I wonder if I could take a sabbatical?

I used to make resolutions for the new year when I was younger because I thought that was the thing to do. I don't remember what they were (get a boyfriend!) or if I kept any of them.

Nowadays, I feel like the New Year starts in September with the return to school. Except on the eve of that new year, I'm not counting down to midnight and celebrating. More like.... going to bed at nine o'clock and crying about it (kidding! Kind of...).

This year for the first time in many, I have quite a few resolutions or, as I should call them: "things-that-I'd-ideally-like-to-accomplish."

They include but are not limited to:

*write more of that novel thingy I started
*use my sewing machine in more daring ways (buttons, and zippers, oh my!)
*keep better track of my etsy business dealings (have I made a profit yet? Who knows?!)
*make more items for my etsy store
*read more great novels (recommendations anyone?)
*volunteer somewhere local over the summer
*take an art class of some kind, just for fun!

But do you see the problem here? The one little thing that might prevent me from accomplishing all of those lovely resolutions?

It's called a day job.

yeah, someone might notice i'm missing

I'm too lazy to upload the pictures I currently have in my camera, so I thought I'd share an older picture of the cathedral in my parents' little French town:

We are still having fun with family here! Between braving the snowy roads to go on day trips, eating out at fabulous local restaurants that serve all my favorite dishes, and hanging out at home with board games and movies, I may just never return to Texas. My first graders won't miss me.... will they?

merry christmas

I hope you're all spending a wonderful day with family -- I know I am!

I wanted to share my favorite Christmas picture with you, back from 2008. We were trying to get a nice shot with me, my brother, and my sister. Right on "three", my brother reached around and tickled both my sister and me, resulting in this lovely spontaneous snapshot:

Hope your Christmas is filled with as much merriment and JOY!

"bored" games

Are you bored yet?

Sometimes it's easy to get bored on vacation. I used to, but now I have too many hobbies to get bored! If you're searching for things to do with family, there are always board games!

Here are some of my favorites to play with family:

Apples to Apples - so great for a crowd!

Settlers of Catan - a bit more complex, but addicting nonetheless.

Balderdash - even if you don't think you're smart, you can totally win this. And even if you lose, I guarantee you'll be too busy laughing your head off to notice.

Pictionary - an oldie, but a goodie. Brush off the dust from your old copy-- you'll be surprised at how much fun it STILL is!

What are some of your favorites?

where in the world is sarah?

I haven't been around the blogosphere all that much, but I did want to pop in and say that we're enjoying ourselves with my parents here in France.

Instead of picturing me in the classroom, you can picture me here:

Local village in Alsace, France 

The vineyard trail behind my parents' house

I hope you're having a lovely holiday!

i'll be home for christmas

Tonight, our flight leaves for France, where I'll get to see my parents for the first time in 2010.

When I was little, I would always annoy my parents with "Are we there yet?" when we were on long car trips. Since I couldn't conceptualize time well, my mom would calculate hours in episodes of Sesame Street. She would say: "Almost honey, only three more Sesame Streets." And that would maybe shut me up for one more Sesame Street before I had to ask again.

It's going to be 16 hours of travel time, folks. That's 32 episodes of Sesame Street.

Christmas craziness

The days right before a school vacation are always rather chaotic and stressful. I always have a million things to do, like make sure my lesson plans are ready to go for the week we get back, and clean my desk off so I don't feel overwhelmed with clutter in January.

Oh, and in my infinite wisdom, I decided to schedule two IEPs this week so that I'm EXTRA busy with a whole boatload of paperwork right before the holidays. Smart, huh?

And of course, I want to be a happy and fun teacher this week, scheduling special holiday projects and reading special seasonal books with the kids. I even have a little craft planned (a photo frame project I picked up last January at 90% off -- gotta love those sales!).

But the coup de gras is going to be when we come to school in our pajamas for a special showing of "The Polar Express" in the auditorium!

What about you? What craziness do you have planned with your kiddos this week?

i'm tired too, kid

I have the first grade Winter Program songs stuck in my head.

If you're a Kindergarten, first, second, or even third grade teacher, you most likely know the special hoopla that I'm talking about when I say "Winter Program". The rehearsals. The hand gestures. The lining up by  height. The repetitive music. The crowd control.

Yes, it's a very special time of year.

Tomorrow evening, my class will be taking the stage to sing their little hearts out (loud enough, I hope) for their family members. We only have two songs, and for days they've been lodged in my brain - right between the Christmas-countdown-cortex and the Are-we-there-yet-lobe.

I try not to get too worried about singing loud enough, remembering all the gestures and pauses, and standing completely still between songs. I have a theory that parents kind of relish the cute mess-ups anyway!

I just hope that no one calls out in a loud and whiny voice: "I'm TIRED!" like someone did during the last rehearsal.

Counting down

As a teacher, I feel like I'm always counting down to something. Thanksgiving weekend. Christmas break. Spring break. The last day of school. The next potty break.

I think this is partly why I love advent calendars so much... not only for the chocolate, but for the counting down! I remember my first year of college, I bought myself SIX chocolate advent calendars. I felt so rebellious. I know... you're scandalized.

Right now, I'm counting down until I get on a plane to France and visit my parents who I haven't seen in over a year!! We're skipping out of town a full day early. I don't like to miss all the Christmas parties at school, but my own celebration takes priority. Plus we're saving hundreds of dollars just by leaving on a Thursday instead of a Saturday!

Anyways, it's only FIVE MORE DAYS until we are on our way here:

What exciting plans are you counting down to?

the fat cat sat on the mat

We have three cats, and ever since we've moved to Texas into a house with no stairs, we've watched them steadily get fatter and fatter. It doesn't matter that they each get half a cup of food total per day. Somehow, they're still packing on the pounds.

So, Santa came a little early for them and brought them a five foot tall cat tree in the hopes that it would provide them with a bit of exercise. (Santa got a bit of exercise trying to fit the cat tree in the car, let me tell you!).

Thankfully, all three of them took to it right away:

And here's my favorite shot:

Does Santa bring your pets anything for Christmas?

it's funny because it's true

My father-in-law is a high school teacher and he passed along this video to me. If you've EVER been a teacher or if you've ever had to deal with less-than-competent administration, then you will find this video hilarious! I promise it's worth five minutes of your time:

Is this what meetings are like in your school? :)

Field trip fail

Usually, I'm a fan of field trips. Usually.

But I wasn't a fan of Friday's field trip. We took 45 first graders to the IMAX to see "Bugs in the Rainforest" and the kids were beside themselves with excitement!

I'm not sure which IMAX worker billed this experience as "perfect for grades 1 through 5" (maybe someone with no kids), but it wasn't at all appropriate for our first graders. Somewhere between the ultra-close up of a frog feasting on a fly in all its gory glory, and the two praying mantises doing it, I started hoping that none of the children would be haunted by nightmares.

At the end of the film when the caterpillar/chrysalis/butterfly whose life we'd been closely following ended up getting eaten by the praying mantis (again with the close ups of every bloody detail), we gave up hope for any redeeming quality of the movie.

