like driving blindfolded

I'd been hearing rumors about it for months.

My supervisor would say strange things like "Quick! Order whatever you want for your classroom NOW! There's not going to be any money for anything next year..."

The news was reporting that many Texas districts would have to drastically cut programs.

Then we got a cryptic email from our superintendent with the number of dollars we were going to have to cut for next year. It was in the billions. That's with a "b" folks!

Our superintendent told us:

"If we cut all school buses, if we stopped feeding the children, if we stopped using any electricity, or providing any school supplies, it STILL wouldn't be enough savings to make up the deficit."

All this to let us know that, um, nothing and no one is safe! We'll know more by July, and I'm not too nervous because I'm feeling all safe with my special education degree (for now!).

But the reality is going to be hard to swallow next year. Teachers will be let go. There will be bigger class sizes, fewer aides, and close to zero supplies. And the kicker? We'll be expected to teach just as effectively!

who are you and what have you done with our principal?

Last Monday, the principal announced that instead of the professional development we were all supposed to have on Friday afternoon, we were going to do a "team building activity."

Cue the fear.

I had visions of rock wall climbing, relay races, role playing, and *gasp!* backwards trust falls.

She wouldn't give any more hints as to what we would be doing, except that we needed to make sure to wear comfortable jeans and sneakers.

When Friday finally rolled around, and all the kids were dismissed at noon for the teachers' "meeting", we all gathered together in the library.

In a very uncharacteristic move, our principal explained that the district had set aside this afternoon to look at assessment data. "But because we look at our students' data every other week for our intervention planning, I thought it would be better if instead we all went....


Cue the cheers and applause. And relief!!

Our event was paid for by a private donation, and we were all able to enjoy two hours of free bowling. Everyone had a great time, even though I'm pretty sure no one broke 100. (I don't think bowling is a Texas thing...)

Either way, it was just what our collective spirits needed during these tough winter days! Yay for GREAT administrative decisions!!

At least he didn't chuck a tomato

Since I teach in a regional program serving a low-incidence population (kids with hearing loss), I've become used to having visitors drop by. Other professionals may be curious, or representatives from other school districts want to evaluate our program for whatever reason.

Yesterday my supervisor dropped by with two strangers in tow. I knew they were coming, and when they walked in the door, I was in the middle of a language lesson about superlatives. (And in case you've forgotten all that you've learned about English grammar, here's an example of a superlative: smart, smarter, smartest.)

I was feeling all superior with my snazzy pictures (three different sizes of apples for "smaller than" and "smallest") and my sentence strips. But the lesson just wasn't clicking with four out of my five students. I was arranging the pictures on the pocket chart and labeling them with "smaller than" and "smallest".

I would prompt every once in a while with "Is this the right order?!"

And then...

while three adults were watching me...

one of my little first graders yelled "BOOOOO" right at me. Thumbs down and all!

I laughed nervously (my lesson was already going south), and directed a comment towards my grown-up audience: "Well, this is the first time I've ever been booed during an observation before!! Haha...ha."

I realized a little later that this student had actually booed in response to my question about the order of the apple pictures.

Why he didn't just say "No" is a mystery I'm still trying to solve.

Top 5 ways to ruin a first grader's day

Because of the holiday on Monday and our professional development day on Tuesday, we only have a three day week with the kiddos! It's the perfect excuse to kick the curriculum to the sidelines and do some fun and different things.

Today I read Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (a personal favorite). It's great for teaching inferencing and drawing conclusions.

Later, we discussed some things that make us have a bad day. Here's what my first graders came up with:

1. when there's a bug in the house
2. when mom says no running in the store
3. when I have to play with my sister
4. when I can't sleep in the classroom
5. when I have to eat salad

Maybe, maybe not

There's nothing wrong with this short video in theory. It reminds kids that if you want something, you have work hard to attain it. That skills don't just fall into your lap, you actually have to practice. This is a good message.

But I saw it at our professional development day today, and it rubbed me the wrong way. I would just hate for some poor kid to dedicate his whole life to becoming an NBA star - putting in all that hard work, all that practice, all the sweat and tears. And maybe he makes to the NBA, but maybe not. Maybe he just ends up in division one basketball and that's it. Or maybe he makes the varsity high school team. But he doesn't accept that and his life becomes one big frustration... maybe even failure.

I'm not saying kids shouldn't strive to be all that they can be. But I am saying I'm getting a little sick of every Disney movie promising every kid that they can be whatever they want to be, all they have to do is BELIEVE!

I'm never going to be a famous singer. I can carry a tune, that's about it. If I was dedicated and practiced and took voice lessons, I could maybe join a choir somewhere and sound decent. But I won't be signing multi-million dollar record labels. There's something to be said about having a natural gift for something.

I think each one of our students has a lot of potential and many hidden talents and gifts. And they should be given every chance to grow their talents and gifts and become all that they can be.

But not everyone will be the next Michael Jordan. Not everyone CAN be.

running with the big dogs

Our nice friends who took our dog Barney for two weeks over Christmas asked us if we would return the favor this weekend.

Sure! What's a couple of days with an extra couple of pets around? Never mind that they're huge...

So for four days we have three cats and three dogs. Here are my observations so far:

* Big dogs eat A LOT. They might even eat more than we do.

