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updates for 09.19.2011

10 new posts today

Help Us Explore Latino Culture Through Great Literature!

I just created my first DonorsChoose.org project.  I need some books for my kiddos so they can continue to grow their love for reading as they learn about Latino culture.  The achievement gap is as much an exposure gap as it is a literacy gap, so I want to tackle both with some amazing literature!  You can read more on my project page here. Any little bit helps!  Gracias in advance for your support! :)


Friday night vs. Sunday night

There's a HUGE difference in how I feel about teaching on Friday night vs. Sunday night. Friday night, I think about: -the good and bad that happened that week. -how much I love my kids and my school. -how much I enjoy working with the other teachers. -all of the relaxing and working I'm going to do over the weekend -how fast the week went by -how much better things are getting Sunday night I think about: -only the bad that happened last week -the few students that I'm having a hard time loving -the few teachers I don't enjoy working with -how slow the upcoming week will go by -how much the same things are staying Sunday afternoons/evenings have always been my least favorite part of the week, and now that I'm teaching my dislike of Monday Eve has only heightened.  On the weekends I come up for air and take an objective look at my life, and that's never good.  I lose sight of why I'm here, because I literally don't see my kids for 2 days. During the week, I'm too busy living my life to think about it too much, and that's better for me. I'm really doing fine, and enjoying teaching, and enjoying my school.  It's infuriating at times and SO rewarding, and I wish I was better at it.  But pyschologically/emotionally I'm doing fine. Apparently your first year of teaching is all about survival, so I'm focusing on taking care of myself and creating a routing rather than staying up till midnight making fancy powerpoints.  You can't just stay up late one night and magically be better at teaching the next day -- I think it's just going through the days that make you better.  I kind of feel bad for my students for having a clumsy first-year teacher, but I think I'm making up for it by making myself available outside of school for tutoring, etc. I miss my family.  I love Arkansas, but I miss California. ‎"We are, in short, to love and serve without judgment, without condition, and without any consideration of what's in it for us." -Greg Boyd


Entirely new students?

I found out at the end of the day on Friday that I will be moving to a new classroom down the hall and I will be teaching an entirely different set of students than the students I have been teaching for the last 6 weeks. My school overestimated enrollment for this year, so we had too many teachers, so a few are leaving, but that requires reshuffling  lots of people to re-balance the classes and make sure there are the right number of teachers for each grade and subject. Actually, I think this is a very good thing for me. I've been thinking of all of the things I should have done differently at the beginning of the year (particularly with regard to classroom management), so this will be a good opportunity to start over and this time try not to dig myself into any holes! I have no idea how the school will be informing the students or parents that many of their kids will suddenly have a new teacher and I have no idea when the switch will happen (or how much notice I'll get when the switch is imminent). I'm guessing sometime in the next week or two, but I have no idea, and my assistant principal doesn't know yet, either.


Fire me

Don't have the guts to quit, so a small part of me is hoping I get fired. That is all


"surplus" means extra.

And in teaching it means you have to leave. When TFA sent us an e-mail about surplussing, I didn't bat an eye. I have 20 kids in my class, so I knew I was more than safe. I forgot about a convenient little law known as "last in, first out." My principal sat me down a few days ago and told me, "Ms. M, I have some bad news." I had to leave my kids. Another class is being split up and their teacher is getting sent down to kindergarten 6 weeks into the school year. Our school's overall enrollment was lower than projected, so the district told them that I, as the newest teacher, had to go. Even as I write this, I am so torn emotionally. I am livid that someone is doing this to my kids. How is this what is best for students, to give them a new teacher, a new classroom, and new way of doing things, almost two months into the school year? And I am heartbroken to leave them. These are my babies. I have seen some of them make so much progress already and I am terrified that this move is going to send them back. My principal was amazing and went into overdrive the find me another kindergarten position. 24 hours after losing my job, I walked into another school and was hired on the spot. I hate to leave an administration that has my back like that. I don't when I'm moving schools. My paperwork has to go through HR. I haven't told my kids and their parents yet. I can't imagine it. I know I am so blessed to have landed on my feet and gotten another job in the same grade so quickly. And it means to the world to me that my principal thinks highly enough of me to fight for me to have another job. But this is not what is best for students.


No Such Thing As a Free Lunch?

“Mr. Britt, why am I the only one who has to pay to eat lunch? I don’t have a dollar today, so I guess I'll go hungry...” A common proxy of poverty in our nation’s public schools is the percentage of students receiving “free or reduced lunch” through the federal government.  Since moving to the Mississippi Delta, I always take note of the cited poverty levels of schools featured in New York Times articles: 35%, 50%, 65%; rarely do these measures ever approach the 90%+ found in schools across the Delta. This past week, a student asked me why she was the only person who had to pay for lunch (teachers pay $3/day). She didn’t think it was fair that she had to pay due to her father having a regular job; honestly, I think I agree with her. In schools with nearly 100% of its students (typically high-minority) participating in the free lunch program, it would make sense to simply have all students receive free lunch rather than having a handful who pay. Under the current system, a weird paradox is created where kids may feel penalized for having a parent with a steady source of income. This seems counter-intuitive and I’m not sure we want to send this message to kids because they are too young to understand fully the social dynamics of the free lunch program. I mean, I have a college degree in Sociology and still can’t completely comprehend the socio-economic forces of our society. Looking at our current political situation, neither do our policymakers, but I digress.... In a more positive side note, I'm about to stop eating our school's lunches. I started eating them last year after losing 15 pounds in the first three months of teaching, but let's just say they've outlived their purpose of regaining the bulk, and then some. Our cafeteria workers are wonderful, but I don't play enough basketball for all that food!