How did the kids handle it? They all came up to us afterwards and bragged about how NOT scared they were. Which we all know in first grader-ese means: "I almost cried and peed my pants but I'm saving face in front of my friends."

boo! sight word game

No, this isn't a belated Halloween post, this is a sight word game I've been meaning to share with you for a while!
I first started playing "Boo!" about three or four years ago. It's a very simple game that kids CLAMOR for. All you have to do is write down a bunch of sight words, one per note card. Or you could be all savvy and just print out the mini-cards from the Dolch kit website, and then cut them apart. On two separate note cards (or mini-cards), write "BOO!". Mix them all together in some sort of box or bag (preferably not see-though).
Then, the kids take turns picking one card out of the bag. If they can read it, they can keep it (or in my case, I'll help them read it if they're struggling - you can be as cut-throat as you want with this game). The person with the most cards at the end is the winner.
The catch? If you happen to grab a "Boo!" card out of the bag, you have to put your whole pile of cards back in!
It's so fun to watch my first graders play. I let them play on Friday (after we've practiced the week's sight words) and they count down the days until they can play again. I just love that they are obsessing over a game that reinforces their decoding skills!!
Do you have any sight word games or activities you like to play in your classroom?

name that rock

We're studying rocks in science right now. I'll be honest: it's my least favorite topic. But I try really hard not to let my 22 first graders know that.
"We get to study ROCKS this week! Yaaaayyyy!" I told them.
There was a collective cheer (aka: deafening roar) when I told them we were going to go outside for a little rock hunt. I like it when they're excited. It makes me smile, but it also makes me nervous. I have to jump to the worst conclusions about their behavior, then lay out my expectations:
"Okay, but we'll be walking aroung the playground not running. Will we climb all over the playground equipment? NO! There is no fighting over the rocks. If we see fighting, you'll be sent back to the classroom without a rock."
"Oh, you can only pick ONE rock. Even if you found four or five that you really love, you have to pick your favorite one."
"And please only pick a rock that's small -- if it can't fit in your pocket, it's too big!"
They promised readily and faithfully to follow my instructions, and for the most part, they were pretty good! When we got back to class, they drew their rocks in their science journals, then wrote a sentence or two describing it.
"My rock's name is Sonic!" one boy told me. He continued, and shook his head solemnly: "The saddest thing about a rock is if it doesn't have a name...."

Back to the grind

There's just something that's psychologically worse driving 21 straight hours back from a vacation rather than to a vacation. Something about the thought of ten pounds of kitty litter waiting for you instead of happy family times waiting for you.

Nevertheless, the trip home went as smoothly as could be expected. We listened to a lot of NPR podcasts, ate a lot of unhealthy food, and at one point Max said: "Your eyes are fat." Yes, that many hours in the car can make you loopy!

Well, the housecleaning and the unpacking is calling my name, so I'd better go take care of that. Fun, huh?

Black Friday Madness

I've long ago given up on getting up at butt o'clock and standing in line for Black Friday sales. In truth, I realized that I never bought for anyone else, it was all just for ME! And anyway, at 28 I'm kind of an old fart and I'd much rather laze around in my pajamas instead of battling crowds...

This year, for the first time ever, I'll be participating in the Black Friday madness, with my very own sale over at my store, Yes Teacher Crafts. From now until Saturday, 11/27 at 11:59 PM, you can use the coupon code BLACKFRIDAYSPREE to get 20% off the entire store!

Happy Shopping!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Count your blessings instead of your crosses;
Count your gains instead of your losses.
Count yoru joys instead of your woes;
Count your friends instead of your foes.
Count your smiles instead of your tears;
Count your courage instead of your fears.
Count your full years instead of your lean;
Count your kind deeds instead of your mean.
Count your health instead of your wealth.

-Author unknown

why yes, we are insane

Yesterday, we spent a whopping 20 straight hours in the car driving from Texas to Michigan. (We're blessed to have the whole week off for Thanksgiving!). We left at 4:20 AM and got there at 1:35 AM (technically 2:35 with the time change). Here are the highlights of the trip:

6:03 AM
Max turns off the radio. We sit in silence for a minute or two. I ask: "So, is this going to be a silent car trip, then?" Max: "SHHHH!"

7:38 AM
Max is driving. He suddenly puts both hands in the air, shouting: "LOOK! No hands!!"

11:45 AM
I say: "Hasn't Barney been great? He's been so content on my lap this whole time, he hasn't even whined."
Barney: "whiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine."

5:54 PM
Max: "I couldn't pee in my pants, even if I wanted to."

8:59 PM
Max: "Is time standing still or is it just me?"

11:14 PM
Max: "If it wasn't for Christianity, I'd probably be a sociopath."

secret shopping spree

With the paddle no longer available for use in public education, teachers have had to get creative. We take away recess, or computer time, or make the child sit away from his friends at lunch. We positively reinforce with all kinds of systems... I've heard of kids being rewarded with sitting in the teacher's chair, with taking off their shoes in the classroom, with using the shredder, or with the promise of some bubble wrap to pop.
I have consequences on my mind.
Yesterday, a little first grader in the general ed. class was asking over and over and over and over if he could go to the book fair. [This is our week for the Scholastic book fair!] His behavior had been terrible all day, so we told him no... he could go tomorrow once he turned his behavior around. He kept asking to go anyway. The teacher got down to his eye level, and repeated herself slowly and firmly.
"Do you understand?"
He nodded yes.
A few minutes later, he asked to go to the bathroom. I think you know where this is going.... He came back about ten minutes later with a brand new book in hand.
Oh boy. He was in T-R-O-U-B-L-E. His teacher confiscated his book for the day, and called his mom after school was let out. Once she explained what had happened to his mother, and asked what course of action would be most appropriate, this is what mom said:
"Oh well, he never does things like this. The other boys told him he would be a loser if he didn't, so it's alright. Go ahead and send the book home with him tomorrow."
Um... excuse me? I just had a vision of him as a sixteen year old, standing at the doorstep with a cop by his side and the mother saying: "Oh well, he's never done drugs before. The other boys told him he would be a loser if he didn't, so it's alright. Go ahead and just let him stay home."
But who knows.... maybe she gave him a consequence after she got off the phone with the teacher. It just struck me as a very inappropriate response to the incident!

fur baby

On Friday, we dropped in on my dad. That's actually a huge statement since my parents still live in France! But he was flying out for a quick visit to his mom/my grandma in California and on the way, he had a layover at a nearby airport.

So Max and I dropped by! It was fun to go to an airport just to see someone. All the fun, but no traveling hassles. Dad was happy to see us, of course, but wondered why we hadn't brought the dog? (No grandkids in our family yet, so they have to settle for grand-dogs...)

Since we didn't bring Barney, I thought I would share some recent pictures of our fur baby.



Substitute teachers. It's really the luck of the draw unless you have someone you can trust that you go to every time you're sick. I'm not sure what the qualifications are for subs in my school district, but after what happened on Friday, I don't think they're picky about it. I think the top priority is: warm body.

You'll note from my last post that my co-teacher is out sick. [Technically, she feels fine, but she's completely lost her voice, and really what's the point of coming in then?]. I had to sub for her on Thursday, but they actually found someone on Friday. I'll call him Mr. C. The "C" stands for Creepy.

When I met him, right away he started complaining about THAT AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMAN in the front office who had the audacity to change his substitute assignment. I'm not sure if he was being racist or just spiteful, but his tone of voice was very angry.

Then, he proceeded to call me SWEETIE for the entire day. In retrospect, I should have said something after the first time, but he said it as I was walking out the door, and I was so shocked I just kept walking.

After lunch, when I picked up my deaf ed. kids from him to go to Language Arts in my own classroom, I needed to get the mic from him. [I wear a mic every day that transmits directly into my kids' hearing aids. It's on a lanyard and looks like a necklace.] He was wearing it around his neck, along with some other ID lanyards. He couldn't get it off his neck [or something....] so he asked me to take it off for him.

I chalked this up to his incompetence, and took the mic off from around his neck. It wasn't until like ten minutes later when I thought: "Ew. Creepy!"