* When a big dog jumps up to greet you, he's looking right into your face!

* A big dog fart reeks just as much as a small dog fart.

* A big dog still wants to sit on your lap. He doesn't think he's that big.

* When you're on the couch and you lean over top of a big dog, he doesn't whimper like a small dog. In fact, he barely even notices. Want to use the big dog as an extra couch pillow? No problem!

* When Max and I plus the three dogs are sitting in front of the TV, our couch seems suspiciously small.

* The kitchen floor is practically flooded from all of the vigorous water lapping.

* When a big dog accidentally pees in the house, you don't need paper towels to clean it up. You need TOWELS!

* Two of our three cats are ready to murder everybody.

The owners will be coming by tonight to pick up their two dogs. Barney will probably be catching up on his sleep tomorrow and the cats will most likely be catching their breath!

are you smarter than a first grader?

As soon as I saw the very first question of our district's reading benchmark test, I was ready to grab my purse, drive over to the central office, find the assessment center, and THROTTLE some people.

Now it's no secret how I feel about testing. There's lots not to like.

But the first question of this reading test (meant for FIRST graders) even stumped my husband - who's working on his Ph.D!

Here's the question (asked orally - the kids only have the answer choices in front of them):

Which word begins with the same sound as "safe"?

A.  swing
B.  map
C.  set
D.  slip

Are you scratching your head in confusion yet?

The correct answer is "C" because the other answers are S-blends. But it took me more than 60 full seconds to realize that. So I'm pretty sure my first graders didn't start their test with any sort of self-confidence!

In related news, it turns out that the people at the assessment center are idiots.

think with your head, not with your wallet

Dear School District,

I'm disappointed in you.

When you decided NOT to cancel or delay school today (unlike the 30 districts around us), you must have forgotten that not all the staff members live in town. Some of us have to drive quite a ways across those icy roads and through that freezing rain to come to school.

But apparently you were motivated by money, and not safety.

And while I inched my way to school, driving white-knuckled through traffic jams, I wondered how many of my students who are bussed in from 30 to 40 minutes away were going to be waiting for me.

The answer? Not enough kids to warrant following my lesson plans. Forty percent of them stayed home! I'll be honest, it was tough to have a good attitude after that.

I was even more resentful of your greedy decision-making policies when one of my colleagues got into a car accident and won't be able to come back for a few weeks.

So, School District, the next time that you think it's "safe enough" for the kids to come to school, don't forget about the staff!

A Special Ed. Teacher

i knew all this trouble was worth it

We are still studying rocks in first grade science. Truthfully, we didn't get much science in during that last week before Christmas break (our thoughts were preoccupied with Santa after all) so now we are playing catch up. You might remember that the rocks unit is not my favorite unit to teach.

So it was with a bit of a sigh that I walked into the classroom with a small bucket of sand, 22 vials, and a pitcher of water. We were going to mix sand and water in a vial and observe what happened. Now don't get me wrong: I love to do hands-on activities. But SAND? I had visions of our classroom looking like a beach. And not in the relaxing way.

I started off the lesson by pleading telling them to be careful not to spill their sand and to remember to snap the cap on tightly. I explained the recording sheet and how they were going to record their observations. The kids nodded solemnly and promised to be responsible. Judging by the amount of wiggling and the high pitched murmurs throughout the room, most of them could barely contain their excitement as we went about filling our vials with sand and water.

In fairness to them, we only had one spill and it was mainly contained to a desk. And I totally felt like an awesome teacher when one of my little girls looked up at me with her chubby cheeks and lost-tooth smile and declared:

"Science ROCKS!!!"

Up next? a geography lesson!

We're reading a story this week about Tomas Rivera (a famous author). I sat my first graders down in a circle in front of me and we all opened our books.

The first line read: "Tomas Rivera was born in Texas."

I paused dramatically, wanting them to make a personal connection like 'hey, that's where we live!' So I said:

"Tomas Rivera was born in TEXAS?! Where do WE live?"

The responses were just as enthusiastic as my question and were shouted triumphantly and simultaneously by three of my students:

"At HOME!"



where's the remote control?

I'd love to have a remote control for life.

We're back to school today and it's a whopping ten weeks until our next break. Honestly, if I had a remote control, I'd fast forward to June!

In the meantime, I'm going to remember that this school year has been the EASIEST of my career. I only have eight kids. I practically just teach one grade level. I work with a fantastic team of teachers. None of my kids have major behavior issues and none of their parents are difficult (can I hear an AMEN?!). I've been off my principal's radar and have had no major issues with administration.

It's been an easy, breezy, beautiful year! I should probably just focus on that instead of the TEN. MORE. WEEKS.

happy new year!

Instead of sleeping in after a wild night of partying (as I imagine all of you cooler-than-me people did), we're taking a flight back to Texas today. That's kinda sad, mainly because: Texas = Not France.

Here are a just a few pictures of our lovely time here - from my dad's camera, because we were too lazy to upload ours just yet.

Local restaurant in Strasbourg

Shopping at the Christmas market

Eating at our favorite Greek restaurant in Germany

Visiting Belfort. It was cold!

My sister and brother-in-law solving some kind of marital dispute ;)

I hope your holidays were as joyous as ours were! Happy 2011!!
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