Thursday, September 27, 2007

Another good day

Although I stayed up way too late to watch tv show last night, I got through today very well. (I told you the long days are better!:D)

In reading we analyzed character. To illustrate, I read aloud yet another favorite book that also happens to be a princess book, The Paperbag Princess. I guided them in looking at the things the characters said and did and labeling the appropriate character traits. It's always difficult, because their vocabularies are so limited. Words like nice and mean or shy pop up like, all the time. And when it was their turn, I either didn't see work or it wasn't an internal trait, more like a mood, such as curious about a test. Ack. So we'll do more tomorrow.

In writing, we continued the letter. They did well. Everyone was on task quietly. I circulated, giving feedback. Oh, I don't really do the kind of conferencing others talk about, no pulling one student up to my desk while the class works. No way, jose! I just circulate and go over any glaring issues or helpful comments I see.

One of my classes listened to Simon & Garfunkel, because I was playing it, not because they wanted to. I think I heard someone singing along, too, which was odd. But they didn't complain. :) I think the other class heard some Brandi Carlile and some classical. Good job for expanding those musical horizons, me!

Oh! For the warm up, I made them discover pronouns by telling them to fix sentences wherein names were repeated superfluously. Such as, Sally went to Sally's room and fed Sally's fish. They all knew what to do to make it sound 'normal,' but most of them didn't know what it was called. So yay on that. And it was quick too. Tomorrow we'll watch the Grammar Rock song and do some quick exercises in the Dreaded Grammar Book.

Homework today was dismal. The assignments have been about the vocabulary and the numbers and direction following is way down. A couple kids tried to turn in something that was less than half done and I gave it right back to them. No more messing around with this halfway nonsense. Do it all and do it right.

Tonight's assignment, I hope, might be better. They have to draw a picture or cartoon to represent each word. Over the weekend they will write each word several times and write a sentence using each one. Monday there will be a quiz! Dun dun dun.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

oh, those kids.

Me: standing with arms behind my back, waiting sternly for class to line up quietly.

Small K at the front of the line: Miss, you should be a lawyer.

Me, raising an eyebrow: Why, because I've got the suit?

K: No, cause you act like a lawyer.

Me: And how's that?

K: You', serious.

Me, trying not to laugh: ...

J, on the other line: But you're kinda funny too.

That same class later got into a debate about my age, when I was talking about Krakatoa. I said that most of the planet heard or felt the explosion, and one kid pipes up, "Did you hear it?"

I rounded on him and said, "It happened in the 1870s! [Oops, I was off by a decade. My bad. Also, read The Twenty-One Balloons if you haven't. Such a great book!]"

Him: ....

Me: You think I was around in the 1800s?!!

Him: No! You're like, 35.

And then, while I was still standing there at the front of the room looking at them trying not to roll my eyes and giggle while still straining to hear all the voices and opinions--they were totally debating with each other--like, no way! she's not in her thirties! I swear I heard the number 47 at one point. I think small K was saying I have to be in my mid twenties.

Oh man. I kind of like that stuff, even though I'm all stern and have to shush them from that off-topic talk.

An Excellent Lesson

Gah, I've been meaning to post, I promise. But all the new shiny tv shows and the sleepy, well, they kept me distracted.

Today was kind of slow. I've been staying after school for a few minutes to get things ready for the next day--finishing homework grading, writing the new assignment and objectives, little stuff like that. It's really helping me feel productive and mature; you know, I'm actually planning ahead or something. So anyway, today I had a prep, taught two periods, prep, another two teaching, another prep, and one last teaching period. It was too slow and kind of boring with all those breaks; I do better when everything's all in a row. I get all hyped up and then sit down with a tired sigh of satisfied relief at the end of the day. I'll get that tomorrow, my six period day.

Okay, so anyway, the teaching! Get this.

Last night's homework had the kids summarize their three favorite books. My purpose was to get them practicing summarizing and also assess that skill. [Many of them ignored the directions--shocker--and wrote about why they liked the book.]

Today's warm up asked them to choose one favorite and explain why. [Many of them, you guessed it, summarized the book. Sigh.]

In reading workshop, I read them Princess Smartypants, which is one of my favorites. Then I showed them Somebody Wanted But So, which is from some education book. I could look it up, but, come on. Way too lazy for that. I prompted them to fill it in; I wrote it on the board. They totally got it and did well. From there they read independently and then summarized their own books so far. And they did it! They did it well, too! I was happy and impressed!

Then in writing workshop, we reviewed friendly letter format and they wrote a letter recommending a book to a friend. I gave them paragraph specifications (first P an intro of the book, second P a summary, third P their opinions, fourth P conclusion/questions) and they got to work quickly and quietly. Again, they did really well! Tomorrow they'll finish first drafts and write second drafts and then we'll move on.