Later as I was teaching, I realized that he had sprayed very pungent cheap men's cologne all over, and it had seeped into the lanyard attached to the mic. By the time I realized where the awful smell was coming from, it had rubbed all against the back of my shirt collar. I smelled like Mr. Creepy for the rest of the day. The creepiness burned in my nostrils until I could get home and change my shirt.

When I brought my kids back to the regular ed class for dismissal, the entire first grade class was outside at recess and left 18 pots of playdoh left OPEN, and piles of playdoh were strewn about the desks. Um, hello? Common sense, anyone? That stuff dries out!

And then, judging from the pile of sawdust by the teacher's desk, and a first grade "informer", I gathered that Mr. C had himself gotten sick and thrown up all over the floor.

I don't know who was worse. Mr. C, or the second grade sub that day who literally fell asleep in his chair while the kids were in the room.

can't wait till she comes back

Once upon a time, I used to think I might want to teach general education someday.
But I forgot.
And today, as I was informed ten minutes before the first bell rang that I would be subbing for my co-teacher, I was reminded of why I should stick to special ed.
Even though I know this class of first graders well, and I know all of my co-teacher's rules and procedures, I found myself stressed out and longing for an escape.
There's just something about 23 bodies vs. 6 that seems like so much more. There were children and more children everywhere I turned, each with their own level of noises. I had to pee, and couldn't leave the kids with an aide. I HAD TO HOLD IT. Like some kind of "real" teacher. I had to worry about submitting the attendance report and parent pick ups. There were just so many more wiggles to let out and mouths to stop.
I guess I didn't realize how easy I had it with my little group of six in the afternoon. Sure, they each have their issues, but there are ultimately only six bodies to keep track of. And I can deal with that without wanting to take a personal time-out!

validation from a first grader

After weeks of dedicated practice with their sight words, my six students finally earned their ice cream party. They got all of their "bubbles"!

So yesterday, I set out the big tub of ice cream, the chocolate syrup, and the rainbow sprinkles, and we all dug in! There were lots of giggles and "yums" all around the table. Some kids stirred their sundae all around so that it became like a milkshake. One kid tattled on those kids.

But my favorite part of the afternoon was when "Miguel", chocolate syrup mustache in place, pointed an ice cream-covered finger at me and declared:

"You're NICE!"

rules of the first grade

Rules of the first grade; a short list:

1. If there are nine pairs of red scissors, and one pair of yellow scissors, you must fight to the death for the yellow scissors.

2. If the teacher doesn't see your raised hand, it's perfectly acceptable to leave your desk and go tap on her arm to get her attention.

3. Even though your class takes a collective bathroom break, it's better to hold it in. That way, you can ask to go to the bathroom later, during math.

4. It's okay to take a toy to school with you, especially if you're really good at hiding it.

5. If there's a cricket/cockroach/fly/moth in the classroom, it's your responsibility to stop instruction and direct everyone's attention to the critter. Crying, yelling, pointing and saying "ew" are all acceptable ways in which to command everyone's attention.

6. It's okay to talk to your neighbor when a classmate has the floor, but it's inexcusable that someone else should be talking when you have the floor.

7. Whoever gets away with the most silly antics as we line up in the hall, wins.

8. As you walk single file down the hall, if student number 12 gives a high five to a teacher passing by, students 13 through 23 also get to give that teacher a high five.

9. During share time, if one student tells the class that they went to a Chinese restaurant over the weekend, three to five more students need to share how they went to a BETTER Chinese restaurant over the weekend.

10. You're special. The classroom rules really just apply to everyone else.

Maybe jumping jacks are the answer

It takes approximately nine minutes to take 23 first graders to the bathroom. I'm in charge of the boys' line. Around the corner, my co-teacher supervises the girl's line.

It's the worst nine minutes of my day.

Honestly, what is it about school bathrooms that makes little boys want to play around? Is it the chance to crawl under the stalls? Is it that your female teacher can't go in there (or so they think!)? Is it the tantalizing rolls of toilet paper, or splashing your friend at the sink?

I have to constantly poke my head through the door and say things like: "No crawling!" "Do you want to be on yellow today?" (that's the warning color) "Stop playing in there", and "I WILL come in there!"

Not only that, but then there are the 18 others I have to keep in line in the hall. And I feel bad for them: expecting them to stand still without talking for nine straight minutes when the principal doesn't allow us to go out for recess. Ever.

gingerbread vindication

About three weeks ago, Max and I were in the car on our way to Braum's for an ice cream cone. On the way there, I happened to mention how a colleague of mine was bragging that she never had to buy her own drink in college, pretty girl that she was. With that conversation fresh on our minds, we ordered our cones from the man behind the counter.
Max ordered first. As the man was serving his ice cream, I noticed a bit of an effeminite vibe to him.
Then I ordered. I was sadly disappointed that I only got about HALF of the amount he gave Max. Either he was gay, or I wasn't pretty. So I decided he was gay. I shot him and Max dirty looks as I ate my pitiful little ice cream cone.
Fast forward to this past Sunday. I had been bugging Max all weekend about the pumpkin donuts from Dunkin' Donuts and just how awesome they were. So when we passed a Dunkin' Donuts on the way home from church on Sunday, I convinced him to stop.
I ordered a pumpkin donut from the young man behind the counter. Max ordered chocolate creme. We paid for our purchase.
But just as we were about to leave, I noticed that there were GINGERBREAD donuts on the rack. And sometimes I have issues censoring myself, so I blurted out: (with a noticeable tinge of excitement and urgency)
"GINGERBREAD DONUTS!!! I didn't know you made those!!"
The young man behind the counter asked if I wanted to try one.
"Oh, but... we already paid," I said.
"That's okay." And then he slipped a free gingerbread donut into our bag.
And that gingerbread donut was delicious... and not just because it was free!
(Oh, and if you're wondering, I did share the free donut with Max. There's no sense ticking off the person who cooks your meals...)

the ghost of halloween past

I'm not gonna lie to you. Halloween, to me, has always been about the candy. Forget the costumes, the spooky decor, the staying up late, and the scary movies. Just GIVE ME THE CANDY!

When my family moved to France when I was seven years old, it was all just a big adventure.... until I found out that they don't celebrate Halloween over there. What? You mean I can't go door to door and take candy from my neighbors? WHAT KIND OF COUNTRY IS THIS?! (But for the record, other than on Oct. 31st, I really didn't mind living in France).

When we were still living in California, before France, my parents would tell me to pick five pieces of candy from all the loot I had just gathered. Then, the "Pumpkin Fairy" would come and trade all that candy for a TOY!

And since I was only five years old at the time, I totally fell for it.

But enough about the candy. I'm linking up with SITS (they have such amazing blogging tips!) to share my favorite Halloween memory:

I was six years old and I dressed up like Marilyn Monroe. I'm not sure if it was my mom's idea, or if this was my doing. But I do remember the curly blonde wig and the long and flowy purple dress. I felt so pretty!

I wish I had a picture on hand, but my parents are hoarding all of those memories in their attic in France. So you'll just have to imagine a blonde six-year-old Sarah with pink circles for blush and bright lipstick to match.

What was your favorite Halloween costume?

Schoolgirl memories: second grade

If you want to know how this series of posts got started, read here.


Second grade deserves a post all of its' own. After all, it is the year my family moved from California to France!

It was Year One on the mission field for us: Language School. We lived in a sort of compound with all the other families who were learning French for missionary work. While the grown-ups were sweating it out, learning to be fluent in a second language, my siblings and I (along with all the other kids on the compound) were sent to the local public school.

