because they don't have a contract.

8) When the principal's policy is to change things up simply because things are going well.

7) When mandatory, hour-long, after-school meetings are scheduled three times a week... every week.

6) When the administration makes specials teachers (gym, art, computers, spanish) give up their daily planning time in order to work as classroom aides.

5) When teacher bonuses are dependent on student test scores.

4) When "looking at test scores" drives every in-service, workshop, and staff meeting.

3) When the administration places a higher value on what the parents say rather than on what the teachers say.

2) When the school has a higher staff turn-over rate than, say, McDonald's...

1) When over half of the staff is sending out resumes for teacher openings at other schools.

Decision-making Power

With the end of the school year almost upon me comes the Placement Decisions. This is an important time in the life of a resource room teacher; I need to ask myself "In whose classroom will each of my little ones succeed next year?" I can't just flippantly assign them any ol' teacher, you see, it is an important decision that may potentially help to determine academic progress. I have to consider the strengths and weaknesses of each student AND each teacher.

It's easy to reflect on the qualities of each of my students. It gets stickier when I have to reflect on teacher qualities. It almost feels judgmental... "No, not her, she doesn't follow through", "No, she's too inconsistent, he needs someone who is firm and strict", "No, she's overly negative", "No, he can't differentiate", "No, she's not warm and sensitive enough", "No, she shouts confidential information in the hallways", "No, she can't seem to work with other professionals". I'm not sure how to go about this process without being hypercritical of each teacher on our staff!

As I go down my list, it's working out where I'm happy where they will be placed.... But I do seem to be stuck with a handful of kids to place within the same grade level in which there is not a single teacher who I feel is capable of teaching these kids well. I may have to resort to pulling names out of a hat!

Room Issues

It's quiet in my office. Sometimes, that's boring, but I like my office for that reason. It is just small enough so that the kids on our caseload that have behavior issues have to go to the other, bigger, resource room to calm down. The other resource room is also "home" to our four aides, as well as work space for many more kids at one time than I see.

Next year, that other, bigger, resource room will be mine (for reasons that aren't worth getting into right now). It's going to be louder, busier, and liberally peppered with chaos. I try not to think about it too much...

And speaking of rooms, I realized last night (as Max and I watched bits of "Wife Swap"), that it wasn't until seventh grade that I had my own bedroom. Seventh grade! And then, I had my own room for exactly two years before I went to boarding school. I got to come home to my own room during school vacations... then after 10th grade, I've shared a room with someone or other continuously till I got married. It was just a "huh?" moment... I wonder why I didn't throw a fit about it as I was growing up?

I wonder if sharing personal space with siblings and roommates over the years is contributing to my reluctance to own the busier resource room next year... better have Max psychoanalyze this.

Success! (So Far...)

Well the blogging adventure I recently wrote about has officially begun. My fourth grade student was awestruck as I introduced her to the world of blogging! She was so excited to pick her own blog title ("I can choose anything?!?" she said) and her background colors. Her first post today was entitled "About Me". She (very slowly) typed out two sentences:

I like to eat hot cheetos. I have annoying sisters.

She was thrilled. I was thrilled: I got her to write, and I got her to like it. Yay!

Tragically Entertaining

A tribute to the last day of district-wide standardized testing (thanks Mr. Pullen):

IEP Critic--This One Gets a 2 out of 5

Today I attended an IEP/MET (three year re-evaluation) for a prospective student with autism coming to us next year. I was very excited for the chance to sit in on a different school's IEP meeting. I thought it would be an informative compare/contrast exercise. Our school psychologist (who services a bunch of other schools and districts as well) has always been very complimentary about the way we run our IEP meetings; today I found out whether or not our compliments were deserved.

It is my professional opinion that they were deserved.

First of all, their psychologist started off the meeting by informing mom that her son was "very, very loooow". He did not mention any scores, nor did he explain any of the subtests, other than to say "he did better on some than on others". So, ouch. Not five minutes into it and I was already feeling like I wanted to give this mother a hug.

Secondly, in a one-hour meeting, mom did not have a chance to speak until 27 minutes into it... and that's only because she interrupted with a comment! Not once was she asked for her input on goals, or about her concerns.

Thirdly, the eight people around the table directed all their comments at me... made eye contact with me... not mom.