But, see?! See how everything all fit together and prefaced or reinforced everything else? Isn't that AWESOME?! That so rarely happens, even though coaches and admin will tell you it should happen every day. NOT SO. Because hello, you have genre writing you are required to do, not to mention working on grammar and vocabulary and other things. Argh. Anyway.

So this planning and making more of an effort is making me feel good.

What is not making me feel good is seeing a girl who yesterday transferred to a different class. I asked how things were going. She said, "It's hard! Not easy like your class; we're doing big essays and stuff!"

?!?! Easy?! My class?!

I tried to remember that I'm taking my time with set up (today was only my SECOND actual reading workshop with reading aloud and an actual reading lesson), and I've been doing smaller writing lessons and activities to prepare and set up for later, bigger writing projects. Also, I've had such bad experience with lack of homework and bad classwork that I don't want to jump into big things that kids can slack on.

I have to say, homework turning-in is still probably the highest it's been in all four of my years. And everyone in class works quietly (well, okay obviously not every single kid, but the goof offs are much fewer in number and not nasty or loud and disruptive--SO FAR--like they've been in the past) and I am already seeing lots of improvement in their work.

So I'm trying to tell myself that I'm scaffolding and supporting and that with a slower start like this, the more difficult parts of class will go better.

Although our first grammar quiz was today, and I don't think they did well at all, even though it's exactly the same thing we've done for three days in class. Next week there will be a vocabulary quiz. I don't think anyone's going to say things are easy after this! They're going to see some bad grades and be like, oh, whoops! I have to actually PAY ATTENTION!

Also, next week we'll begin working on four squares and essays. One of the first things I want to do is assign a research paper on countries not known to them. A neighboring teacher found a full set of 1960s encyclopedias in her room and gave them to me. I want to use them and get the kids working on note taking, NOT plagiarizing, and expository writing. God knows they need that. Talk about a skill that they need!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sunday Sunday

Even though I went to bed around midnight last night, I was awake before 8 this morning. Feeling rested and relaxed, no less! It's like a miracle, getting a full night's sleep.

It's not yet 3pm and while I haven't done anything school related, nor am I likely to, I have worked out, finished a good book, watched a Netflix movie and done the dishes.

Yesterday was gloomy and so humid, but today is sunny and I hope just warm. So I think I shall take a walk to the library and then read some more outside. Ooh, yes, that will be nice.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


Dear Colleagues Who Make Copies,

If the machine jams while making your copies, FIX THE JAM. Do not skulk out of the room leaving the mess for another person to sort out. If you're not sure what to do, ask for help! FIX THE JAM.

Thank you!


Dear All the Ladies Who Use the Main Bathroom,

Please put the paper towels IN the trashcan. If they don't quite make it and fall on the floor, pick them up and put them IN the trashcan. You will not die of diptheria or any other germy disease! Instead, you will help keep the bathroom a neat and tidy place!

Thank you!


Dear Students In Other Classes Who Use My Room,

Quit leaving your books in my desks. You actually want them, I don't want to store them like a lost and found. See how that works? Win-win situation. Keep your stuff with you!

Thank you!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Fun Week

Hm, Monday was a long time ago. I think we reviewed essay structure or something.

On Tuesday, it was Grammar Rock time! We began with nouns. The students loved it (very attentive, some definite bopping) and when it was time for the follow up activities, they got to work faster than I've ever seen. It was awesome and fun and I was happy.

Yesterday, we continued our revision work. On Monday, I wrote a lame, short paragraph and they told me what details I should add. So yesterday, I made notes on those details on the original paragraph and then rewrote it, adding in the suggested details as well as changing some words and sentence length. We did a real writing workshop that day, since it was a short reminder lesson, and they had between 15 and 30 minutes to work on revising their own essays. I was so proud, because everyone was working quietly. I circulated and gave feedback and I felt like a real teacher! :)

Today I upped the noun ante a bit by prompting them to continue patterns that led us to noticing plural and proper nouns. They did well, except for not paying attention and writing things like 'foots.' Goofs. We talked about choosing books, which led to me talking about books, which led them to talking about books, and it was good except that we were already running way over and I had to make them stop. But I hope to recreate that excitement with some kind of Reading Rainbow kind of thing (which, by the way, most of my students have never heard of. Sad!) every once in awhile. But scheduling and planning is already difficult, with each class having a different number of classes per week.

We also discussed reference books and then began an activity looking up and alphabetizing words. Totally didn't finish, so we'll do that tomorrow too.