In the mornings, we gathered in a special classroom where we were explicitly taught French. My teacher knew precisely two words in English: "shut" and "up". I wish to goodness I remembered how they taught us French. I vaguely remember picture slides of various scenes, then the teacher telling us stories about the slides. Then we wrote the stories down in a notebook.

In the early days, I remember playing outside at recess and trying to have a conversation with some French girls. I was getting increasingly frustrated because I didn't know how to say a specific word. My friends were being so helpful: guessing random words and asking me "Is it this? This? This? This?" Not surprisingly, they never did figure it out.

In the afternoons, we were mainstreamed into the regular French classrooms for math. Because, duh, everyone speaks numbers and there surely isn't any need to understand the words around the numbers. I was confused and embarrassed when the teacher jumped right into subtraction WITH BORROWING. And I had never seen that before and had no concept of what the heck borrowing was. And since they do their math all funny in France, it wasn't until I was in the States for college that I understood about hundreds, tens, and ones.


But I survived the trauma and I magically spoke French pretty fluently by the end of that school year. In fact, it had become so natural to speak it that I would start using it around the house with my sister and brother. Sometimes it would be come "Frenglish".

My parents tried to outlaw French at home.... they claimed they were worried we would lose our English. But I think maybe they were just jealous of our flawless accents!

What do you remember from second grade?

because i know a funny look when i see one

Part of why I love my job is that I can be a total ham and the kids just love me for it. I mean, where else can you tell a corny knock-knock joke and get so much praise and appreciation?

I especially love it when the school itself fosters this kind of fun. At every school I've worked, there's been some kind of special week. In California and Michigan, it was Spirit Week. Here, it's Red Ribbon (anti-drugs) Week. In the past, teachers and students alike have come to school with crazy hair, a favorite hat,  mismatched clothes, and ... my favorite.... pajamas!

Today it was "'Sock it to drugs' Day" and we were all supposed to wear our craziest socks.

Well, I don't really own any "crazy" socks.

So I wore a tunic/dress with black leggings, then pulled up my knee-high gray socks and called it good. But when I got to school, a colleague of mine offered me a spare pair of extra-crazy socks. I happily switched my gray socks for some purple, green, blue, and white striped knee-highs.

I wish I'd had my camera; I looked pretty ridiculous... but the kids were thrilled! One person told me I looked like an elf. Another person told me I looked like a teenager.

And I made sure to tell the delivery man by the cafeteria that it was Crazy Sock Day.

still looking for my glasses

Yesterday, Max and I both had eye appointments at Costco's vision center. I was very excited because I was going to shop afterwards for my first new pair of glasses in like seven years. (I used to be able to wear contacts but not since I developed kerititis.)

When you have to wear glasses every day, you kinda want to be sure that you love them. I was already feeling self-conscious as I tried on pair after pair in front of the small mirrors. Max was doing his best by giving me tactful feedback on each pair. For example, instead of saying "You look like a giant nerd," he'd say: "I think the frames might be a little too thick." I did appreciate his honesty, even when he said: "Female shop teacher" that one time.

So twenty minutes into this, I find a pair that I really love. They're black, slightly retro, and they've got some personality. Max even liked them! Beaming and feeling all self-confident, I took them to the vision services counter. The lady who met us there asked me to try them on for her, just so she could check that they fit.

I put them on and smiled.

Immediately, she said very firmly: "Oh, no! These don't work, let's go find some other ones."

I froze. She might as well have called me ugly over the store PA then laughed maniacally.

I think I stammered: "Why not?"

Then she explained that they were too wide over the bridge of my nose (they were the kind that didn't have adjustable nose pads). "And too wide for your face, too." She left no room for argument so I just stood there pretty speechless.

She tried to help me find some others, but I gave her a look and she backed off in a very bubbly but annoying way.

Granted, she was right about the bridge being too wide. However, I didn't appreciate the way she made me feel.

Maybe I'm overreacting, but when I go buy something for myself, I don't expect to be told my taste is wrong. It's kind of like telling a bride-to-be that she looks like a fatso in that wedding dress.

he's baaaaaaaaaaaaack

If you've been with me long enough, you'll remember "Jose". He was the fourth grader who drove me (and countless other teachers) wild with rage and brought me to my knees in tears last year.

You might also remember that after much drama and to-do, we FINALLY got him the help he needed by transferring him to the behavior unit on a different campus. You can read about that victory here. I called it a miracle. I celebrated with colleagues. I considered it The Single Greatest Accomplishment of My Career.

That was just four and a half months ago.

And now they're sending him back to us, because "his behavior is fine".

Do you know why his behavior is "fine"? Because he's been under the impression that all he has to do is to earn his way back here. He's manipulative like that.

My deaf ed. colleague and the principal have attended his IEP at this behavior unit. They report that the other school has taught him no coping strategies, and no anger management strategies. In fact, they had NO GOALS READY for his IEP.

He's scheduled to come back this Monday. Thank the good Lord Almighty that they moved me to first grade so I will no longer be his teacher. The fifth grade teacher has had Jose in the past, so she knows what to expect.

It makes me more than a little angry and sad to know that I spent so long fighting an unfair educational system just to have him end up back in a place where we can't help him.

And when I see him on Monday? I may have a fixed smile on my face, but here's what I'll be feeling on the inside:

Schoolgirl memories: the early years

I've decided that since my kids aren't drawing cat pee this week, and in absence of any other shenanigans by colleagues or administration, I would revisit some of my own school memories. I'll add to this collection whenever my kids stop saying and doing funny things (hello, don't they know I have a blog to write?)
1986-1989 at a private, Christian school in California

Preschool: this one's easy. I don't remember anything about it. Not my teacher's name, not what my classroom looked like, and not one other person in my class. But I know I did go, because my mom told me I did, and she wouldn't lie. Would she?

Kindergarten: The coolest thing about Kindergarten was that it was connected via a bathroom to the first grade room. I used to "have to go to the bathroom", just so I could open the adjoining door a crack and spy on the big kids. I was so impressed by them!

I also remember writing on those sheets of paper with big handwriting lines. I would get near the end of the line and start to panic because I wasn't finished writing my word. "No worries!" my teacher would say: "Just write smaller so it will fit!"

Write smaller?? BUT HOW?!? This was a frustrating mystery to me. I almost quit school forever.

First grade: Thankfully I persevered through the Small Writing Dilemma and got to the first grade. The most salient memory I have is standing by my chair and sobbing uncontrollably because my white Elmer's glue had spilled inside my desk and had covered everything. The teacher had to bring my stuff to the sink and clean it all up. While everyone was watching. And I stood there crying.

It was my most embarrassing moment for a long time: I wanted to run away and go to a different school just to save face.

Luckily, my parents let me do just that when we moved to France the following year.

What fun memories do you have of Kindergarten and first grade?

and no, this isn't just a ruse to eat ice cream in class

One of the skills that I really make a point to hit hard with my first graders is Sight Words. Doing flashcards can get old real fast, so I've devised a motivational system to encourage my students to want to master these words.

First I started with the 220 Dolch Sight Words. They're neatly divided into lists here. I tested each of my kiddos and put all the words they didn't know on flashcards. Each student has a different set of words that they're practicing.

Then I had them decorate a fish and mounted it on a small bulletin board (I added wavy water strips for effect):
I practice with the kids individually for three minutes each every day (one of the benefits of only having six students!). On Friday, I quiz them. If they can read all five of their words, they earn a "bubble" -- which is actually just a reinforcement label/sticker. Once all of their bubbles hit the treasure at the top, we're going to have an ice cream party!

