A lesson in the importance of prior knowledge

Today, as I was helping out in the classroom my fourth graders mainstream into, I was again reminded of the gaps in my own education. Because I spent so many of my elementary school years in France, "commonly known" facts like Chicago is in Illinois and not northern California totally escaped me. And I found out this morning that George Washington had bad teeth, another little tidbit I was not aware of. In fact, he only had two teeth left when he became our first president! Old news to you, probably, but breaking news to me.
This reminds me of my junior year of high school. I was in California that year, after have spent the last four in both France and Germany. All of that summer before eleventh grade, I had nightmares that my American History teacher was going to give us a blank map of the U.S and ask us to label as much as we could. And I knew I'd flunk because I only knew where Calfifornia, Oregon, Washington, Texas, and Florida were. I mean, I had only just learned in tenth grade that Chicago is in Illinois and not northern California!!
So there I was in a new school, surrounded by thousands of seemingly unfriendly (and oh so American!) students. I'm sitting in Mrs. K's American History class on day one. And what does she do?? YOU SAW THIS COMING, PEOPLE! She hands us a blank map of the United States and tells us this is our first quiz: label as many states and capitols as you can. Well, it only took me about ten seconds to label the five states I knew. The rest of the time was spent staring at all that blank space in the middle and considering what to write: "States I've never heard of?", "The ones in the middle?", "States I'm not in right now?", "White space highlighting my ignorance?" The possibilities were endless. The most appealing possibility, of course, was to flee the scene... maybe hop back on that plane and fly to a place where I knew the names of all the countries surrounding me. Maybe there I wouldn't feel like such an ignoramus.
Thankfully, Mrs. K was a very understanding teacher and one of the best all around teachers I'd had, to boot. By the end of the school year, I could tell you where all the states were. And I could tell you some other history facts I had picked up along the way.
And now? Now, at 27 years old, I can tell you that George Washington had bad teeth.

And their nightmares are my fault

This week my fourth graders are reading a play from our curriculum. The play is about several fairytale characters that come together in a court of law to accuse the Big Bad Wolf.

Yesterday, when I introduced the story, I had to make sure and backtrack to see if everyone knew who The Little Red Riding Hood was and who Little Bo Peep was. As it turns out, only half of my class (that would be two students) knew the Little Red Riding Hood story and no one knew who in the world was Little Bo Peep.

So before we could get to reading the play, I had to tell the story of the Little Red Riding Hood. I sat on my teacher's stool, leaned forward, and must have entranced them with my amazing story telling abilities because after I finished, they clapped! Ha ha!

Next I had to explain who Little Bo Peep was. I pulled up the nursery rhyme on the internet (what did teachers do before the internet!??!) and started telling them all about it.

Except I had forgotten about what happens in this cautionary tale. In fact, I'm not sure I ever knew the actual story in all of its gruesomeness. And before I can even think to censor myself, I'm telling my innocent ten year-olds about how, although Little Bo Peep lost her sheep, she did find their severed tails hanging from a tree. True story.

As you may have guessed, this story didn't get applause.

Teachers are managers

**This post is inspired by a compilation of teachers

Signs you may need to a) revamp your classroom management system, or b) get a classroom management system:
  1. You blame the kids for their behavior.
  2. You blame the administration for your kids' behavior.
  3. The only management tool you use is threats.
  4. Your decisions are both arbitrary and inconsistent.
  5. You scream at the kids until your face and neck turn red. (True story!)
  6. You lose your voice often.
  7. You don't think you're yelling, but the kids are covering their ears.
  8. You tell your colleagues you're going to go work at IHOP.
  9. You accuse your students of being "ghetto" -- to their faces.
  10. You can't teach your lesson plans because you're too busy doing damage control.
If this sounds like you or someone you know, get help. You can start here.

After all, friends don't let friends teach mad.

In summary

A lot is going on here at school. I'm dealing with bullies, parents screaming at each other, IEPs up the wazoo, the state's standardized writing test looming, and paperwork/materials/student work piled so high on my desk that I can barely see past it.
It's like I've always said: Teaching is constantly trying to stay one step ahead of the game while always falling two steps behind.
But there are some happy things to look forward to:
  1. Spring Break is in three weeks. HALLELUJIAH!
  2. Going to see "New Moon" at the dollar theater tonight with a girlfriend who's just as into The Twilight Series as I am. I've been waiting forever to see this movie, and now my life will finally be complete...
  3. One of my best friends is visiting in a week and bringing her six week old daughter with her. Yay!
So I'm going to think happy thoughts in an effort to prevent the stress and drama at work from swallowing me whole... Have a happy weekend, everyone!