Pinch me! I am having fun this week. The kids are doing so, so well, and homework rates are still very high. Not 100%, but everyone minus three or less, so still pretty good.


Last night, Boyfriend and I went to see KT Tunstall! I had to leave early because I'm old and I live in an Outer Borough and school starts way too early. But it was great! She was clearly having a blast and sounded awesome.

Brandi Carlile's coming in a couple weeks, and so is Missy Higgins! Totally random, since I don't even think her album's out in the US. And! Haley Bonar's here on Oct 19! Hurrah for my favorite musical artists!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

I do love a long weekend

I've been sleeping in and reading and watching tv and having a nice, relaxing time. Ooh, it's wonderful.

Thus far I have done no work....but I still have another full day to do so if I get bored. :)

The second week of school continued the good streak of the first. We are all reading and thinking, and I was happily surprised to see some (not all, but still) really high-level thoughts being written down. I began, just barely, talking about essays and paragraphs. Next week we will do some revision with their first essay assignment. I hope to do some actual differentiated instruction with it, which is a rarity. Also, in at least one class, I pulled aside two girls who had done extremely well and obviously know what they're doing with writing. I told them that since their essays were so great, and they didn't necessarily need to sit and revise, that I would like them to act as teachers helpers and work with the students who need to work on writing in paragraphs. They were very happy and excited to hear this, and I am very happy and excited to get the students helping one another.

This week we did a writing activity about accountable talk. The students had to come up with a situation where people interact outside of school, and write a scene without accountable talk (ie, rude and disrespectful) and then rewrite it with accountable talk. I told them they could choose the format: play, story, comic strip, whatever. They definitely perked up at that and eagerly got to work. Each class was working hard and quietly, and I was very able to circulate several times, checking work and consulting with students about their work and answering questions.

It was fantastic. This is what teaching is supposed to be like. And I was shocked to realize that I'm enjoying myself.

So! I will continue to think positively about the year, and be stern but positive around the students, and think about plans and activities that are not too fast but are challenging.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Come Hang Out Tonight!

Astoria Beer Garden, 7pm.

It will be a lovely evening to sit outside and enjoy some drinks with good people!

Monday, September 10, 2007

So you know I've not been taken over by a Mary Sunshine alien clone

Bad news: Today was a busy day; I didn't really get time to work on planning or grading.

Good news: I did all my grading after school.

Bad news: It took an hour to do it all.

Good news: Nearly all the students can use paragraphs correctly!

Bad news: I was too lazy to do laundry when I got home.

Good news: I worked out awhile after I got home!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Week Ended

Ignoring the fact that another, albeit short, one will begin tomorrow, I shall record the goings-on from this past week. It continued to go very well and I continued to be positive and motivated.

Thursday we continued discussing the rules. The tasks were useful for several reasons. First, they had to write down each rule, and then write at least one sentence explaining why that rule is important. Next, we practiced different ways of sharing. They discussed rule 1 with their neighbors, and I reminded them and complimented them on things like eye contact, low voices, and attentiveness/being on task. For rule 2, they practiced group talking, and I again reminded and complimented them on doing specific things we want. Rule 3 was another pair talk and Rules 4 and 5 were another group talk.

Finally, we shared out with the entire class, and I called on several students to explain and elaborate upon each rule's significance. Many of the students referenced respect (a discussion we'd had while talking about excellence) when explaining the rules. Hurrah! They're getting it!

As you can see, these activities served many purposes. It got them working quietly and industriously. They had to explain their opinions and justify the rule. They had to work on accountable talk and different noise levels. Also, the rules and justifications should be understood better, on a deeper level, and ingrained through writing and repeated discussions. Additionally, it got every student involved on at least some level of discussion. No one was left out or ignored or allowed to slack.

It all went swimmingly and I told them I was impressed and proud of how much everyone is showing excellence already.

Friday I 'tested' them by putting some review questions on the warm-up board. It took a couple minutes for them to figure out they had to answer them, but they all did, without me telling them to (occasionally I had to say, oops, you've missed something; look around and see if you can figure out what you need to do right now). When they'd finished, we once again discussed the basic rules and procedures of the class. And there was time for them to read if they were done early, which I'm really emphasizing for them to get into the habit of. (What an awkward sentence. Sorry.)

One class had time for the first reading workshop. I wasn't sure exactly what I was going to do (several things were in my head) until right when it began. Since I picked up a resource book the other day (Writing About Reading by Janet Angelillo), I'm re-committed to useful, slow and steady teaching. Normally I dislike reading workshop and don't do very interesting or varied things all the time, so it's good to be reminded what's expected for me and the students.