The kids are super excited and they're working harder than ever. Hopefully by the end of the year, they'll know all 220 words!!

whining and bragging

I haven't been around the blogosphere as much as I'd like to in the past couple of days. I'm having one of those weeks that takes you over its' knee and whips your butt.

On top of the general craziness it is to be a teacher, there have been some hiccups. Like when I spent all that time on Monday inputting grades and then LOST EVERYTHING. And when one of my students lost an expensive piece of her cochlear implant on the playground on Tuesday morning but didn't think to tell me until five minutes before the bus was going to bring her home. Oh and let's not forget the groups of college students following me around on Monday and Wednesday morning, learning how to be deaf.ed teachers. And then having to stay until 8 pm last night for parent-teacher conferences (ONE parent out of nine made it. So glad I stayed...)

But enough whining. It's Friday!! And I thought I'd share with you something that I did over the summer that has been making my school year go MUCH smoother:
I made a file folder for each of our basal series stories. I put all the practice book/extra support book worksheets in each. Then, I listed all the skills we're supposed to be learning on the front of the folder so I could go through my own files and pull activities/picture cards/fun printables and put them in the same file.
So now, when it comes to my weekly lesson planning, I just pull the file and I have everything I need right there: homework, extension activities, vocabulary cards, and the basal series worksheets.

It took about three days to set that up over the summer, but it's turning out to have been well worth my time!

Do you have any organizational tricks that save you time?

it could have been worse

Yesterday, the writing prompt I gave my first graders for their journal was "I pet my _______" (because our story is called "Dan's Pet").

"Bobby" finished his work, then showed me proudly:
"That's great!" I say, "But what's that coming out of your cat?"

"It go pee-pee!", he announced.

And here you go again, just in case you missed it:
I just about died laughing, which made it hard to lecture him about appropriate and inappropriate pictures....

and no, i didn't let him

It was Friday afternoon, and I had something fun planned. All week, we had been reading a story called "All That Corn" (about how corn gets from the farm to our table). I decided that it would a good language exercise and a good writing exercise to compare and contrast unpopped kernels of corn with popcorn. (With a tasting too, of course!)

I had secretly popped a bag of popcorn right before picking up my six students for Language Arts. Once we finished our other activities, I pulled out an unpopped bag of microwave popcorn (still in its' plastic seal). Everyone got really excited and "Miguel" asked: "We eat it now??"

"Right now?" I prompted. Most of the other kids were like: "Nooooo!" but Miguel just kept nodding his head. I ignored the five others, who clearly knew that it needed to be cooked first, and zeroed in on this teachable moment with Miguel.

"You want to eat it right now?" I said as I started opening the plastic wrapping.

He nodded.

"Are you sure you want to eat it right now?" I tore open the top of the bag and poured some corn kernels onto a paper plate.

I pushed the plate full of hard, dry corn kernels toward Miguel among the chorus of "Noooos" from his classmates.

He looked around defensively, then declared "I will eat it!"

i need an intervention for this intervention

Every day from 2:30 to 3:00 is our intervention time. We alternate between math and reading every two weeks. We get together as a grade level and divide the kids in three: those who got it and are ready for the next level, those who didn't get it all, and those who kinda got it but need more practice.

The kids are in different groups different weeks, depending on their ability for that particular skill level (I guess what I'm trying to say is "Don't worry, the low kids aren't always together in the low group.")

This week, I'm with the "low" group in math and we're working on very basic counting skills.

So there I am, sitting at a table with five children who are all struggling in this area. "Alana" (the kiwi girl) is sitting on my right. I've already had to redirect her eighteen times in a two minute time span. She's supposed to be counting out unifix cubes to match the number on a card. She even has the Resource Room teacher sitting on her other side.

I look over, and she's holding one of her boots upside down, convinced there's a crayon inside. (There was. Don't ask.)

I look over later, and she's talking to someone completely invisible. (Either that, or I was witnessing some kind of psychotic episode.)

I look over a third time, and she's placed a unifix cube on the tip of each of her fingers, as if they were fake nails.

The other teacher and I kept glancing at each other. In the midst of this frustrating situation, we used the best coping mechanism we have at our disposal: laughter!!

pump it up with pumpkins

There's so much fun stuff you can do in your classroom during the Fall (if only that pesky curriculum wasn't in the way!).

The first grade classes are taking a field trip to a local pumpkin patch at the end of the month, and I couldn't be more excited! Yes, I'm one of those teachers that actually enjoy field trips...

Anyways, in researching the many possibilities for pumpkin activities in preparation for our field trip, I've come across some gems! And I'm going to share them here with you... free of charge (you're welcome).

First up, this little animated slide show (with sound) is just perfect for grades 3 through 6. It's a very entertaining piece of the history of pumpkins and jack-o-lanterns.

I think the best activity I've found for my kiddos is this pumpkin sequencing book.

If you want to get all scientific with weighing and measuring your pumpkins (and counting/graphing the seeds), check out this recording sheet!

And.... if you can get away with some more fun stuff in your room, Little Giraffes has an extensive list of quality pumpkin activities. I'm especially loving the pumpkin pie playdoh and the "Orange Pumpkin, Orange Pumpkin, What Do You See" easy-read printable book.

Do you have any pumpkin activities you love to do?

not the kind of question you ask out loud

It has become the norm, I think, for schools around the nation to require their teachers to submit their lesson plans at least one week ahead of time. I'm not really sure why -- none of the three schools I've worked at has ever explained the purpose. To make sure we're doing our job? To torture us? In case there's a substitute teacher? Probably just for liability's sake, I imagine.

So here's my question: if the administration is going to expect us to be Prepared Ahead of Time, shouldn't they also be held to the same standard?

We had this past Friday off for a glorious three day weekend. But on Thursday morning, we all got a note in our mailboxes: "On Monday, Oct. 4, 2010, we will have a half-day meeting to ramp up the rigor in our Reading/Language Arts curriculum. You will meet from 8:00 to 11:00 in room 103."

Whaa.........? This came as a total surprise to all of us: it wasn't on the calendar. So... we then had to frantically put together a whole morning's worth of sub plans and we only had ONE DAY to do so.

I wasn't the only one who thought this was unprofessional. Lots of other teachers were upset. It didn't matter though. Ultimately, we all made our plans and showed up to the meeting.

It didn't stop me from feeling resentful, though.

hey... i actually taught her something!

I have a strange child doing strange things in my classroom.

Of course, there's never any shortage of strange behavior in my part of the world. From kids playing dead, to telling my future, to random meowing, I've wondered more than once if I'm on Candid Camera.

But my colleague and I are just baffled by "Sherry's" behavior (she's one of my first graders with hearing loss.)

We first noticed it during the daily bathroom debacle. Do you know how long it takes for 23 first graders to line up after lunch and use the bathroom? Nine minutes. That's a lot of time. (It's also a lot of saying: "Hurry up in there! Don't crawl under the stalls! Use soap when you wash your hands! Do NOT roll that toilet paper across the floor!").

It maybe wouldn't take as long if Sherry understood about the order of things. Every day, she walks into the bathroom and:

1. washes her hands
2. goes pee
3. washes her hands again

Confused? So were we. She does the same kind of thing right after she sneezes:

1. uses hand sanitizer
2. blows her nose in a tissue
3. uses more hand sanitizer


So the other day, I had the opportunity to take her to the bathroom all by herself. Before she went in, I got down at her eye level and showed her two fingers.

"Sherry. Number one: go pee. Number two: wash your hands."

She smiled and nodded, eyes darting around... looking at everything except my two fingers.

"Sherry! What's number one?"

"Go pee."

"What's number two?"

"Wash hands."

