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!
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