Anyway, so I began by first having them do their heading and such in the reading notebook, and then writing down the habits of good readers. Not that we're going to start that yet, but just to have some exposure to expectations and also to have them write something down.
Then I did a read-aloud of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory from a great anthology (ten-minute excerpts of well-known classic children's books that I found in a Half Price Books two summers ago; five bucks!), explaining briefly that you are thinking while reading, so I would stop and tell them what I was thinking while I read.

They were all familiar with at least the movie, so it was easy for them to be interested and engaged in the story, which was clear from their facial expressions and reactions (for example, when I mentioned how spoiled and obnoxious Veruca was being, many students had similar exasperated looks on their faces). I only read about a page worth, stopping at an interesting point. There were some "aww!"s, but I promised I'd do more later. I reiterated that I had lots of thoughts and visualizations and connections while I was reading. Their task then was just to read for 15 minutes, beginning to notice what they were thinking while reading.

My plan for next week (I hope?) is to then get them practicing reading for long stretches of time, then into taking notes and writing on their thinking, and then go from there. Perhaps doing some reaction writing after that? And then beginning to introduce each reading habit one by one, naming and practicing.

We're supposed to do a beginning novel study, so I have to decide which book we'll do and then tie all that together. Assigning chapters or pages, and having them practice those skills in those pages with partners and groups.

Sigh. So much to think about and plan. I hate planning.

In writing we introduced the writing process. Just quick and dirty, reviewing the order of steps to get to a final product. There was just barely time to practice some brainstorming related to their weekend homework assignment (writing an essay about themselves). I told them explicitly that it was an assessment for us all, for me to see where they were at with writing, and to do their best, but that their writing would improve over the year compared to this first piece.


I haven't finalized thoughts or plans for the next three days, but ideas are there, don't worry. I am being careful and deliberate to take things slowly, step by step, to keep all the kids involved and working and understanding. I surely want to quiz the kids on procedures and rules, I think Tuesday. I will be giving group points for excellent behavior and work and following rules. We will soon begin the four square review too, though I'm not sure there's time for it this week.

I'm Famous!

We returned to Coney Island yesterday, and I posted a bunch of pictures to flickr (duh).

One of my (favorite) pictures I posted was used by gothamist today!
I feel all famous and talented and stuff. :)

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Second day success

After the high of completing the first day, I had a bit of a mood crash late last night. Which sucks, because I felt like a zombie by ten, but I didn't fall asleep until after eleven. Stupid alarm at 6.20am. Boo, tired.

This morning I told myself sternly that I shall suck it up and ignore any anxiety. A mantra, if you will--I will have a good day! I will be a positive and stern teacher who controls the class while inspiring them!

If I do say so myself, I believe I achieved that today. I let myself bark just a teeny bit at several students who were tiptoeing out of line, to let the kids know I'm not going to play that.

We spent a lot of time today doing many different activities: finding, thinking about, writing about, discussing our theme; also practicing talking with partners and groups, as I explicitly explained and positively commented on the things I should see during those tasks (eye contact, low voices, all on task); discussing respect and rules; reviewing ways for being prepared (mentally, in appearance, and with supplies) and emphasized that every day we (the students and me as well) make a choice to succeed and find that excellence. I said it six different ways so they would understand that I really mean it. I want to say it often, I want them to say it, I want them to see it, I want them to do it. As I talked about that, all eyes were on me, their faces open and even some nodding. I hope they buy into it and that I can show them it's possible to do your best every day.

Other than that small section, I kept things very interactive, so it wasn't me lecturing them about not eating in class and being quiet. I let them do the thinking and the reasoning, and you should have seen all the hands! They were eager to share, and I was able to call on lots of students and begin learning names (mainly because I made seating charts before school). And I scaffolded the things we discussed, bringing back some basics from yesterday. I plan on doing that every day this week and maybe once or twice a week after that. Once or twice I let myself get the smallest bit funny--demonstrating for one class complying with a request rudely, exaggeratedly sucking my teeth and pulling a face. The kids giggled but I didn't let it get too out of control.

Some other teachers are starting 'real' work already, but I'm happy with what I'm doing. In light of my past experience, taking things slowly seems a good idea: going step by step, making it clear exactly what they need to do, how to do well, hear positive feedback, and building a good year.

I will have a good day tomorrow. I will do my best. I will be firm and stern, but also fair and supportive. I will be patient and mature. I will guide and lead the students so they feel empowered and challenged.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Link love.

Mamacita has written another amazing post about the state of education. She is much more thoughtful and articulate in response to that stupid NYTimes article I linked to the other day.

Woo--Got through the first day!