I watched her walk into the stall and .... actually follow my directions! I was kind of surprised. I was bracing myself for another debacle, already planning to make some kind of two-step picture schedule!

Yay for small victories!

not quite ready for the S.A.T.s

I've been testing every morning for the last three days. It's a district assessment for reading and it involves a lot of phonemic awareness activities, like: "Say 'nice'. Now say it again without the /n/". I have to record all the answers on this fancy Palm Pilot which then uploads all the student data into the computer.

It's a worthwhile test, actually, and it gives a pretty accurate picture of the students' reading abilities (I can't say that for all tests, unfortunately).

Usually the general ed. teachers are supposed to administer this test to their own students. But I don't know what the district is thinking! They give us a deadline, and then they're all: "Yeah, just pull one student at a time to the back of the room while the other students are doing something else."

Umm.... First of all this test takes 30 to 40 minutes to administer PER CHILD. Secondly, have the geniuses up at the district level never spent time with children? Especially young children? They are not independent and quiet enough to "do something else" while the teacher tests.

So the first grade teacher that I work with is pretty sure that I'm some sort of saint because I volunteered to do all the testing for this one. I really don't mind -- it's kind of a nice break from routine.

I feel bad for the kids that I know are really low, though. I have to give them a list of words to read, and even if they can't, they still have to try. I say "do your best", and if I sense that they are getting discouraged, I say something like "we just want to know which words to practice this year."

I was testing one such student yesterday. I gave him the word list to read (it starts out: get, cut, bump...). And he said:

"I don't know. I don't know. I don't know."

So I gave him my spiel about doing your best and just finding out what words he needs to practice. Then he turns to me and says:

"Yeah, I need to practice these before I go to college!"

While I was busy laughing on the inside, he added: "'Cuz I'm going to college next year!"

not that i'm a perfectionist or anything

Fine motor skills can be so elusive in the first grade.

We have hand sanitizer bottles placed around the classroom in an ever-losing battle against germs. We tell the kids: "Just one pump!" after they sneeze or pick their nose or something. But even though we give them this direction, they somehow manage to form a puddle of hand sanitizer in the palm of their hands. Then they start rubbing it together, splashing it onto themselves and others standing nearby. Pretty soon it's dripping down their elbows....


Obviously I know better than to give them all white glue (you know, in those Elmers bottles with the orange twist tops). I thought I would be safe with stick glue. And, to be fair, maybe about half of the first graders can use a glue stick without ensuing disaster. But the other half? They twist that glue all the way up out of the container so that they have all two inches of it exposed. Then they press really hard on their paper, smooshing the glue and breaking the stick part. Then when they're done (and smooshed glue is coating the sides of their stick), they just smash down the cap over top, not thinking to twist the glue back down into its' container.

I'm thinking a few mini-lessons are in order....

eating in class

I was in seventh grade. I was sitting in Science class, and it was quite early in the morning. It was still dark out, so it must have been sometime in the winter.

I forget what the teacher's point was.... all I remember is that she had a 2-Liter bottle of Sprite sitting unopened on her desk.

She picked it up and held it in front of us. "Who can tell me some of the properties of Sprite?" she asked.

No one answered.

"Come on, now. What does it taste like?"

I raised my hand: "I think it would be easier to answer this question if we all had a taste of the Sprite."

To my utter surprise, she reluctantly agreed (it may have been all of the excited cheering coming from the rest of the students). And we all had a cup of pop that morning.

I honestly couldn't tell you anything else about seventh grade science. I don't even remember that teacher's name! But I do remember the day we talked about the properties of Sprite.

Taste is a powerful thing, and I hope to incorporate more of it into my lessons! Maybe not quite to this extent (I don't have the leeway to veer too far from our basal reader series), but maybe in smaller doses....

The teacher who had my kids last year read this book to them:

Then she did a whole week's unit on pumpkin stuff and at the end they had a pumpkin tasting: pumpkin soup, pumpkin donuts, pumpkin seeds, and pumpkin bread!

If you ask my kids today what they remember about Kindergarten, they will all start yelling about pumpkin food! I'm thinking of creating a literature unit on the sequel to that book, and incorporating a "tasting" as well!

Do you like to incorporate taste into your lessons? How do you do it?

living my very own chick flick

When I was younger, I didn't dream of my wedding, I dreamed of The Man. What would his name be? Had I already met him? Would he be good looking? (As it turns out: Max, No, and Most Definitely).

We've been married for eight years now..... and it all started with a nerdy first impression, a cake fight, and the World War 1 Trenches in France. You can read all about it here and find out why both of our fathers were 12 inches away when we had our very first kiss!!

Thanks to Gwen in Love for featuring our love story!

for my next trick, i'll show them ctrl-alt-delete

Every Tuesday we have a grade level planning meeting after school. I work with the first grade teachers, who are all lovely dears and a whole lot of fun to work with. Their computer skills, however? Not so up-to-date.

So I was showing them how to create a mock district math benchmark test on the computer. A sample test question may have two boxes - some with bunnies, some with dogs, and then they'll ask you to bubble in which box has a greater number of animals. So I was doing a lot of formatting to get clipart into text boxes and such things as my colleagues looked on.

I didn't realize just how little they knew about computer stuff until they got ALL EXCITED when I inserted a page break to create another new page ("You mean you can just start a new page whenever you want to?"). And they almost threw a celebration when I showed them Ctrl+A to highlight an entire document!

Who knew it would take so little to make me look so good?

it's not every day you can literally take a bow

I was teaching contractions to my little group of first graders on Friday. We were starting with the basics: it is = it's; what is = what's; he is = he's.

First of all, do you know how hard it is to teach this to a bunch of kids with hearing loss who can't hear that final "s"? I was even wearing the microphone/FM system which sends my voice directly into their hearing aids, and still. I had to show them with my lips.

So anyways, I found this great song via Carl's Corner. It's set to the tune of the Hokey Pokey:

You pop some letters out!
To put apostrophes in!
You pop some letters out!
That's the way you must begin.
To do contraction action is as easy as can be!
Come on and dance with me! Yeah!

Totally cute right? I sang it for them the first time around, as I modeled taking out the "i" and replacing it with an apostrophe. As soon as I finished the last note of the song, all six of them burst into genuine, thunderous applause!

It was so different than the eye rolling I would have expected from my fifth graders last year, it caught me completely off-guard!

I do love me some first graders!!

honey, there's nothing there to sniff...

Hands down, the worst part of my day is walking the dog when I come home from work.

I get home about an hour before Max does, so I'm the one who has to run/walk Barney around the block. I love him dearly, but three factors prevent me from enjoying this time:

1. It's sweltering hot here, and I hate to sweat.
2. I'm too tired.
3. I HATE HATE HATE running (and he does need to run to get all of that energy out).

So a few days ago, I had rounded the last corner of the block, next to this house with this mean looking German Shepherd. Let's call it Shep.

Shep is very scary. Every time it sees Barney, it creeps up and starts galloping toward us silently (I always note the lack of playful barking). Shep lives behind a chain link fence, and I always move a little faster when we go by.

Well this time, it was so intent on following Barney (TEETH BARED), it wormed itself under the chain link fence. So much for the barrier separating us from sure death.

Everything happened in slow motion. Its' head was under the fence, eyes bulging with the effort. Barney and I were frozen in place. Then its' whole body was out. Then I was screaming at the top of my lungs: "NO! NO! NO! STOP! DON'T EAT MY BABY!!!" Barney immediately threw his ears down and put his tail between his legs.

Suddenly, Shep was upon us........... and the worst it did was sniff Barney's butt.