Week 2 approaches

Tonight and through the next week I will be writing daily about the week in videos, content, developments in curriculum, assessment tools, data collection, connection, soccer games, bowling and how I am trying to grab 20+ hours of work in less time than that.


General Cover Comments

In my current position as a teacher I strive to motivate and promote the creativity of my students and colleagues with my level of commitment and positive attitude. I have always believed in collaboration; and, I work hard to combine many different ideas into one feasible model with achievement and consistency always acting as the backbone of any action plan. If an issue demands attention I always try to rally as many teachers as I can to begin the collaborative process in an effort to address the issue. This has been my reputation since I began my teaching career. I have used this process to address a variety of issues that range from developing a new, standards-based curriculum, to revising the traffic flow model at my school to ensure that students are getting into the classroom on time. As a member of the school faculty I can also incorporate my technology background and experience using a fully-integrated and dynamic online curriculum to accomplish the educational goals of the school. I believe the appropriate use of technology strategies and programs, including video feedback for comprehensive lesson review, implementation of plans for students, and most importantly, for remediation, is another way in which I would begin to support student achievement. I find these comments just as debatable each day. Do I strive for perfection: YES! Do I reach it, not everyday. And I wonder, How often does our work and need for changing the culture of everyone around us fall shorter than we measure? My practice will promote continuous improvement from today onward, but only at the cost of consistent development of the right tools.


Physics Teachers: Download this App Now

Offer for Portals, a PC/Mac game that lets students explore the wonderful world of physics through real-world animation, is free until September 20th. Download it here, now: http://www.learnwithportals.com/.


Starting SecondStep: Our Social/Emotional Bulletin Board

When I first started teaching two years ago, we were lucky enough to be given the SecondStep curriculum.  SecondStep is a violence prevention, social and emotional development tool for children in preschool through (I think) high school.  The one that we use is for Preschool and Kindergarten. To prepare for the SecondStep lessons I created this bulletin board: There's a few things going on in this board.  The top third is related to SecondStep materials I have been given in the curriculum box.  The second third (middle) are our rules.  The bottom third are our helpers. At the top you can see a poster for our Calm Down strategies.  This poster is one of the materials I received from SecondStep.  The steps are: Put your hand on your belly; say, "Calm down,"; take a deep breath; and count out loud.  This is one of my favorite lessons from SecondStep, and actually doesn't occur until the second Unit.  The pictures help students remember these steps, and the steps especially help students who are inclined towards temper tantrums or emotional outbursts. A quick digression for a wonderful anecdote that exemplifies the effectiveness of SecondStep: Last year I had a student (let's call her K) and I was very close with her mother (let's call her B).  One day when B came to pick up K from school she had a funny story to tell me.  The night before, B and K had gone out for dinner at Red Lobster.  The waiter was extremely rude to B, and B became very upset and left the restaurant abruptly.  In typical fashion for an adult, she stewed all the way home in the car.  From the backseat K told her, "Mom, I think you just need to calm down.  Just put your hands on your belly, take a breath and say, 'CALM DOWN'!!!"  So, what is also nice about teaching the SecondStep curriculum, is that it helps us as adults too! Continuing on, next to that poster you see pictures of faces with different emotions written underneath.  These cards are also from SecondStep.  They are a part of Unit 1, which is focused on empathy training.  The first step to developing empathy is to recognize emotions in others.  These cards allow the students to see a variety of emotions on the faces of others, and then practice making those faces themselves.  These cards really help them to expand their knowledge of emotions and the vocabulary they use to explain emotions; for example, instead of only knowing "happy" or "sad" students practice identifying anger, disgust, fear, etc.  Additionally, these cards help students distinguish between the various facial and bodily expressions that differentiate our emotions from each other.  As we have been learning about each of the different emotions, we have been practicing making faces at each other so that the students learn how each emotion literally feels differently on their faces. My plan for this top third of the board is to take pictures of the students displaying these emotions (whether forced or real) and post them underneath the cards.  Also, as we learn and incorporate the calm down steps into our daily routines, I will take pictures of them in the various stages of "calming down." The middle portion of the board has our classroom rules written out, which I also took from the SecondStep curriculum.  These are the rules they suggest you teach to your students for when the group will do SecondStep lessons, and they really are ideal for any whole group or circle time.  This is a repeat board from last year, and I am continuing the board because it was so effective.  The rules are very simple: Eyes watching; ears listening; mouth quiet; body still; raise your hand if you have something to say.  I tried rules like, "We all take turns," and "Always do your best," but I found that these five rules are so concrete and simple that they really stick with the students.  Additionally, if we are following these rules other situations (like sharing, working hard, etc.) become easier for students to handle.  I will also be putting pictures of the students under these rules, as there are simple bodily movements associated with each rule; e.g., when they say, "Eyes watching," we put our fingers next to our eyes. Finally, the bottom third is our helpers, which is essential for any preschool classroom.  Our jobs are: Line leader, door holder, back captain (stands at the back of the line and make sure everyone gets outside), water (pours the cups of water after outside time, as we do not have a water fountain), clean-up captain (helps clean up after lunch), lunch, cots, toothbrushes, and snack.  These jobs provide students with a sense of ownership over the classroom and provide incentives for students to behave. Well, I will continue to update you on our SecondStep lessons as we continue through the school year.  I also have a fun science board and experiment to share with you.  But for now, I am going to sign off.


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