Not everything went perfectly with the schoolwide organization, but I suppose that's always the case, right? Especially with as many new folks as we have.

Though I was nervous and very anxious before each new class came in, I did well. We got through the first-day things I wanted to (professionalism and welcome letter, mostly), and there are plenty of things to cover for probably the next two days. I still haven't planned beyond that, but there are vague ideas floating around my head that I hope to pin down and record soon.

My classes this year have high test scores (mostly 3s), but are also resource classes. (Perhaps that tells you how realistic and valid those f%^&ing test scores are, GOVERNMENT.) There are at least two students that don't speak English. I'm not really sure how or when I find out what students need/have what services, but I hope it's soon. In the past, I'm ashamed to say that I've basically ignored the ELLS, because they were out of my room so often and had another teacher. It's hard for me to figure out how to reach those ones while still keeping the rest occupied and challenged (and I don't even do that that well all the time!), so it will certainly be another challenging goal for me this year.

At the end of the day, I was relieved to have the first day out of the way, hopped up on adrenaline, and also dismayed to realize that the days will only get tougher, as the kids (and their behavior issues) come out of their new-school shells.

But! I am really going to try to be positive and patient this year. Please feel free to kick me if I get into too much of a funk, because I want to change and get better in interacting with and planning for the students.

Hope everyone's first day back was a good one!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Financial matters

I'm not sure why people continue to believe that teachers make a lot of money for what they do. I've been officially losing money every month all summer, and the only reason I didn't lose money all year was the after school testprep job during the winter. I am feeling the crunch, and I do not like it.

When I paid my credit card bills in August, I was unhappy to find out that I could not pay them all off (I only have two, plus a couple of department store cards that I use once or so a year). I paid half, even though it was a stretch, and then I did something I've never done before: I took the cards out of my wallet altogether.

My first summer and fall in New York, I racked up about $1000 on each card: moving expenses, buying furnishings, buying professional clothes, buying tons of classroom supplies and books. I paid at least $200 of each card each month, and as soon as I was almost caught up, it would be time to buy a round of grad school textbooks. This was even more frustrating because as a subject teacher taking elementary courses, most of the classes and books were completely useless to me.

That was the first time I had ever carried a balance on credit cards, and it stressed me out. Right now I have no choice but to carry a balance again, and I suppose it will take a couple months to get caught up. But it should be easier this time around, with the cards put away completely.

Some of you longer readers may be rolling your eyes at my stress, thinking I put in on myself. Travel is indeed my weakness and it certainly does cost a significant amount of money. However, those after-school jobs the last couple winters, plus my salary bump, plus my AmeriCorps sum a couple years ago (?), plus the small workshop stipends all padded my savings account, which is where all that travel money came from. Going places can be rough on the old checkbook, but it's priceless experience for me. Especially since I only buy plane tickets when they are on sale and as cheap as possible. In fact, I just got a ticket home for Christmas, but I used my voucher from February, so it only cost me $85 out of pocket. You can't really argue with that one.

Oh, and this spring I bought the new camera and got my brakes done, both of which were quite expensive yet necessary. (You've seen my flickr account! Taking pictures is too much of a love, and I had a 3 year old LAME camera. I've taken over 5500 pictures since the end of May, so the new 'toy' has definitely been worth it. Mm, I love my camera. And I alreay can't wait to upgrade to a DSLR in a few years, once I get the gist of the manual settings on this one.)

This weekend I went shopping and spent possibly too much at Target and Costco and JCPenney. However, I will say that at times like these I revert back to the college days of telling myself, "No, I don't really need this" and put more things back than I actually purchase. Like brownie mix and new shoes.

There's nothing I can really cut back on when I start feeling frugal. I don't drink coffee, I don't smoke, I rarely go out to eat. We rarely go to the movies, I don't belong to a gym (I work out at home with FitTV shows). I do put at least $325 per month into savings and retirement accounts. About the only extraneous things on my list of expenses are Netflix, less than $20 a month, and a $9 eyebrow wax every three weeks, so it's not like I'm throwing away tons of money on frivolous things.

What I have to force myself to do every once in awhile is transfer money from my savings account. I've transferred $1200 just in the last three months--holy shit! However, in the five months before that, I transferred $800 into that account, so I'm not totally irresponsible. :)

Things I want to do once I catch up on money:
--Get 8x10 matte prints of London and Australia photos ($60! eek!)
--Buy a DVD burner drive so I can back up all my photos and documents ($60)
--Contribute to my favorite causes: Trailblazers, New York Cares, CityHarvest ($75)
--Figure out if I can take/afford a photography class ($200 or more--yikes)
--Figure out when my next trip will be!