I was still terrified though, and I pulled Barney around to the owner's front door. I pounded until the owners came out, and they helped greatly by restraining Shep's out-of-control butt-sniffing.

"You'll have to excuse 'Lil Bit', she's a little crazy right now 'cuz she's in heat."

do try this at home

One of the only worthwhile nuggets of info I got out of my Saturday training (and from the looks of things in the comments, I should count myself lucky for even getting a nugget!), was something called Practice Academy.

You may have heard of Practice Academies before. Ray L. Levy is the guy that came up with this super simple concept. He wrote a book about it and I bet he's rich now. [Note to self: come up with super simple concept and write a book. Retire ahead of schedule.] I happen to like this idea for a number of reasons:

It offers an unemotional way to deal with misbehavior.
It can work in the classroom or at home.
It can work with Kindergartners up to 12th graders.

So if you're interested, read on. Disclaimer: this lengthy explanation may bore you who do not have to deal with children on a day-to-day basis.

Step 1: Name that Practice Academy
When a child misbehaves, calmly say what the behavior is telling him he needs. Figure out what behavior you'd like to see instead and start your sentence with "Your behavior is telling me you need a ____ Practice Academy." Ex: "Uh-oh! Your behavior is telling me that you need a 'coming in the room and starting your class work' Practice Academy."
Be careful in how you say it: unemotionally, or with a tinge of sadness. Never as a threat!

Step 2: Pick a time
Pick a time that's convenient for you but NOT for the child. He needs to practice until he's mastered the skill AND is bored! The best time to get his attention is when he'd rather be doing something else (like during recess, art, gym, after school, during passing period, or during a working lunch)

Step 3: Practice, Practice, Practice
Practice repeatedly (5 to 8 times or more) until he has mastered the skill AND is bored.

Step 4: Be patient
Don't expect the child to have mastered the desired behavior or skill after one Practice Academy . The Academy  may need to be repeated several times. Note: Only have them practice when they show the problem behavior.

Here is how a Practice Academy might go:

Problem behavior: your student continually blurts out in class.

1. You respond: "Uh-oh! What your behavior is telling me is that you need a "keeping your thoughts to yourself" Practice Academy. Don't worry, I have time to let you practice it this afternoon during recess."

2. At recess, let him know that it's time for his Academy (the more favored the activity, the greater impact it will have)

3. With your student at his desk (and no one else in the room) you pretend you are teaching.

4. Every 20 seconds or so, he is to say out loud at first "Boy, I have something really funny to say. Hold it! This isn't a good time. I'll save it for recess."

5. As the practice continues, he says this comment quieter and quieter until he is whispering it to himself. Basically, he's teaching himself self-control.

6. After a few "self-comments" you can tell him he is doing a good job.

7. When the Academy is over, you can say "Nice job, and if there is a problem tomorrow your behavior will be telling me that you need another Practice Academy."

If the student starts whining about how boring and awful this is, agree with him and say something about how you wish he could already do the desired behavior so you didn't have to practice together!

What do you think? Would this work in your classroom (or in your home)?

fake it till you make it, right?

I had an all-day training at the school district this past Saturday. Before you go feeling all sorry for me, you should know that I opted to take this mandatory training on a weekend so that I could have the entire week of Thanksgiving off (that Monday and Tuesday are professional development days - which you have to go to unless you got in your hours during the summer or the weekends).

So future Sarah will be very pleased.

But Saturday Sarah was pretty ticked off. Especially when I got to the training (on behavior management) and realized that it was going to be a waste of time. The presenter was saying things that were painstakingly obvious and common sense as if they were GROUNDBREAKING NEWS!!!

At one point, I considered raising my hand and asking if I could be excused from this training on account of I Went to College.

But I didn't have the guts.

Finally.... fifteen minutes before the seven hours were up, I heard something useful. I'll save that for a later post because I suspect that this piece of behavior management could be useful to parents too.

I did want to share this video, however. I'm sure you're one of the four million plus people who have already seen this, but if you haven't, you're in for a treat!

I think every once in while, I should stand in front of the mirror and chant:

"I love my school!"
"I love my district!"
"I love my trainings!"
"I love my meetings!"
"I love my paperwork!"

Summer regrets

As I go about my business around the house, a number of ideas occur to me:
I really need to frame that watercolor art for the kitchen.
This hallway wall is bare. Wouldn't it be cool to make some kind of picture collage of Max and me through the years?
I want an inspiration board above the computer in the office.
I've got that world map, now I just need to mount it above my craft desk.
I want to do something with this big empty space in the bedroom.
And then I caught myself thinking: "It's like I need a big chunk of time with no responsibilities so I can work on these projects to my heart's content."

maybe some ice cream will bring it back

The first grade germs have just about done me in. Both my team teacher and I are fighting off major colds and losing our voices, and today neither of us could talk very well.

It's one thing to sound hoarse and try to teach (sounds like raspy squeaking). It's quite another to try to explain the science activity when the janitor has the wet vacuum on INSIDE the classroom to clean up a toilet overflow.

As it turns out, I'm a less effective teacher when I can't make myself heard. Kinda like how ballerinas need their toes, painters need their eyes, and mimes need their hands.

A teacher needs her voice!

make it a great one!

Dedicated to all of my teacher colleagues in Michigan (and anyone else out there who's going back today):

thank you, mrs. m

I liked my first grade teacher when I was going to school in California. I really did. 

But there were two or three first grade teachers at my school, and I remember being very jealous at the time of my friend in Mrs. M's class. Mrs. M's class was cool because the kids in there got to do awesome things like sprinkle on their self-control!

When they would sit at carpet time and everyone was a little wiggly, Mrs. M would tell the students to "sprinkle on your self-control", making this fluttering motion with her hand above her head.

I was suddenly reminded of this right in the middle of teaching a science lesson in the general ed. first grade class on Friday. We were studying the five senses, and in this activity, we were passing around mystery items in paper bags. The students were to reach into the bag, feel the object and guess what it was based on their sense of touch.

As I'm standing in front of all 23 of them, explaining the expectations for this activity, I had a sudden and disquieting vision of half the class peeking into the bag, and the other half yelling "THEY CHEATED!!!!"

So I channeled Mrs. M and told them all that it was going to be very tempting to take a peek in the bag but that we were going to sprinkle on our self-control [insert hand motion] to help us. 

It worked like a charm!

i hope i didn't just jinx it all

Things have been going well. Suspiciously well.

I'm the only one of the three deaf ed. teachers that has an AWESOME general ed team to work with. The first grade teacher that I work with is so nice and so easy to get along with. She's in her sixties and she's still a fantastic teacher! We plan for and teach Science together and so far it's been super fun.

The mandatory lesson plan format that we need to turn in to the principal every week has changed so that it's actually a working document I can teach from! No more double lesson planning!!

I get to work with an aide this year! Two adults in the room for six children during Language Arts.... it doesn't get much better than that!

I'm on top of my data collection (to chart progress) for the first time in.... oh, ever.

I like each of my kids and there are NO behavior problems that are beyond me!!

So far, it's shaping up to be a great year... go knock on some wood for me!

and then I choked down the giggles

Today I was working with a student from the general ed first grade class. It was just me and him. He's a struggling student and we were working on a phonemic awareness activity.

"Cat," I said. "What sound do you hear at the beginning of c-c-c-at?"

He thought for a while, then answered: "C !!"

"You're right: "c" is the first letter in the word "cat". Can you think of the sound that the letter "c" makes?"

He thought some more, then said...