A bit o' Barney

Instead of posting about some bully drama at school, I thought I'd share some pictures I took this afternoon. Looking at these makes me happy!

Now if I could just bottle up some of that energy and use it at school.....

Can you tell it's dinnertime right now?

I was talking about lunch yesterday with Max and he was saying something about not wanting to have a sandwich because that's what he has for lunch every day at school.

I have a homemade burrito every day at school (basic recipe here). I make them every three weeks in big batches and then freeze them. If I could, I would eat them on the weekends too, because I love them THAT MUCH. And I've been eating these for lunch for.... two years now. I had a teacher recently tell me that when she sees me, she thinks of burritos (and it makes sense since I only see her in the lounge at lunch).... which isn't a bad thing to be associated with I guess.

Anyways, it got me thinking... if you could only eat one food (or dish) for the rest of your life, what would it be?

When I lived in France, the answer would have been Oreos. Wait, maybe donuts. When I was in college, I would have said French cheese and French bread. But now? I think the answer would be cake balls!

The best Valentine's yet!

For me, Valentine's Day is never some huge romantic thing. It's mostly an excuse to get ice cream. And we did! We went to an awesome frozen yogurt place downtown...

But Max got inspired this year. First, he spent lots of time he didn't have putting up our new curtains for me. I knew he didn't want to, but he did it anyway (if that's not love, then what is?). The curtains turned out wonderfully and this picture doesn't do them justice:

Then, he made me a special treat! He made a chocolate cake (from scratch, in secret, while I was showering!), then used a cookie cutter to make them into little hearts. Then cut them in half, lengthwise and filled them with homemade butter cream frosting. See?

We've decided to call his creations "heart throbs". Here's a closeup. They were delicious!

I am a spoiled woman, I tell you. Spoiled!

A Valentine's Day Miracle!

My district is notorious for never closing due to inclement weather. I've been hearing tales of when we were the only district open in a 100 mile radius.

That's why I wasn't surprised when school was open today despite the very unusual two inches of snow on the ground this morning.

But it has continued to snow all day! The roads are covered with snow and slush... and the snow gods have smiled upon us and sent us below freezing temps overnight. So it was with tremendous joy and shock that I saw my district has already canceled school for tomorrow.

Woo hoo!

Time will tell

We woke up this morning, like many other people around the country today, to snow outside!

Except, instead of two or three feet, it was more like one to three inches. But down here, that is a Big Deal. Sadly, it's not enough of a big deal to cancel school today, but my husband's college campus is closed so at least he's happy!

When we opened the backdoor to let Barney out to pee, he started to run out into the snow, but then he stopped and was like: "Oh noesies! My toesies!" and promptly came back into the house.
I took him on a walk anyway, though, and by that time, he had remembered all the wonderful snow he used to play in at Christmastime in Michigan. Then it was all leaping and bouncing and shoving it in his mouth.... I wonder if my students will feel the same way about it once I get to school this morning?

On the lighter side of things

Our speech/language pathologist told me about an incident that happened to her just last week.

She was helping out in the cafeteria, and "Ashley", one our deaf ed second graders, asked her if she was wearing a wig. "No, this is my real hair!", she insisted. So, being naturally inquisitive, Ashley asked: "So... why you have yellow hair but brown on top?"

Hehe. "Because I color it!"

" .... With markers or crayons?"

A case of mistaken identity

My colleague teaches deaf education for the second and third graders in the classroom next to mine. She asked one of her darlings ("Charity") what she did over the weekend.
"I go to church!" she said.
"And what did you learn at church?" the teacher prompted.
"I learned about Jesus!" Charity replied.
"And where does Jesus live?"
"Right here in town!" Charity said proudly.
"Oh really? And what does Jesus drive?"
"A jeep. A BLUE jeep!!"

And as it turns out, Charity's pastor is Jesus.

Going down in flames

Yesterday, we had a practice fire drill. Two things bothered me about this:

1. It was 29 degrees outside. Why couldn't they have waited for a warmer day?!!?
2. The fire drill doesn't go off in the portables.

Yes, you heard that right. The portables that I teach in -- the portables with three classrooms full of DEAF KIDS -- aren't connected to the fire drill. Each room even has a bright red bulb above the doorway, and the blinking red light didn't even go off during the fire drill!

So the only chance we have to save ourselves from a fire is if we glance out the tiny window and happen to notice a mass exodus of kids and teachers onto the field.

Umm... hello, Liability. We haven't met before, but we may soon become very well acquainted.

I expressed my concern with the powers that be and I was informed that this was a problem for all the portables in our district and that our deaf-ed portables are somewhere on the list to be fixed.

Oh good. Let's just hope there's not a real fire before now and the time they get to "somewhere on the list".
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