Finally, there was a lot of educational jargon thrown around and it was assumed that mom understood all of it. In all fairness, this is something I have been guilty of in the past, but our special ed team has been very good about trying to be as clear as possible.

To the other school's credit, they were much more on top of their paperwork. Personally, though, I would much rather drop the ball in terms of paperwork than to fail to communicate to the parent that they are an equal partner with us in their child's education.

Blogging as a Cure (?)

I am responsible for teaching/remediating writing for my fourth grade student. The only problem is... she hates writing; she can't spell; and she doesn't see the point in writing. It's like pulling teeth with her, so I've been somewhat avoiding it for the past few months.

Until this week!! It struck me that starting her very own blog could motivate her to write. Do other elementary teachers have their students blog? This fifth grade teacher does.
Would I be allowed to do this at school? According to our computer teacher, blogging is part of a Michigan technology strand!

I like the idea of linking kids' news sites and fun fact sites on the sidebar for her to read/peruse and respond to. I like that most blog sites have spell check. I like the idea that I could make her blog private. I also like the idea that her teachers could read her posts and give her encouraging comments!

The "unknown" factor is whether this experiment will work. Will this motivate her to write? Tune in next week for more exciting developments!

Blink Addiction

It all started at our half day in-service on Friday. The staff was supposed to align the objectives in our new math curriculum (coming this fall) to our state standards. Well, as you can imagine, all of us Special Ed teachers were feeling a bit left out, seeing as how it didn't pertain to us. "Oh, but it does!", we were assured. "You should be familiar with each grade level's standards and math objectives". Yes, that is a valid point. But which grade level should we choose to work with?

So Special Ed. got our own breakout session. Our team discussed housekeeping details for about twenty minutes, then got down to business: Cards. Not just any cards... Blink. Our speech therapist was explaining why this game in particular encouraged both sides of the brain to work together. It's also an excellent way to build working memory! We played for over an hour.... so simple, yet so addicting. While we were playing, we also discussed hosting a game night for parents with simple and fun games that have educational value. Goodness knows, I know the motivating value of games in my classroom!!

On Friday night I swung by Target to pick up a deck of "Blink" for myself (oh, and my students too). I've taught all of my students to play and they are having a blast with it! Some are still getting the hang of it, but my fourth-grader (who is as fiercely competitive as I am) is nuts about it! That girl was on her feet and shouting out: "SHAPE! COLOR! NUMBER! COLOR!" for the better part of 20 minutes. I wonder what people must have thought as they walked by?

I'm pretty nuts about it too. For two straight days, I've used my planning period to compete against the other resource room teacher, who is a worthy opponent! Work? What work?!

Birthday Highlights

First, I opened some presents from mom and dad. Gizmo liked the bag, but couldn't figure out why she needed to pose with it:

Mrs. Hufflepuff definitely liked the bag. She instantly claimed it as her own:

On Saturday, Max and I ate delicious food at Ichiban. Our Japanese waitress could not believe that we didn't want the forks she was offering us. "No forks??? Are you sure!?!" My grandma would be proud!

We also went to the dollar theater and split a jamocha shake, but I have no pictures for proof! All in all, a great birthday!! Thanks, everyone!!!!!

Ode to 25

Twenty-Five, you had a greasy and delicous start at The Pizza Bakery, followed by a liberal helping of change. You were there for our bittersweet move from California to Michigan. You witnessed the adoption of three adorable cats. You brought an unexpected, extended visit from my parents. You saw the dark days of unemployment. You presented me with a new brother-in-law. You allowed me to say, on countless occasions: "It's okay, because I'm only twenty-five, and I have lots of time left to do other things"... things like get a better job, live in a real house, drive a car that works...

I had high hopes for you, Twenty-Five, and you did not let me down. I realize that sometimes you get overlooked, and other years get all the glamour... like sixteen, eighteen, twenty-one, thirty (...wait...I know there are others, but I can't count that high...) oh and sixty-five. But you, Twenty-Five, have been a milestone for me in that I am one step closer to SETTLING DOWN (which is this missionary kid's ultimate goal!), without giving up the right to claim my youth for having cheap furniture and a broken car.

You will be missed in the years to come!
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