Lunch crunch

This past week, all of the teachers had to eat with their classes in the cafeteria to ensure proper behavior. This was difficult for a number of reasons: 1) the unhealthy food the school was serving made me cringe (help us, Jaime Oliver!!), and 2) after spending all morning with the kiddos, I really just need to go sit in a dark and silent room for a while... maybe rock back and forth for comfort.

But there I was, digging into my kiwis and having meaningful conversations with the students.

And we have a very stereotypical lunch lady: she's mean. And not just mean with the kids, she's mean with the staff! We can't grab an extra "spork" without paying five cents. She even made a sign! If you go through the lunch line and you just want some macaroni, she'll charge you for the entire lunch. And no, this isn't district policy, this is HER policy.

But I digress.

Most of the kids at our school buy their lunch from the cafeteria, but a few bring lunch from home. I don't know if times have changed or if this is what is typical in our neighborhood (I suspect most of them are on free/reduced lunch). Do you pack a lunch for your child?

If you do, I came across something you might just love: Leo on the Loose has some fabulous lunch box notes you can print out, fill in, and tuck into your kiddo's bag for a nice little surprise. (Unless your kid is at that eye-rolling stage and all into looking cool in front of their friends. If that's the case, slip them a dollar bill in their lunch for the vending machine. It means the same thing as "I love you" only it won't produce any cringing!)

You can download them here.

at least i didn't tell her to shut up

So there's this girl. This is her second time around in the (general ed) first grade. She's receiving special education services through the resource room teacher, and to complicate things, she was in the bilingual program last year.

Basically this just means that she's really low and speaks hard-to-understand "Spanglish". Oh, and she's a total sweetheart.

Yesterday at lunch (we have to eat lunch with the students during the first week to make sure they know how to behave), she was watching me eat my kiwis.

"What's that?"

"These are kiwis."

[spaces out for a few seconds]: "That kiwis?"

"Yes, these are kiwis."

"You like?"

"Yes, I like them."


"Yep, these are my kiwis."

"You like?"

"Yes, I like them."

[eyes glaze over for a second or two]: "Is green?"

[Siiiiiiiiiiiiigh]: "Yes, they're green."

God bless her, she was starting to get on my nerves, but then I wondered if I had sounded just as lost when I was dumped into a French public school when I was seven. My teacher back then knew exactly two words in English: "Shut" and "up" (not kidding!). Somehow I became fluent.

I hope this sudden immersion in an English-only environment does wonders for her. For now, the bilingual teachers are right next door if I need help understanding her!

Scenes from firstgradeland

Going from teaching fifth to teaching first is quite a jump, as it turns out. This week I've been helping out with the "general ed" first grade. So far, we've gone over rules and procedures, and I've been doing some one-on-one reading tests.

Here are some scenes from the past few days:

Student: "I have a grown-up girlfriend, you know."
Me: "Oh, you do? What's her name?"
Student: [very matter-of-fact] "I forget."

Student [noticing my three napkins at lunch]: "You gotta lotta napkins, right? You're messy, right?"

Me: [as part of a reading test] "Do you like to listen to someone reading to you, or would you rather read to someone else?"
Student: "I read all by myself because my mom does a lot of stuff and she doesn't have to do any more stuff for me 'cuz I'm in first grade now."

at least I didn't get a spanking this time

One of my mom's favorite stories about me from when I was little was the time that I was "back-talking" in the car. She was so upset, she pulled over to give me a swat. When she finished, she asked me: "Do you know why you got a spanking?" "Yes," I said tearfully, "because I was talking backwards!"

It's one thing to talk back to your mother, but it's another thing to talk back to a security officer.

Like yesterday. I had to go downtown for a training. Unfortunately, each of our district's various buildings are all in really bad parts of town. You know, the part of town where it's not unusual to see shady looking characters drinking out of a paper bag, or the occasional drug deal go down.

Also? Parking is tricky.... especially when you have two GIANT crates of very heavy confidential folders you've been asked by your supervisor to drop by. So I decided to park in the closest lot, the one that I think is reserved for all the supervisors. I laboriously lugged up one crate of folders.

As I was carrying the second load, OBVIOUSLY struggling with each step and with each door, the security officer in the building stops me.

"Where did you park?" she demands. "Because if you parked in that lot over there, you're not supposed to."

And... I kinda snapped at her.

"LOOK! The only reason I parked over there was because I had to lug two huge crates up to the fifth floor. I'll move my car when I'm good and ready!"

In my defense, though, I was in the middle of trying to juggle fifty pounds of paper, navigate around the crazies outside, and open the door without using my hands. I was a little too busy to be polite, uniform or not.

the crazy continues

I was warned when I was in college that teachers have tantrums too.

"No.... not me! I'm so on top of everything, I would never let that happen!"


In the first two years of my teaching career, I had several little breakdowns (not in front of the kids, mind you...). Sometimes they involved yelling to myself in the car. One time I threw my keys against the inside of my classroom door and shrieked in frustration (true story!). One afternoon, I was crying little sobs underneath my teacher desk.

There are just things that happen to make your job harder that come out of left field! Like this week....

1. I already have a new student.
2. I have to hold a temporary IEP for this student BEFORE Monday!
3. We were supposed to have a teacher workday all day on Friday but OOPS one more three hour meeting just special for you deaf ed. teachers... forgot to tell you until just now!
4. New school policy: we can't touch the copy machine or the laminator. All requests must be filed two days in advance (DON'T EVEN GET ME STARTED!!)

    So last night, it was completely understandable that when I clicked to watch this strangely charming video, I laughed so hard I cried..... But then I COULDN'T STOP CRYING.

    Unless all of you had the same reaction I did, that was definitely my first mini-breakdown of the school year!

    Yes but remember you married a crazy woman

    In a way, it's nice that the school year starts with a week of inservice meetings. It kind of eases you back into the routine of work.

    But still...

    You know how when you're a little kid who doesn't want to go to bed, you make up all of these excuses to get out of bed? Like... I need a drink of water, I need to give mom one more hug, I need to use the bathroom, I need to check on my goldfish, I need, I need, I need.

    Well last night was kind of the same way for me. I was procrastinating on going to bed because I knew that as soon as I did, I'd have to wake up to an early alarm! I need to pack my lunch, I need to get my water bottle, I need to pack my teacher bag, I need to go cry a little, I need to put this stuff away....

    And then usually when I was young, I would be told at some point: "Alright, that's enough. Stay in bed this time." But last night, Max just watched me packing some things and asked (with his toothbrush in his mouth): "Couldn't you do some of this tomorrow morning?"

    goodbye and hello

    Did you know that I'm actually two people on the inside? Yes, two. There's Summer Sarah and School Sarah.

    Poster from Pigtails and Peonies

     Summer Sarah is relaxed. She keeps the house clean, she does laundry, she even cooks. She has all the time in the world to write her novel, to make her cards, to try stuff on the sewing machine, to read great novels. Fridays and Sundays mean nothing to her! She gets to spend every moment with her husband and they laugh a lot. Summer Sarah is very happy.
    Poster from Claire and Me Designs

    School Sarah is stressed out. She is always too busy, too tired, too overwhelmed. She thinks there's not enough time in the day to get everything done and this is exasperating to her. Working out becomes more of a chore. And household duties? Forget it! Fridays are her best friend and Sunday nights are her worst enemy. She doesn't get to see her husband as often, and this makes her sad. School Sarah misses Summer Sarah VERY much.

    Max reminded me yesterday that this school year is going to be better than last school year. I'll only have eight kids instead of fourteen. I'll get to work with an aide in my classroom. I won't have that one kid anymore.

    So maybe....

    just maybe....

    a little of Summer Sarah will get to stay!
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